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Business Sense: Realities of new labor market set in

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April 23, 2009, 8 p.m. | Business — by Victoria Braychenko
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When my recruitment agency got a contract last year from a large multinational corporation to recruit five new graduates to study and work at the corporation’s office in Europe, we thought it would be easy fill these positions. During the two-year contract, applicants would receive a monthly compensation of 1,500 euros, a housing subsidy, two flights home per year, 26 days of holidays and a bonus at the end of 15,000 euros. Moreover, they had an option to continue their professional career with this company in Kyiv. Despite the solid offer, we had no queues outside our office for interviews. We advertised the positions in many different ways. Our recruiters visited several universities as part of an effort to entice students. We also coached them about the trends within the industry that this company operates. We expected students to jump at the opportunity, but few expressed interest.

One student asked: “Why would we want to go somewhere else to work if local employers want to hire us already, even without a completed degree?” He added: “The best students can change their jobs every half-year. As soon as they accept a job, competitors approach them with a better offer. But if you have a job abroad, you have to pay high taxes.”

It has been six months since the global economic crisis struck, battering the banking and financial sectors, freezing construction and depressing Ukraine’s real estate market. Layoffs are piling up across all sectors of the economy. Not surprisingly, Ukraine’s job market is affected. It has reversed from an employee-driven job market to an employers’ market.

Until recently, almost every company – whether it was a Ukrainian bank or a large multinational company – had to invest much time in developing relationships with top universities across the country. There was simply no other way to fill new positions.

Companies targeted these universities to attract promising students, investing heavily in the training of future employees. The main factor driving pay raises was usually the general situation, not the personal achievements or performance of individual employees.

For many, it was quite normal to frequently job-hop. Moreover, most of the employees were ready to quit their jobs immediately if a better offer came up. Some companies reported a staff turnover of 80-100 percent annually.

A financial director at a large retail company complained last summer that he had to give in to the pressure of blue-collar employees who loaded cargo onto trucks, giving them raises upon demand. He feared that hiring a new team of loaders would cost him even more.

It all changed last October with the crisis. Recruiters are today flooded with resumes of newly unemployed, much of them part of Ukraine’s up-and-coming middle class which had until recently earned strong salaries at banks, investment companies, advertising agencies and law firms. And they are desperate to land stable jobs, even without the benefits packages and high salaries of yesterday. There are, on average, 80 contenders competing for each vacancy.

Faced with such tough competition, job seekers today have to find unusual ways to stand out and catch an employer’s eye. And so the surprise-your-potential-employer marathon has kicked off. It is quite shocking to see the stunts that some job seekers try, if they have no real achievements. For example, one former bank employee who specialized in expanding and managing branch network offices described his responsibilities at a prior job as follows: “Persuading clients that the bank is European (non-believers to be punished). Support in getting rid of unnecessary space and people. Satisfying the whims of important clients.”

Another candidate threatened one of our consultants that he would keep sending his resume in different colors until she schedules an interview for him. We are now waiting to see what he will do when he runs out of colors.

Some are trying to land a job by posting ads in social networks, or offering monetary compensation for information about vacancies. Others are blatantly offering recruiters bribes in return for recommendations to potential employers.

Some job-seekers are pressuring recruiters to reveal the names of companies seeking new workers. Having obtained the information they sought, they send their resume directly to the company’s human resources department, skipping the recruitment company. Others call the company’s headquarters abroad to get more information about the vacancy.

It’s only just beginning to filter through to many that the days of easy cash and mediocrity are over. It’s also dawning upon job applicants that this is a good time to improve skills and efficiency.

Explosive economic growth may boost the quality of life, but it does not necessarily improve the quality of job applicants on the labor market. When employees are rolling in cash, they rarely invest time into improving themselves and their credentials.

Many top Western managers and recruiters admit that employees in European countries, be it France or Poland, are often head-and-shoulders above their Ukrainian peers. They are typically more skillful, responsible and show more commitment.

This crisis may have shattered the dreams and ambitions of thousands of white-collar Ukrainians who emerged during a decade of strong economic growth. But it has rightfully forced them to shed their illusions. It forces them to understand that career development requires self-development, implemented through a well-planned strategy.

Now is the time to get another university degree, to master a new computer program or learn a new language. This is a difficult path. But it’s one that lays the foundation for a new career and sustained economic growth for Ukraine, as opposed to another bubble.

Victoria Braychenko is a marketing and communications specialist at Kyiv’s ANCOR recruitment agency. She is a former Kyiv Post reporter who can be reached at braychenko@ancor.ua.
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