And Anglos thought finding work back home was hard...
NGO teaches job-seekers from abroad how to avoid cultural faux pas and interview like an Israeli.
Following her emigration three years ago from New York, 37-year-old Naomi Smigel had hoped to "leverage" her experience as a software project manager for a major New York City corporation and secure a similar position in Israel.
"I wasn't successful," says Smigel, a married mother of three from Ra'anana, after what she describes as a "fruitless" search. "I had no safety net, and it's not like I had a job waiting for me back home."
in November 2010, when Smigel's husband Michael told her about a job training initiative for immigrants - in English - she applied.
"I was going about it all wrong in my interviews," Smigel soon learned after six weeks of instructional seminars in the career development program of the not-for-profit Gvahim (Hebrew for "heights"). She recalibrated her pitch and was taught to "understand" the mindset of her new peers. "For Israelis, it's all about tachlis - they want to get to the bottom line, and quickly."
Now in its sixth year, Gvahim has trained 400 "highly qualified" immigrants from 20 countries in the fields of finance and consulting, marketing and communication, technology and industry, as well as in the not-for-profit and public sectors. An estimated 40-50 percent of the participants hail from English-speaking countries, according to Dr. Mickael Bensadoun, Gvahim's 33-year-old French-born executive director. Founded with support of the Rashi Foundation and a core group of Israeli business leaders, Bensadoun describes his organization as "facilitator," with a mandate to train, assist and network new immigrants. Applicants who are considered for admission must have completed a Hebrew ulpan and must be in the process of "actively" seeking a job.
After Smigel completed the Gvahim training program, she set her sights on a job in Israel that would not "require her to work from her basement during American business hours" or exclusively with other Anglos. "For me, networking with Israelis and Israeli companies is critical," notes Smigel. "I don't want to live on an English-speaking island."
In May 2011, Smigel found a job in her field in Herzliya Pituah some three months after Gvahim assigned to her one of its volunteer mentors - the program's second phase that spans seven months.
"We are not a job placement organization," stresses Tracy Ruth Mathieson, who leads a training session called "Understanding Cross Cultures and the Acculturation Process." Mathieson says her workshop is intended to "reduce frustration and to change one's responses and behavior in all areas of life, from the job search to the workplace."
"We tell them that in Israel everything is negotiable," notes Mathieson. "When you hear a 'no,' it doesn't mean 'no.' It is actually just an invitation to begin negotiations. This is something that particularly Europeans and those from English-speaking countries are very uncomfortable with." Mathieson says teaches her students that Israelis "appreciate and highly value persistence."
According to Bensadoun, who emigrated from New York in 2001, approximately 70 percent of Gvahim alumni find positions within sixth months of completing the program.
A graduate of Columbia University in New York and Ramat Gan's Bar-Ilan University, Bensadoun describes what was for him a formative immigrant experience: earning an Israeli doctorate but finding few vocational opportunities. "Israel continues to receive a wave of highly qualified, highly educated olim, and it's a brain gain for Israel," Bensadoun says. "It's a boost for Israel's economy and its society that this country cannot afford to squander."
David Rivlin, a 58-year-old native of Ireland who lived in 10 countries before immigrating to Israel in 2010, was planning to semi-retire here but got the "itch" to work again. A former manager of overseas business for international companies, Rivlin completed Gvahim's training program and now runs his own consultancy. He credits Gvahim with introducing him to a contact who later became his client, and for "giving him the tools to enter the Israeli market and learn the Israeli way of doing things."
"What Gvahim offered to me is an incredibly good support network and contacts in the business community," says Rivlin. "A lot of people come here who need that circle of support [but] usually have a very difficult time finding it."
As some alumni note, however, that high demand appears to be taking a toll on the organization. "At times, its staff seems a bit overwhelmed," says one person, who asked not to be identified because they secured a job via the organization. "They appear to be taking on too much - probably because of the demand - and that caused some confusion" in the administrative area.
Bensadoun also agrees with that assertion "to some extent." Two years ago, he notes, Gvahim employed two staff members and did not have an office. Its staff today numbers 11 and counts a 200-member team of "active" volunteers. "Given the resource that we have, we probably tended to try to do more than what we could do [during] the last two years because we exist for one reason - to support highly qualified olim," says Bensadoun. "And since we know we do it well and with all our heart, we just did not want to say no."