Olim in Israel’s Job Market: Do We Stand a Chance?
Interviews with the CEO of Hever, Ayelet Varshaviak, and the General Manager of Shiluv, Yossi Aroeste (top executives at two of Israel’s leading employment agencies), shed light on the ins and outs of the job market in Israel. Overall, they concur that despite the unstable economy, Israel-based firms are looking for native English speakers with one caveat: they must also speak Hebrew at a functioning level.
“Speak the Language of the Hebrew Man”
It’s not a surprise that the world is getting increasingly smaller, and English is becoming more of an international language. Israeli employers want employees who will be able to communicate effectively with international clients. In addition to the language issue, firms want employees who can relate to international clients culturally and professionally. Anglos would certainly have an advantage, “but being a native English speaker is not the advantage,” Shiluv tells us.
Both executives couldn’t stress it enough: to be considered for a good job in Israel, you must have an excellent grasp of the Hebrew language. It seems obvious, but imagine working and not being able to send or read an email, not understanding what’s going on at a staff meeting, not being able to communicate with co-workers, other departments in your company, or other companies in your field. Therefore, first and foremost, an ability to speak Modern Hebrew is a prerequisite to any job in Israel.
Rebecca Zauer, who places candidates primarily in hi-tech and bio-tech companies at Shiluv says, “Speaking Hebrew is very important in order to integrate into Israeli society, otherwise you remain isolated.”
Skills in Demand
Aroeste offered that the optimal time to find a job as an ole/ah hadash/ah is after one has gained some experience working professionally, after getting a university degree. Fields such as computer programming, engineering, bio-tech and hi-tech will only consider candidates with at least two years professional experience. For those in the world of computers, “hot jobs” in the government and public sectors currently seek skills in SAP and ERP. Engineers should have a specialty. “It seems to me that companies don’t want a little of this and a little of that,” Zauer tells us.
Professional development courses are a sensitive issue. While they are helpful in terms of learning a new trade completely (technical writing, for example), they don’t take the place of experience. One may in fact be better off starting at the lower end of a big company and working one’s way up, rather than waiting to land a job that fits one’s credentials perfectly. “Everyone has to compromise a little. Living in Israel teaches us not to be spoiled, and this applies to employment, as well,” says Zauer.
According to Hever, the more professional experience one has in a specific field (i.e. a more senior-level candidate), the more leverage one has to negotiate the terms of employment such as a salary and benefits package. To increase the odds of finding employment, Hever actually instituted the “45 Club” which finds jobs for people 45 years of age and older. The “45 Club” is a great innovation for law firms, financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and other firms who look for senior-level employees with years of experience.
Trends per Location
Jobs in the Merkaz (i.e. Tel Aviv, Herziliya, Raanana, etc.), can yield 50-60% more than the same position in Jerusalem or “in the periphery.” This is not to say that job options are limited to the Merkaz, where living expenses are typically higher. A number of hi-tech companies are increasingly moving their factories and offices to areas further away from the cities, areas such as Yokneam (near Haifa) and Kiryat Gat (near Beer Sheva). These areas—small towns—offer much more affordable living options, a slower-paced lifestyle, and sometimes include governmental incentives in an effort to develop these “periphery” areas.
Aroeste forecasts that the bio-tech field will be growing substantially in Jerusalem, as Hadassa and Teva set out to develop a large bio-tech district. He envisions that within the next five years, there will be increasing options for educated, qualified English-speaking professionals in the industries of health, pharmaceuticals and chemistry, in addition to positions working on the production lines. Above and beyond these future options, Jerusalem’s main industries are government, non-profits, education, and health.
As Yossi Aroeste explained, “There is a high demand to live here [in Jerusalem], but a lack of housing, and available jobs. The government is not investing in entrepreneurship in the city.” As a result, people are moving out and working in Tel Aviv, Modiin, Herziliya and Haifa, where there is a “Gan Technology,” the common phrase used to describe a technological district. He also states that the security situation will have a great impact on the job openings in Jerusalem. “Once there is peace, tourism will flourish and create many more jobs,” he said.
Varshaviak focused more on the Merkaz, where there is a growing number of jobs for English speakers as administrative assistants, in law firms, tourism, and at customer service centers. “They actually are hiring senior citizens for these centers,” she said. She also specifically mentioned a demand for qualified people in banking and investments (although they obviously feel the stress of the collapsing market and are currently on a hiring pause).
One must also understand when making aliyah that working in this country is different from what the typical Anglo-ole/ah is used to. For example, work-casual clothing in Israel is literally casual, more jeans and a shirt and less suit and tie, “but they should obviously be nice jeans, not run-down-looking jeans,” we were told.
Resumés should not include any hobbies, but personal information is expected to appear (date of birth, marital status, and number of kids). “If this information doesn’t appear, the employer will wonder why,” Varshaviak says, “but if the person has the qualifications they are looking for, the personal information won’t matter.”
The best pieces of advice that new olim can receive when facing the Israeli job market is to come with a degree and experience, preferably from a well-known university and a well-known company.
The most important and perhaps the most unsettling piece of guidance for new olim is that one must be willing to compromise and take a step down from what they are used to. There is room to move up the professional ladder, but don’t expect to win that great job right away. Aroeste explained that the job search in Israel typically lasts between three months to a year, or more. “If someone finds a job within a month, s/he’s a genius. If s/he finds a job within three months— superman. Most people take six months to a year. If it takes longer than that, obviously it is very frustrating.”
With all the positives that come with a new life in Israel, there are realities that are less than perfect. That doesn’t mean that getting a job is impossible here, but a little extra insight and some perseverance are needed.
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