Nothing says culture shock like first entering the Israeli professional scene after having worked overseas. When I made Aliya six years ago, I thought I would be immune to the initial shock. After all, Israel wasn’t all that new to me. Equipped with native Hebrew, thanks to my Jewish mama, I grew up in an Israeli household where the Yediot Ahronot newspaper was a weekly fixture on our living room table. Add to that, my summer visits to the country and decision to pursue graduate school at the Technion would surely infuse me with the dose of Chutzpah needed to succeed. Or so I thought.
Interviewing for my first job in Israel and entering the workforce was a whole other ball game. The Israeli professional landscape is characterized by informality, where opinions are expressed freely and loudly. Deadlines and meetings are more relaxed, and results-oriented, “tachless” interactions outweigh formalities and hierarchies. Most important is the development of personal connections amongst your professional contacts in order to fuel the power of “protexia” [connections] when needed.
Rather than tackle this cultural maze on my own, I decided that I needed to reach out for guidance, the “Sabra” kind. Through known Olim organizations, I acquired two mentors within my field who helped me tailor my CV, create a professional pitch and prepare for interviewing in the Israeli market. They reached out to connections within their network who might assist me and gave me tips on what it takes to succeed in my field here, which was quite different than the skill-set required back home. Once I secured my first position, my mentors reviewed the employment contract to ensure what I was signing was strictly Kosher. They painted a realistic picture of the Israeli professional landscape and most importantly, provided the support and backing needed for an otherwise long and lonely journey.
So, how do you find a career mentor, you ask?
First, you must realize that mentors won’t miraculously descend on you like manna from heaven – they must be sought. How you seek them will most likely depend on your level of Chutzpah.
Here is some guidance:
1. Have no fear, reach out!
Find that person who holds your dream job and figure out how they got there. Send them a brief message describing your aspirations and ask if they can spare a short meeting at a cafe of their choice. If the mere idea of reaching out to a stranger makes you palpitate, do a quick LinkedIn search to see if you have any common connections who can facilitate an introduction. Remember, most people enjoy talking about themselves and will be flattered that you want to learn from them, emulating their path. Israelis especially love to give Olim a helping hand. Worse comes to worst, they’ll tell you they’re unavailable, you won’t take it personally and reach out to the next person in line. This country thrives on informality- use it to your benefit.
2. Come prepared
So, you’ve secured the coveted meeting, now what? Learn all you can about the person you are about to meet. Google, LinkedIn and Facebook are your best friends. Use them to prepare insightful questions about the things you wish to know more about. Be timely and express that you respect the opportunity.
3. Join a networking organization
If reaching out to someone for a one-on-one still isn’t your cup of tea, seek out a networking organization or MeetUp event related to your field of work. You’ll still need to muster up the courage to go up to people and strike up a conversation.
4. Heed your mentor’s advice and keep that fire burning
Listen and absorb what your mentor has to say. After all, that’s why you reached out to someone who can provide you with perspective based on experience and wisdom. Finally, don’t forget to follow up. Whichever mentor selection method you choose, the bulk of the responsibility lies on you. A mentee must not only initiate the relationship but cultivate it, keep it going and make the most of it. Mentors are of use not only when you’re just starting off but throughout your career, they can help you navigate complexities that may arise.
5. Pay it forward
Once you develop your own set of expertise don’t forget the people who helped you along the way and show thanks by repaying the favor to others who seek guidance.
To help ease your professional Aliya “growing pains”, pair yourself with people who can guide you.
Mentors can help acquaint you with the working culture, set expectations, contribute to your professional development and most importantly, be one of your first personal connections in the professional landscape. They are the perfect ice breaker to that Israeli culture shock. Trust me, they’re worth it!
Orit Lahav completed her B.A. in Psychology with First-Class Honors at McGill University. She also holds an MSc. in Organizational Psychology from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Orit is currently the HR Manager at Israel Tech Challenge, and with her vast knowledge and experience in the field, she also delivers CV and Interviewing Workshops to ITC participants.
Orit delivering an Interview Workshop to ITC participants