Government “Help”

As newbies to Israel, job hunting can be a bit of a challenge.  So my husband and I went to a job fair in Haifa sponsored by the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption.  While this particular fair wasn’t so useful (it concentrated mostly on manufacturing jobs), we did meet with a representative from the Ministry who suggested we take advantage of free career counseling, free resume writing/translation, and recruiting with job leads.  My husband made an appointment for the following day in Karmiel.  Shortly after arriving he called.  “They just informed me that I don’t qualify,” he said.   (He was not discouraged.  In Israel, rules are meant to be broken and “no” never means “no.”  This is important to remember when you are feeling disheartened by Israeli bureaucracy, outdated policies and practices.)  In Israel, retirement is mandatory at age 67 for men (it’s 62 for women, but they have just changed the law to 64).  He was told that the only way to extend one’s work life as an employee is to strike out on one’s own and work as a freelancer or consultant.  My husband suggested that I go to Karmiel to meet with the Ministry job office since I’m 60 and still in the running for employment.

There I was greeted by a vivacious young woman who is a job counselor, and her counterpart, a dour, older Russian immigrant who is a psychologist.  The purpose of the psychologist was supposedly to assess the personality of the applicant, and to ensure that he is a viable and realistic candidate for employment.  The psychologist seemed to suffer from narcolepsy, as she practically fell asleep in front of her laptop.  The job counselor took one look at my resume and told me, “You don’t want to be an employee, you need to be a freelancer.”  I told her I was fine with that, but then she added, “We don’t help freelancers. That’s a different government job office.  But to get there, you will need a referral from the Ministry. ”  Because I didn’t fit into her framework, she told me, she also could not offer the free resume translation service.  Perhaps they would help me at the freelance job office.

So I got back into my car and went to the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption.  I spoke to the same lady who recommended that I go to the first employment office.  She called the freelancer job office who said that no, they couldn’t offer to translate my resume because I wasn’t a resident of Karmiel, even though Karmiel is the closest city to where I live and the only place near me that has a government office of this nature.

The Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption lady said she was very sorry, but she couldn’t help me.  Her hands were tied, since the various agencies were funded in a very specific manner and if I was outside the perimeter, the budget would not allow them to make an exception.

I remarked – – while smiling and being totally non-threatening, calm and polite, yet firmly and with conviction – – that it seemed ironic that the entire purpose of the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption was to help new immigrants and returning residents, yet there were stumbling blocks created by the very same office that were counterproductive.  I told her I wasn’t really helpless, that I am a resourceful person and can do pretty well on my own, but that I lacked certain tools because I was new and just needed to know what those tools were so I could access them on my own.  I told her about my job plan and how I had done lots of cold calling and reached out to companies and academic institutions, sparking interest in my services.  I could tell she was impressed and immediately her tone changed.

“I really would love to help you with your resume myself,” she said sincerely, “but I just don’t know any English.”

Aha!  I had my “in.”  I quickly scanned the hall through the open door, making note that there was no one else waiting for assistance.

“That’s so kind of you to offer to help,” I said politely, “because now we can sit and work on my resume together!”

She was trapped.

A very kind friend had offered to translate my resume into Hebrew, but there were some tricky spots that needed a bit of polishing.  So together the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption lady and I sat over the resume, and to her credit, she did help me a lot.  When she finished editing it, she told me about a free online resume service whereby you send them the text, and they produce a finished copy with select fonts and formatting.

I thanked her profusely and went on my way, stopping to say hi to a friend who works in the same office building.

“She was nice to you?” my friend said, shocked and surprised.  Apparently this woman has quite the reputation of being a short-tempered, burned out bureaucrat.  I never saw that side of her, she even encouraged me to stop in to say hello the next time I’m in town.

I still have to go the the government office that counsels freelancers and provides them with job leads, but that can wait for another day.  Fortunately do to extensive and ceaseless networking I have some promising possibilities within my field.

I have an Israeli friend who is rather anti-religious and barely agnostic.  “The only reason I believe in God,” he tells me, “is that the very existence of Israel is a miracle.  With all the bureaucratic foibles, it’s amazing that anything gets accomplished. How else, if not for God?”

Once we figured out how to navigate the system, my husband found work immediately. (Hint #1: never ever send a resume as a pdf; it will automatically be tossed.  They want CVs sent as a Word document.  Hint #2: in the field of hi-tech, the preferred language for your CV is English, not Hebrew. We wasted countless hours working on bilingual resumes).  Although the naysayers said my husband would never find work at age 69 in Israel, even though he was an experienced and expert programmer and systems engineer, within a week he had 3 interviews and 3 job offers in the private sector.  It turns out that Israel is experiencing a severe shortage of people qualified to work in the hi-tech industry.  While the pay isn’t what it was in the States, the benefits are attractive (including a new leased Kia Niro hybrid car and free gas in a country where gas is nearly $8/gallon) and the work is technically exciting.  My husband is actually happier working in Israel than he was working in America.  Who would’ve believed that now, at age 70, he’s doing his part contributing to the Start-Up Nation!

It took a several months and a long bout of disappointing, infuriating and absurd interviews that were worthy of a soap opera, but I did finally find work as a freelance writer and editor, and at a decent wage, too.  I’m currently working with a college in the North translating scientific research from Hebrew to English and writing popular science articles for their donor newsletters. My triumph wasn’t thanks to any referrals by government employment service agencies.  I simply picked up the phone and cold-called my current gig, and the job came seemingly out of nowhere (thank you, God).

I wish this was worthy of congratulations, but I’m now over my head registering with government offices as an independent contractor. I’ve hired an accountant to help me slog through the paperwork and long lines at government offices, including the tax authority and social security (bituach leumi).  The accountant has already warned me that I will likely be subject to an audit and they’ll want to know everything, including a list of the appliances I own (which make no sense).

It may actually cost me to work, but oh! the stories I can tell…

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Job Hunting in Israel: Great Advice

Perhaps some of you are thinking about aliyah, and wonder about job prospects. I have much to say on this subject, but fortunately, a wonderful German olah (immigrant) by the name of Julia Noa Thanheiser eloquently beat me to the punch. She wrote this for a Facebook group called “Keep Olim in Israel” and that is a group well worth joining if aliyah is on your radar (caveat:  the Keep Olim group doesn’t always stick to platitudes; you will hear plenty of kvetches too; but overall the Keep Olim group gives a genuine picture of the joys and challenges of living in Israel). Julia Noa Thanheiser’s advice is SO true, SO relevant, and SO helpful – – it’s an absolute must-read if you are considering aliyah and will be looking for employment in Israel.

**Happy Monday post!! Successful Aliyah comes with good employment! But how to get there?**
My name is Julia and I am nearly 20 years in Israel. I would say my Aliyah is a success story overall although I had my share of ups and downs. Life isn’t always easy away from everything you know (people and culture), but I love this country, it’s my home and the only thing missing these days is a partner, but I believe when time is right he will come.
I would like to share with you my experience over the years in the hi-tech world. While I established myself in the hi-tech world, I had to change a few things from what I was used to. It wasn’t very easy at start (low salary and very many hours including evening and Fridays) but once you have one good company name on your resume, doors start to open. It doesn’t matter how much money you made in that first job. Just that you worked in a good company.
Then you up your salary job by job until you get to your career. Also note (and I only speak for the tech world) networking is everything. You keep meeting people at different companies. Israel is small. Everyone knows everyone. So even if you are laid off, be nice. You WILL meet them again. And keep in touch with people and network network network. There are a million events and meet-ups for that. One year ago I was made redundant at my company after 10 years of service.
At this point in life I had become a single mom. Being responsible not only for myself but for my adorable 6-year-old made the “fall” much harder. I was very stressed and scared. But I didn’t allow myself to fall. A day of a good cry and then back to what I know…. reach out to my network and search for a job. I sent 200 CVs out in only the first week of job search. I documented every single job I applied to, the contact person, who I knew in the company, and any other useful info. And it was through an old colleague who had moved on to another company, that I was invited to interview at the place I am working the past 12 months. I initially didn’t hear from them after I sent my CV. So I followed up with my friend. She went to talk to the hiring manager who said he wasn’t going to invite me for an interview cause I was lacking one of the skills/requirements. She asked him to meet me anyhow and it would be worth his time. Once they met me they heavily pursued me to come on board and we are very happy with each other.
I have a very high flexibility towards where I work from and when I do the hours to get the job done which allows me to be with my daughter daily at hours she is out of daycare and in return they get the full dedication from me that no matter on an evening or a Friday sometimes – I get the job done.
I am happy at work and happy with my life.

My suggestion for DOs and DONTs re job search:
1) Don’t get drawn into what’s wrong in Israel (there is lots but it will affect your mood and your attitude), refocus on what’s going well
2) Job search is a full-time job. Treat it with that seriousness and time investment
3) Network network network. Talk to everyone you know, post in respective groups (there are many) go to meet-ups (there are gazillions).
4) Always research your potential position. If you know someone in the company contact that person to discuss the position and ask them to send your CV internally. This will up your chances by a lot. Companies prefer to hire friends of employees.
4b) Always adjust your CV with keywords matching the requirements from the job ad. Often automatic algorithms will determine if your CV gets to a hiring manager or not.
5) ALWAYS but always follow up after you sent your CV and also after an interview. Call them and introduce yourself. It is a bit unpleasant/stressful at first but it has only worked in my favor. People were so nice, even scheduled interviews with me right away on the phone even though all I asked was if they had received my CV.
6) When you interview remember you interview them too, whether or not this is a company you wish to work for, whether the job is what you are looking for. This reduces stress and puts you as equals.
7) Accept jobs in great companies also if they are below your standard. I have been offered for example a promotion after only 1 month on a temporary job and spent 3 happy years there before I chose to move on.
8 ) Do your research to enable you to ask intelligent questions about the company and position, the market in question, etc.
9) Return the favor to people who helped you. Invite them for coffee or see how you can put a smile on their face. And pay it forward. Help other people find work. Trust me, they will always remember you. The difference between a well-connected person looking for work and someone without connections can be long months of unemployment.
10) Make use of your advantages. You speak English at mother tongue level, Spanish, German? You have other additional skills? Sell yourself with why this helps your potential employer and the company. What’s in it for them?
Last but not least:
11) Learn Hebrew! While being hired in hi-tech does not require fluent Hebrew, everyone prefers to hire at least basic Hebrew speakers so they don’t have to hold team meetings internally in English because of you.

Good luck!!

ed. note:  in Israel, the term “hi-tech” refers to jobs having to do with computer programming, software design, engineering and architecture, as well as start-ups