Saturday, 28 January 2006

Work - what is it good for?

Absolutely nothing? I disagree. We spend the best hours of the day at work for most of the week, and the rest of the day revolves around preparations and post production issues to do with work. And while it may seem like it would be nice to live without it, my five months of unemployment were amongst the most miserable months of my life, beaten only by experiences along the lines of boot camp. I do not think I would like to live without doing any work at all, it is just a pity that I cannot do whatever it is I want to do.
As I've already said on these very pages in the past, I have decided the best thing for me would be to move to another job. The main reasons for that are the lack of a career path in my current job, mind numbness from doing the same things for more than three years now, very bad management, and lately - rather immoral (in my book) work that my company does.
At this stage I am looking for work along the same lines of what I am doing now, which is business analysis. Indeed, the question of whether or not I should head down the same path or look for some alternative is an important one, and I have a lot to say about it; but let's leave it for another blog entry. For now I will say that staying in the same direction seems like the surest path to insure the same levels of income at the price of some lost dreams (for example, it is obvious I cannot depend on my writing skills to make a living: by now your exposure and clicks on the ads published in my blog have earned me a whole 9 cents - but hey, we're talking American cents!).
Between me looking for a job and Melbourne's temperatures over the last few weeks, I don't get to spend much "quality" time in front of my computer, hence the reduction in blog entry frequency. But I'm straying: the main point of this entry is to explain why I think it would be a long time before I get to actually start another job.

Coming over to Australia, almost four years ago, I was pretty sure that things were going to be nice and smooth. If I could find a job in Tel Aviv, a modern city of 1.5 million people, I am bound to find a good one in Melbourne between 2.5 million people; and it was sure to be an easy process, because who can deny someone as smart and skilled as I am? Australia must be waiting for me with open arms.
I find it hard to think of any dumber notion I could have ever had. Yes, I've had stupid expectations for a migrant, supported by my brother's success here, but you should look at yourselves in the mirror, too: Haim was the only one to consistently remind me I am an idiot. Where were you?
By now I am aware of so many hurdles on the path to a job that my natural pessimism makes me feel an optimist. Some of them are to do with me and some to do with the environment. Let us have a look...

The first thing I got to notice were the cultural differences, which I've started becoming aware of at the first interview I've had after getting the hell out of Amdocs. Following my brother's guidelines, I arrived to the interview wearing sport-casual clothing (the same shit I'd wear for an interview in Israel, pretty much). Wrong! A suit and a tie are mandatory accessories for professional interviews here. I hate them, I think they're stupid - why the fuck do I need to wrap myself in overly warm neck breaking apparel is beyond me - but if you want a job, wear them for your next interview.
That interview was at a recruiting agency, showing yet another job searching aspect I was unaware of. Yes, recruiting agencies exist in Israel, but the vast majority of jobs are handled directly by the company offering the job leaving recruiters to act mainly as vultures helping the less sophisticated job seekers find a job while they can't be bothered to look for one themselves - i.e., they help job seekers find a suitable company to work for, rather than the Australian way in which companies say something like "I can't be bothered handling my recruiting shit, I will let this recruiting company represent me and do it for me". The bottom line for me is that before I can get to a company I have to pass through its recruiter - an extra hurdle to cross. Most of the time you have no idea what company you're applying for or even what industry it is in - the recruiters just publish some vague job ad and you don't have much of a choice other than go through all their shit.
Before saying what I have to say about the recruiters themselves, I will say something about Australian companies. My logic with the 1.5 million -> 2.5 million -> easy job finding concept was that Melbourne, a modern city bigger than Tel Aviv, must have a modern hi-tech industry bigger than Tel Aviv's. Wrong! Fucking majorly big time wrong! While in Israel the hi-tech industry makes up for more than 20% of the country's GDP, hi-tech is a very minor and quite an irrelevant industry in Australia. As far as I can tell, Australia is mostly about big finance/insurance companies and companies that dig stuff from the ground, which - frankly - I find quite worrying since one day there will be nothing more to dig and the government does not seem to be bothered (if anything, my beloved Howard government has been quite consistent at cutting down R&D budgets). So while Israel has a living and heavily breathing hi-tech industry, sporting some major Israeli companies with worldwide presence - Amdocs, Comverse, Mercury - Australia's hi-tech industry revolves mainly around supporting non hi-tech companies in their IT needs, rather than "manufacturing" IT products on their own. Size wise, we're talking marginal.
One result of this rather limited job market is that every available position gets more than a hundred people's applications. Where did all those people come from, you ask? They are people who have been here, people who thought the IT industry is worth joining because of the late 90's boom, and fucking migrants like me (who were let in by a government policy which assumed that by flooding the market with skilled people the hi-tech industry would grow and become stronger).
And what do the companies looking for IT skilled people do in order to be able to handle this huge amount of applicants? They turn to recruiting company to handle all this hassle. And what do the recruiters do in order to handle all this hassle? Do they meet every candidate in order to assess him/her and be able to position him/her at the most suitable job? You're fucking joking. They just use software that runs through your CV looking for magical words that mean you're suitable for the specific position at hand; if you're flagged, they'll call you (and might even meet you for a short and totally redundant meeting in which they're supposedly meant to "assess" you), and if you sound like you're a decent person (for they are totally incapable of any worthwhile assessments) they will forward your details to the company looking for people to hire. In short, the recruiting companies help the actual companies narrow the list of candidates to interview, but it is the process in which they do this filtering that I suffer from:
By the time most people have beefed up their CVs, they all pretty much look the same. So how can the recruiter say which CVs are the ones to shortlist, especially for an analyst job where the skills are mostly generic rather than specific (as in C# or .Net skills for programmers)? Frankly, I have no idea how they do it, but I truly suspect that they don't really do it! Yes, they do something, but no - they don't do a professional something. Meet with a few recruiters for an interview and you will see that barring a very few exceptions they have no idea what they are handling or what is truly required from a pro in the hi-tech industry and from a business analyst in particular. We ended up with a process that forces you to write specific versions of your CV for each job you apply for if you want to maximize your chances, but you are still in the dark whatever you do.
So how do they filter the CVs for people applying to generic vacancies such as business analysis ones? Basically by industry and by your past experience. For example, if the hiring company is in the financial industry, they would look for people who have some finance related keywords in their CV. If the company is looking for consultants, they will look for people who have consulting industry.
The negative side of that, and I think it is the epitome of negativity, is that as a result you can only get work in something that you've already done before. The finance industry won't hire you if you don't have some experience in the finance industry and consulting companies won't hire you if you don't have consulting industry. You may very well ask: Well, how the fuck do can you get to the finance industry in the first place?
The first option is to go on a training course at your own private time (probably during work hours), and then apply for a junior position. Or maybe just apply to a junior position in the first place. The obvious downside, though, is that you will face a significant income reduction, which is ok when you're 20 but not ok when white hair is starting to pop-up all over the place and you face a huge mortgage.
There is another way around it, though: Companies can actually give you a chance. So far in my career that has always been my case: I've started working at 3Com despite having no experience whatsoever in SAP or in logistics, and I've started working at Tecnomatix despite having no idea about CRM. The assumption was that if you're a decent person with a brain at the top of your head you'd be able to get into the hang of things. Even at my current job, which I got through my brother knowing the right people, I started on a three month contract but quickly moved to permanent employment because I was able to take control of things. The basic assumption, again, is that a good man is a good man regardless of what he might face.
Most Australian companies will disagree with that assumption, though. They will not take the risk and they will only hire people who did exactly the same thing before, a recipe for bored and unimaginative employees if you ask me, or people exposed to the same "industry" if they can't manage to find such clones. Opportunities are very rarely given - the only exceptions I am aware of are through internal contacts, what is commonly referred to here as "networking" - or, in plain Hebrew, knowing the right people. Which is where I have another problem: I don't know enough people in Australia to be able to count on that, although I can say that the only job offer I got since I've started working at my current job three years ago was through networking.
To sum up: The Australian job recruitment policies are simply immature.

The list of hurdles doesn't end here. Foreigners and migrants have to combat another evil, xenophobia.
Australia is quite a nice place to live in and people are nice and all, but there's definitely a lot of racism in the air. I can feel it (I won't be rich if I got a cent for every time I was told to go back to wherever it is I came from upon criticizing the Howard government, but I do get it from time to time), people of Far Eastern origins will tell you horror stories about it, and even Greeks will tell you a story or two.
Statistically speaking, when Jo was looking for a job and sent her CV out, she got a hugely superior response rate from recruiters to mine. Ok, she's more experienced in things that matter here, and she's definitely better looking and smarter, but our CVs are not that different.
To be frank, I can definitely relate to this fear people have of hiring foreigners. Back in my Tecnomatix days I remember all too well how I dismissed the resumes of Russian immigrants. At the time my argument was that I would like to have people who would socially fit our team so that our gang of friends can maintain its core of friendship, all the while dismissing the applicants' educational pedigrees from the universities of Kreplakistan as bullshit degrees. What can I say other than repeat the fact that it was only Haim who kept on reminding me I was an idiot? Yes, I have learnt my lesson by now, and I can truly see how I can still be friends with people who are way more different to me than those Russian immigrants. Biblical justice aficionados amongst thee may say that I am getting what I paid for, but for this atheist what matters is that I have seen how things look from the other side and I can tell you they don't look good.
Gone are the days in which someone picks my CV, has a look at it and says "wow, an industrial engineer from the university of Tel Aviv, I must give him a job and lick his ass a bit"; in Australia the discipline of industrial engineering is virtually unknown to all but a few fellow migrants and people who had some exposure to American markets, while the Tel Aviv uni fares just as well as those elite Kreplakistani universities fared in my view just four years ago.
The effects of this foreigners avoidance attitudes can be felt even through people who are foreigners themselves and/or others who truly want to give you a chance. In numerous interviews I was asked to prove the qualities of my English, especially my written English (I assume the interview took care of the oral aspects). By now I have an email ready with links to some of my favorite letters in The Age as well as some of my Amazon book reviews. It's amazing how the recruiters fail to notice the entry in my CV that says I have been doing book reviews for Prentice Hall, this minor publishing house. Hell, one of my intentions with this blog was to add its URL to my CV so I can boast about with my writing skills (you may have noticed that initially my profile started with "a business analyst..."); however, quickly enough I have decided that the rather liberal use of the professional term "fuck" spread throughout this blog, plus some politically sensitive issues discussed in a not so politically correct fashion merit me not publishing the existence of this blog to the whole world.
Anyway, my point is that if people who want to hire me are still worried about my writing skills, what would people who have doubts about it going to do? I tell you what they're going to do: They are going to turn to the next CV out of the pile of 227 resumes lying on their desk or in their inbox.
Thus I will use that above mentioned professional term again to summarize my situation: Fuck!

In conclusion, all I can say is that there is no doubt what so ever that as far as my professional career goes, moving to Australia was a significant step backwards. A giant rear-wards leap, if anything, both financially - income wise - and professionally. I'm at an inferior position to where I was at El-Al, my first post graduation job! Even Jo, who seems to have landed on a good company, agrees with that. And our payslips definitely agree with that.
Work in particular and my career in general are the one last thing I still worry about with regards to living in Australia. And if the situation is shit like now, what will it be like when I'm in my fifties and age becomes a significant factor? Stay tuned to this blog and find out...


Avi said...

You & Jo are more than welcome to come back to Israel, I'm sure you can find better jobs here (Definitely the networking will work for you here).

Moshe Reuveni said...

We've started packing up.
Do you have someone in your network to teach Jo Hebrew?

Avi said...

As you know English is the official language of the Israeli Hi-Tech Industry.

Or she could learn Hebrew at the Ulpan.

P.S Have you packed the Canyonero?