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The disadvantaged land of milk and honey

If you've made aliya and found how frustrating the hunt for a job can be, the best advise may be to help others

Whether driven by Zionism, religion or the weather, there’s something so exhilarating about moving to Israel that it’s difficult to capture in words. The “Arrivals” sign at Ben Gurion Airport, receiving your Israeli ID card, smiles, celebrations, photographs, more photographs — it doesn’t get any better.

Happy scenes - Immigrating to Israel
The first taste of milk and honey - Arriving in Israel (Photo courtesy Demotix.com)

Yet, like the calm before the storm, there comes a point, soon after moving into your newly decorated, furnished, wi-fi enabled home, and just after the kids are settled in school, that reality strikes: it’s time to get a job.

Powered by your 10 or 20 years of experience originating from your home country, securing your dream job should be as certain and easy as it was right to move here, right?

Well, it turns out that life isn’t a textbook, and new immigrants soon realize their problem isn’t getting the job offer, but that the best jobs don’t even appear on their radar. You can’t get to the finishing line if you didn’t first get to the starting blocks.

Sure, there are zillions of publicly available vacancies posted online. After a few weeks, it’s often sadly easy to count the number of job interviews and offers you enjoyed. Worse still, there’s a strong chance you can count on one hand the number of replies you received from headhunters, who in Israel only reply to people they are interested in.

Waiting soon turns to despair and frustration. The milk seems a little sourer, and the honey, well, a little less sweet.

But this isn’t another “getting a job in Israel” article. On the contrary, it’s about understanding a core problem, and then doing something about it.

Disadvantaged, and also at the wrong party

Israel is a land of personal networks, built from the kindergarten, school, university, and the army. If you can’t check all of those boxes, be under no illusions: you are disadvantaged. Your years of global experience, your mother-tongue English (or whatever), your prize-winning CV etc — all count for nothing, relatively speaking, if you don’t have a strong personal network in Israel.

The great jobs you wasted dozens of hours searching for among the buckets of publicly available online vacancies were actually elsewhere. Those with the strong personal networks knew about them, and subsequently secured them. You went to the wrong party.

Negating the disadvantage?

Some say that in order to integrate one has to “drop everything and learn Hebrew.” Yes, Hebrew can help, but you are still at the wrong party. What glues together the members of these strong personal networks, confirming that “it’s not what you know but who you know,” is time; it’s shared experiences, whispered secrets, and mutual respect and trust.

The only element you can directly affect is your ability to build mutual respect and trust with people. The rest should follow.

If you help someone, whether they realize it or not, they believe they owe you

I still remember the above quote from my Human Behavior course as part of my MBA, back in 2000. Whether they realize it or not — think about that. It means that if you help people, they have no choice but to believe they owe you. Suddenly, you have a tool to regain control.

Find ways to help others and you will build mutual trust and respect with people, who will become your personal network in Israel. Over time, this will negate your disadvantage as an immigrant.

So let’s look at some ways to help people .

Far more than higher education

I wish I could say that I was visionary enough to know back in 1999, when I enrolled for the Kellogg-Recanati Executive MBA program, that it would be the start of a journey that would rapidly lead to a strong local and global network, and would be a catalyst to helping me “find my place” in Israel.

For two years, I sat next to, in front of and behind some of the top managers in Israel. (If they weren’t at the top then, many are now.) We learned, worked, sweated, laughed, ate, drank, supported and helped — together. We’d become a personal network, because over that period, we gained the shared experiences, the whispered secrets, and the mutual respect and trust discussed above.

I found the network I was looking for, when I wasn’t looking.

Graduation gave me access to the Kellogg-Recanati Alumni Club, an instant network, bonded by a common experience.

For the last 10 years, as the president of this prestigious alumni club, I’ve had the privileged opportunity to help what has grown to nearly 1,000 KR alumni and students, who have become my immediate network and represent some of the most senior, and soon-to-be-senior, managers in Israel.

KR 10-year celebration
Higher education is far more than academia. Over 300 KR alumni attend a networking event

Standing out, in social networks

Today, there are infinite online chats, articles, groups and books, all fighting to define the best way to socially network ourselves and land the best jobs far faster than we’d otherwise be able to do. Somewhere, hidden in this mass of information, there’s probably a formula.

A small sample of the "infinite" sea of networking groups available today

But is that it? Will building a great social network, with the most LinkedIn connections and maximum Facebook friends, resolve the challenges of your job search? Maybe size does matter? There must be more to it than that, because if we’ll all follow the same guidelines, and all create similar, powerful networks, we’ll all end up looking the same. It would be very noisy out there. It already is.

So, what else can we do to help negate our disadvantage as immigrants, and stand out from the crowd — above and beyond being measured by the size of our LinkedIn network and how we use it?

If you help someone, whether they realize it or not, they believe they owe you

Yes, I know, I’ve already stated this. Nothing has changed. Find ways to help people. Choose your area of expertise and assist. You’re an expert on a subject? Find the LinkedIn groups your subject is discussed in, and start new discussions. Or if that’s too much, look for questions people pose, and, where you believe you truly have a valuable opinion, provide an answer. Lead the crowd with valuable opinions. Don’t expect an immediate return, nor a flood of job offers. But if you genuinely add value, people notice. And if you do so over an extended period of time, you position yourself as an expert. And then people you don’t know will come to you, ask your advice, perhaps want to meet you, and you’ll have arrived at a new place.

Instead of spending all your time browsing and applying for jobs online — usually a thankless task — ask yourself how you can help people. Because if you help people, whether they realize it or not, they believe they owe you, and that is your key to building a strong network in Israel and negating your inherent disadvantage as an immigrant.

About the Author
Originally from England, Stuart Ballan moved to Israel in 1997. He has over 25 years business and B2B sales experience working in companies of every size, including his own. Stuart holds an MBA from the Kellogg-Recanati Executive MBA program and has been the President of the Kellogg-Recanati Alumni Club since 2002. To balance life, Stuart writes and publishes children’s books, with his first book selling 10,000 copies, here in Israel, and is a keen cyclist. He is passionate about how his first book, "Who Invented Vegetables?", as part of a bigger plan, can help young children to eat better, thereby reducing the overweight and obesity epidemic that is now rampant.