The concept of a career is relatively new — having first made an appearance about 100 years ago. Looking back towards the beginnings of history, humankind started out “professionally” as the hunter-gatherer. Later, when society developed into more complex groupings (in villages and cities, or agricultural areas), most individuals continued to work for generations within a family’s given profession.

Only recently has the approach to the work place moved into the contemporary mindset, and today’s attitude towards work is very different from that of earlier eras. Most of us no longer just “have a job” – whatever field you are working in, you are developing a career.

As new Olim, career development offers a number of challenges beyond the standard issues that are involved. While you may be bringing to the table valuable experience, you may also be facing new limitations such as a lack of Hebrew, lack of familiarity with Israeli cultural norms and a lack of knowledge regarding new skills that are required in the workplace.

In order to succeed in this environment, it is necessary to choose an initial place of employment that will help you gain those skills that enable you to move ahead within the Israeli job market, and succeed.

Building a career in Israel involves integrating three different (and sometimes contradictory) viewpoints:

  • Your Dreams: It is important to have a clear concept of your own interests and aspirations. For example, if you always wanted to be a doctor, why are you interested in being a doctor? It is important to focus not just on the goal itself but also to understand the reasons that underlie your interests.
  • Your Goals: If you have a general concept of where you want are headed professionally, it is important to discuss your goals with individuals who have succeeded in this field, and to identify where your skill set fits in with the demands of the profession.
  • Your Opportunities: Dreams and goals need to interface with the realities on the ground. For example, if you are interested in growing into a management position, look for a workplace where you can see the possibility to grow.

Getting Started
Before you can start the process of career development, you’ll need to consider two basic concepts:

  • Awareness: The first step involves taking responsibility for the process of finding work and developing your career; understand that it’s not going to happen unless you take your own job hunt in hand.
  • Change: The second step is the knowledge that you may need to be open to change. In many cases, your previous work history may not lead directly to a parallel position in Israel, and it may be crucial to open your options and consider new kinds of work.

Keep in mind these introductory concepts when moving ahead by identifying and clarifying your career direction.

Where Am I Currently?
In approaching the job market, your first focus should be on your own background as relates to your skills. You may want to ask yourself these questions:

  • What are your strengths?
  • What skills do you bring to the table?
  • What do you enjoy?
  • Do you have health limitations? Do they affect your abilities in the workplace?
  • Has your personal life changed? Aside from Aliyah, have you been through other life changes (marriage, divorce, birth, etc.)?

Your professionals choices will be affected by the decisions you make in your personal life. You may have decided to put your professional work on hold while settling a family into new schools and a new community. Alternatively, you may want to be working in your field but be limited by a limited Hebrew skills.

Where Do I Want to Be?
There is a wide range of “end goals” in terms of the type of employment that people are seeking. Some people are interested in being a “professional expert” and developing knowledge in a high level. Others are interested in being managers, always looking for new opportunities to move up within the organization. Some are looking for autonomy; the ability to work independently. Note that if you are used to working as a freelancer, it is recommended to first work for a year as a salaried employee, so that you can learn the ropes before branching out on your own.

The majority of individuals are interested in social and financial stability – though in today’s job market, this is not easy to obtain.

Today, people are more aware of the concept of “balancing” a career – it may be important for you to give up on a promotion that requires moving, in order (for example) to live near one’s parents or keep your children in the same community and school.

Key Elements of the Israeli Workplace
After assessing your own skills and goals, you’ll need to gain a basic understanding of the key elements found in the Israeli job market. Here is an outline of some of the trends that you’ll come across.

  • Globalization: The international nature of sales and marketing today allows Olim with the appropriate experience to find work promoting Israeli products abroad.
  • Privatization: Since 1987, Israel has gone through a process of privatization of a large sector of the workforce, which makes it easier to break into certain industries.
  • Informality: Israel has an informal atmosphere in the workplace which is important to understand, and to explore – even prior to making Aliyah. As new Olim, it is important to learn about the ways in which professionals in Israel interact and interface with clients and other colleagues.
  • Networking: In this environment, personal connections are very important and have a tremendous impact on who is hired (and for which positions). For example, connections from the army can be very influential in determining a hire. As a result, professional networking is critical.
  • SOHO (small office/home office): There are new options available allowing Olim to work from home.
  • Part Time: In some ways, it is easier to obtain part time positions that take advantage of your specific skills and strengths rather than a full time position.
  • Outsourcing: In Israel, as in many other places internationally, companies are increasingly hiring workers as outsourced staff, for both long and short term projects. In some ways, it is easier as new Olim to obtain work as an outsourced worker than as a full-fledged permanent staff member. For example, in many companies the accounting services are outsourced; in government offices as well, certain services are outsourced. The outsourcing projects can sometimes continue for many years.

Growing Trends in Career Development
Some people may find it difficult to find a full time, salaried position. If this is your experience, there are several trends in Israeli society which may offer a window of opportunity in terms of employment.

  • The Third Age: Services geared towards people who are nearing retirement age (or approaching early retirement), such as tourism for individuals in the “over 50s” bracket. Keep in mind, however, that selling services to any target population will involve very pro-active marketing efforts.
  • Leisure Activities/Education and Training: Working in an education-related field may be a good way to break into the job market and simultaneously strengthen existing language skills. There is a growing demand for Chugim – a wide range of recreational and educational activities – especially for the retiree population. There is also increasing demand for health-related courses such as prenatal sessions, doula services, alternative medicine and other types of health treatments.
  • Technologies: New technologies are a hot sector in the job market, including cleantech and the development of alternative energy sources. In addition, in today’s market it is continually necessary to improve and expand one’s technological skills – e-learning is but one example – and this area of technological training has tremendous earning potential for new Olim.
  • Small Businesses: Small businesses, in contrast to large-scale companies, are a growing sector of the job market.
  • Multiple Careers: The market has changed in terms of both the horizontal and vertical nature of career development. Many individuals develop careers in parallel or switch careers multiple times.

Some Conclusions
Questions of career generally take into account a person’s professional background, personal choices, and the types of opportunities that exist “on the ground”. Careers in Israel are no exception to this basic description, but Olim are faced with the additional challenges that make the career move more complex. Some of the issues that need to be addressed include learning a new culture and language, and understanding which skills are in demand.

Today’s job climate offers a number of advantages that make the process of Aliyah and integration into a new work environment somewhat easier. In the current market, all professionals – not just Olim – need to retrain on a fairly regular basis, and increasing numbers of individuals find that they need to change careers. In this atmosphere of continued adjustment, it can be easier to find opportunities. In addition, the globalization of the Israeli market opens doors, as it has led to an increased need for English language skills and allowed Olim to work for companies based overseas.

Developing a career, in Israel as elsewhere, requires the investment of thought and active planning. Career development as Olim may require more flexibility than would have been necessary in your country of origin. In approaching a traditional job hunt, one tends to look for a position that matches a previously held job. When making Aliyah, it is necessary to turn the entire question of career on its head, and ask: What skills do I bring to the table? What do I have, that Israel needs? This is a very different question, which leads to different answers – and which will help you transition into the Israeli workplace.