Expats – Preparing for Your Next Job Move
Luc Jones is a partner with Antal International - a British executive recruitment company present in Russia since 1993, and employing over 100 staff in throughout the Russian Federation, with offices in Moscow, Ekaterinburg & St Petersburg.
By Luc Jones
You’ve all had the feeling recently, seeing a friend, ex-colleague or perhaps even a rival land a top job with a great company; and despite it being so un-British to discuss how much you earn, making it clear that he’s moving to a top-end salary. And to make it worse you don’t even rate the guy as good: you’re better than him, you could do the job easily; probably better than he so why are you still where you are at the moment when people are moving for piles more cash!? More importantly, given the current economic boom, what are your chances of finding a better job as an expat in Russia?
Expats can be defined broadly into two categories which recruiters term Corp-pats and Russ-pats.
Corp-pats often have little or no previous experience of working in this part of the world and are unlikely to speak much Russian, if any. They have been posted to Moscow with their blue-chip company from either their home country or possibly another location and are valuable to their organization due to their internal knowledge of the firm. Perhaps they possess valuable experience in a particular area where there is a skills shortage in the Moscow office and a local Russian can’t be found, or maybe a new line of business is being established and an experienced person with that particular product knowledge is required to drive the business forward. And after three years their contract is up and they are either sent on to a new destination, or back home regardless of how well (or badly) they have settled in here.
Russ-pats most likely studied Russian language and quite possibly Russian literature/culture/history/politics while at University. Or perhaps turned up in the early days and haven’t looked back since; they enjoy living in Russia! They are unlikely to move onwards or back home for the foreseeable future unless the economy nose-dives (i.e. as back in the summer of ‘98), are more often than not settled with a Russian partner and some have even bought an apartment in Moscow. Standards of Russian language vary wildly from survival to fluent as do occupations, although most readily admit that they make more here than they would back home, and are definitely having a lot more fun! A few Russpats are in fact Corp-pats who somehow managed to stay on here, sometimes even by default.
Traditionally, an expat trying to join a multinational organization as a local hire has always been very difficult as you are attempting to break into a sector where the local nationals are hired for their local knowledge and the expatriates from abroad bring the know how of the inner-workings of the company following decades with the firm from across the globe. The rule of thumb has generally been that if a large corporation needs a foreigner, they will bring one in from abroad, regardless of whether the new arrival has any clue as to what they can expect once they arrive in Russia. Regardless of whether or not they could find an expat locally who has language skills and cultural experience to do a better job, blue-chips have traditionally never gone down this path, with very few exceptions, despite the fact that many new-to-town expatriates fail to adapt and consequently, well... fail.
Nevertheless we are finally beginning to see a sign of change due to the chronic skills shortage as the economy expands more quickly than Russian employees themselves are developing.
If you are an expatriate working in Moscow reading this and thinking about a possible move, there are several factors to consider, the main one being “what can I do that a qualified Russian can’t,” and I hate to say it but in many cases the answer is “not much.” Corp-pats are rarely of interest to other companies as their skill sets are often restricted to a specific area, usually relevant to their particular organization. The standard story is that a single guy arrives in Moscow from abroad, and by the time his stint is up, he’s met a local girl and wants to stay on in Moscow. He mistakenly believes that his corporate background will mean that he is in strong demand from both international and Russian firms, despite limited local knowledge & experience, and spoken Russian verging on the non-existent. The reality is quite the opposite in many cases; although with the recent growth in the economy we are seeing exceptions. When a senior expat joins a large Russian entity, the reality is often that he has been hired for window dressing purposes and leaves frustrated at having achieved little.
The chance that a recruitment agency can help you to find a job is not high, even during a candidate-led market. Search firms work strictly to client mandates and this is almost always to find the “best fit” Russian national for the job. One popular misconception is that agencies exist in order to find you a better job and that if we don’t (and invariably we can’t), we are branded as useless. In Antal International, non-Russian or CIS citizens represent around 2% of the placements we make, and these are in very niche areas, such as retail banking, legal, audit and financial services.
What should you do to improve your chances of finding a dream position? Being able to converse fluently in Russian is certainly a good start and will put you above the competition but given that less than 1% of expats can conduct full business negotiations in Russian it’s unlikely that you’ll be chosen even with your fl uent social Russian. Take a look at what you have achieved in your career and be focused not only about what you would like to do, but more importantly where you could be of benefit to a new employer. While the number of expats in Moscow is growing, this is largely due to the growth of the economy as a whole rather than as a trend of companies preferring to employ foreigners over locals (which is certainly not the case). The overwhelming majority of expats find new jobs through personal connections rather than via an employment agency. So get yourself down to the bar, start networking and hand out your business cards like confetti - you never know who might call you and invite you in for an interview!