Job hunting in Israel: adapting to the local wisdom

Job hunting in Israel a

In the scope of my activities with Gvahim, a nonprofit organization that helps new immigrants integrate into the local job market, I meet many well-educated olim who held good jobs overseas and are astounded by the challenge of entering the Israeli job market. Beyond the cultural and linguistic gaps, the requirement for these immigrants to learn the rules of the game, and to understand the unfamiliar Israeli market, makes integration into the job scene seem even more complex. As we all know, the State of Israel is small. The same goes for the job market here, which is obviously limited when compared to other Western countries. The phrase "everybody knows everybody" may be a cliche, but it is also remarkably accurate in the Israeli context. The local professional environment is also characterized by a well-known "buddy network," which features direct communication and a lack of formalities. Transactions are sometimes closed over a handshake. Recruiting can happen by "knowing" the right people. There also seems to be a significant advantage for people who were stationed together during their military service. Yes, friends, in Israel the professional is also personal - and, apparently, it works pretty well. So let's learn how to operate in these conditions. Social networks Many Israeli companies boast that most of their employees are graduates of unit 8200, and there's no doubt that having "IAF fighter pilot" or "Special Forces combat soldier" listed on your CV opens many doors for you. Into this sticky reality, where the boundaries between the business and social space are very unclear, enter new immigrants who want to integrate into the job market. They arrive equipped with assets that may include fine educations, experience with large companies (some unfamiliar to the average Israeli), international experience and more. But it seems that's not enough to fit easily into the job scene. They are lacking the most precious asset of all in Israel: social networks. Unlike our parents, who joined a single organization and retired 30 or 40 years later, our generation is characterized by occupational mobility. Promotion, as well as personal and professional development, now generally requires leaving one company for a more advanced position in a different organization. The skills required to survive in this new employment paradigm are numerous. The most important, however, is the ability to establish social networks. In this regard, Israel reflects broader international trends. Knowing the right people opens doors. This is understandable, particularly due to: small size of the country; lack of formality; everything is personal; everybody seems to know everybody. In these circumstances, the significance of social networking is enhanced. The 'buddy' method Furthermore, recruitment is a developing field in Israel and is not as refined as in Western Europe and North America. In these locations, organizations wouldn't think of recruiting for key positions without the guidance of a professional headhunter. In Israel, by contrast, many organizations recruit even senior management personnel using the "buddy" method. The result can be entire corporate departments comprised of former members of the same elite army unit, the CEO who recruited his neighbor's son, or the manager who recommended his school pal. Although it seems amateurish, this method does succeed as referrals are provided by people who know both the candidate and the company's needs very well. There is therefore no need to conduct various aptitude tests that have only limited validity, as professional as they might be. As a result, many companies in Israel do not even publish the positions they wish to fill. It is sufficient for a few employees to be aware of the employer's requirements. The news travel virally to their friends and their friends' friends until a candidate is recruited. Those who are not part of the right social network have no opportunity to find out about, let alone compete for, most jobs. These positions fly under the radar, as it were, and are apparently meant only for the well-informed. I do not mean to imply that connections buy jobs. Not at all. I know and believe that selection is ultimately determined by an individual's skills. But there is no doubt that having the right acquaintances and being informed as to what is happening in the job market are tremendous advantages. Senior-level candidates accustomed to job hunting through headhunters in their home countries are surprised to discover that the Israeli job market has its own rules in this regard. On a number of occasions I have met new immigrants who are frustrated and embarrassed by the wall between them and the manpower agencies in Israel. "They won't answer our phone calls," "We can't get a meeting," "They won't give us a response" and "We sent our CVs but nobody replies" are all common phrases I hear from Gvahim participants. This causes great frustration among immigrants who, overseas, were accustomed to job hunting through manpower channels. When they do not receive a response, they take it personally. Shattering myths So let's shatter a few myths: First and foremost, it is important for new immigrants to know that the manpower market in Israel operates differently from foreign manpower markets. I therefore suggest that new immigrants discard what they knew overseas and learn to play by local rules. Ask any Israeli who is or was looking for a senior position and you will likely receive the same response: The usefulness of manpower companies in Israel is limited, even for Israelis. These companies are unable to address every job seeker's needs. They will only respond to candidates who match a specific open position. One should be aware that most manpower companies in Israel will not conduct telephone interviews or meet candidates if they do not have an open job that specifically matches a candidate's profile. In general, these companies do save and file the CVs in their database, so when there is an opening for a relevant job (even if it is in a month, two months or six months), you can expect to receive a phone call. These are the rules of the game in Israel, and I think that effective calibration of expectations can prevent much disappointment. When you send a CV, you should also include a short cover letter to clarify exactly what you are looking for, in which fields and what type of job. Remember: the more focused, accurate and clear you are, the better the chances that you will be listed correctly and contacted in the future. Also, Israelis don't necessarily know the companies you've worked for overseas. Therefore, try to tailor your CV to the local eye as much as possible. Next to the name of a company you've worked for, add a line or two that describes the company's field, scope of local or global operations, and even the number of employees. This will assist recruiters in evaluating your experience. When stating your position on the CV, try to be as clear as possible. A title doesn't always provide the necessary information. Specify who your supervisor was, whether you had subordinates and how many, the territory you managed, the budgets you oversaw and so on. These details will assist recruiters in matching you to job requirements. It is very important that your CV include these relevant details, but avoid information overkill. Keep the CV as short and concise as possible. Provide more details about your most recent positions, and forgo less relevant information on positions you filled at the start of your career. Keren Chehanovich is the former general manager of a leading executive search firm in Israel. She currently provides consultancy and business-development services for Small & Medium Business and is a Gvahim board member.