Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Friday, August 21, 2009

No Jobs for Expats in Belgrade (That I Know Of)

In 2007, when I was living for a few months at our home in Sombor Serbia, I received a bunch of queries from Western companies seeking executives who had Western work experience and a willingness to work in Belgrade. Most of them didn't know me from Adam, but I was one of the very, very few Serbia-based executives with a Western background their HR recruiters could find on LinkedIn, which is a tool recruiters heavily rely on.

Blithely -- and in hindsight idiotically -- I wrote about this over at the popular Serbian media site B92 where I was a guest blogger. Just after that, my husband and I went on extended trips to Nepal and Croatia, and then wound up back in the US where I'm now working. While we traveled, two things happened: firstly the global economic meltdown ensured that nobody was hiring anybody in Serbia. Secondly, B92's webmasters shut down my guest blogging account during my extended absence and won't now re-open it. (Yes, I asked, but no reply.)

Unfortunately, the old blog post is still up and attracting attention. Nearly every week I get another hopeful inquiry about it. Usually it's the Western spouse of a Serbian expat who is moving back home. The emailer asks for where to go and who to talk to for these jobs I mentioned. I am forced to reply, I don't know. I don't think there are any jobs right now. If there are, I have no idea how to go about finding them.

Here's what I do know:

- Don't count on the US, UK, Australian or any other Embassy located in Belgrade to have job openings. In my experience, there are very few openings in Embassies. These are filled either by locals who never give them up, or by career foreign service officers assigned by the home country.

- Don't count on an embassy to know of other job openings. They have a hard enough time informally helping the spouses of their own Embassy staffers to find employment or at least busywork in Serbia.

- Don't count on merit (your brilliant experience and accomplishments) to help you land a job. Just as in many countries (Croatia and Italy to name two), your personal and family connections are the true levers to gainful employment at both local firms and at local branches of global firms if the boss is a local.

- Do seek out connections at international business clubs in Serbia such as the American chamber of commerce. Try to find out which companies might be opening new offices in Serbia - who is coming new and who is expanding. Remember though, that many job placements may be handled by the offices back in the head country.

- Do update your LinkedIn profile to show Serbia as your location -- even if you're still in the process of moving. Remember, that's how HR people search.

- Do surf other places recruiters for multinationals hang out online, such as RecruitingBlogs.com. Start networking with the recruiters for companies which you've identified as hanging long-term potential business interests in Serbia.

- Do network with international staff of multinational non-profits, and other non-governmental organizations which have branches in Serbia. The Desperate Serbwife blog which was written a few years ago by an American woman looking for a job in Belgrade is all about this. It's not encouraging - she networked her brains out for months to find a position. But, at least it's something.

- Do consider starting your own company if you have an entrepreneurial background and (this is important) a Serbian spouse who is willing to roll up his/her sleeves and help you deal with cross-cultural misunderstandings with employees, customers, government regulations, you name it. Or, you can work from home on the Internet for a Western firm (which is what I did when I lived in Serbia.)

That's all I know. I have NO OTHER connections or ideas. Please don't email me and ask for them. I am tired of feeling guilty all the time. I wish I had not written that B92 blog about jobs. I didn't mean to give hope in an impossible situation.

On the other hand, if YOU know something that could help job seekers, please, please, please write a comment and post it here. Everyone would really appreciate it. Thanks!


Tombaschi said...

Sadly, who you know not what you know has become all too common a hiring technique in the U.S. as well. The best way to get a job in Serbia? In my experience the best way to make money (and this is how it should be phrased because jobs are just not available) in Serbia is to find a need not being filled and then hope that a regulatory stranglehold does not prevent it from being filled.

A need I noticed when there last: Someone to come to the house and install or fix home computers. I would love to hear any other observations

merkat said...

Dear Rosemary,

I hate to make things look even worse, but I have to, because this is how things are in Serbia: of course there are no jobs for ex-pats in Serbia. It is not because of xenophobia, but because of the fact that in last 15 years there are not enough jobs even for educated Serbians. I am the most typical example for that, plus, I have many friends in the same situation. No matter how talented, educated and hard-working you are, you cannot find a descent job without very strong connections. And by a descent job I mean NORMAL job with salary that can afford you to pay your bills and cover your BASIC needs.
There is much more to tell and discuss on this matter, but the bottom line is: if you don't know the right people on the right places, you're doomed.

merkat said...

Don't think that I am a desperate person who gave up fighting - I'm not, I'm still finding out ways to live like a normal person ;o)

Nebojsa said...

One of ways to get employment is to see what value you could bring to a company.

For example, find a foreign company that wants to enter the Serbian market and link it with a local business development agency (even I would be interested in something like that). Use the contacts you have in your own country and in the expat community to make money.

If you have some expertise, contact appropriate local companies and offer your services. This might not result in a full time employment but will at least give you a chance to get your feet wet through individual projects.

Never easy, I know, but try hard!

Nebojsa Bizconnect7.com

Obelix said...

@ Tombaschi: LOL! There is such service. You buy a PC, they transport it to your place and install it. Then when its broken, call same guys to fix it. Or call guys from any other PC shop. :)

Karl Haudbourg said...

No jobs for Expats in Belgrade?Here is one: PR Account Executive and media monitor http://www.webbdowse.com/account%20executive%20ad.pdf