The “Quirks” of My Job Search in the South

Written by on September 6, 2016 in ,


by Rakefet Samueli, Be’er Sheva, NBN 2012

“Would you like something hot to drink?” is probably the first thing every Israeli has ever said to me ever. And the first day of work in an Israeli office did not disappoint! The thing is, I was offered a hot drink at least five times before lunch (ok, only four). And it’s summer. In the desert. (The real desert. The one where your iphone weather app thinks you’re located on a camel farm). Much like Aliyah in general, acclimating to the Israeli workplace is full of unexpected cultural quirks in addition to the general Israeli-office culture adjustment. The truth is that my first “real job” in Israel was also my first “real job” anywhere so I didn’t have much to compare it to, but I’m just going to assume that it’s a little different. Let’s say a little more Israeli.

I received a B.A. in Physics from Hunter College in NY and M.Sc. in Environmental Physics and Solar Energy from Ben Gurion University Desert Studies program in Sde Boker. When I started my job search I was mainly hoping to land a job in research and development, preferably related to solar energy, but seriously just sent my CV to any and all position that were, in some way, related to physics and/or optics. I searched through job sites and also scoured the internet and sent my CV to any relevant company, whether they were advertising open positions or not. Most places did not respond at all (I hear that’s typical here). I also asked old classmates and professors and Nefesh B’Nefesh if they had any leads. I ultimately interviewed at three companies and got one job offer (again, don’t be surprised if you just never hear back from a company after an interview, unless you ask them for an update). Job offer quirk: here, the salaries aren’t stated up front in the job advertisement and the interviewer may ask you what salary you expect before making you an offer. This can be really nerve wracking and feels like a mind game, especially to someone who is new to the industry. You don’t want to undersell yourself or overshoot and lose a potential job offer. Therefore, it’s important to research the salary range in a field of work before going out for the interview. Also, have the right amount of chutzpah, I mean confidence.

While searching for a job here in the Negev, I began to feel that the opportunities in my field were pretty limited in the south. I saw advertisements for jobs in the fields of chemistry and biotech, computers and various manufacturing positions. I didn’t see many R&D opportunities in physics, optics or solar energy, nor does the university hire many (if any) non-student lab researchers. I wondered if I had studied the wrong thing. Happily, within three months I did find a position at Rotem Industries advanced coatings R&D lab near Dimona. It should be noted that this was one of the companies that I sent my CV to despite them not advertising any open positions at the time. So don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! I later learned that three months is not such a long time to be job hunting, although it certainly felt that way.

My first task on the job has been writing up a research proposal to receive the funding for the project. The proposal is normally submitted in Hebrew, but my supervisor confirmed that it could also be submitted in English. That was a huge relief for me! I speak, read and write Hebrew on an advanced level and probably could write a research proposal in Hebrew if I had to… it would just take five times longer to do so. I basically do my work in English, reading academic articles and writing up the proposal, but interact with my co-workers in Hebrew and discuss the project in Hebrew to the best of my ability. Luckily, no one minds if I throw in a word or two (or three…) of English. (Go science!) Soon I’ll start the preliminary experiments.

Being immersed in a Hebrew speaking environment is immeasurably improving my Hebrew! I definitely miss parts of conversations as I sit and eat lunch with my coworkers and need to ask others to repeat themselves several times, or explain that funny joke. I tell my colleagues that I want them to correct my grammatical errors to help me improve, and I tell myself not to get discouraged as social nuances go over my head. Coworker quirk:  it is not ok to start eating before wishing everyone else “b’teavon!” Learn from my mistakes, people.

Many companies in Israel, especially ones in remote locations like mine, provide free shuttle buses for workers and hot lunch. I really love how much easier these two things make my week. Pay stub quirk: These benefits (and others) are technically free, but their values are included in your income tax calculation, so you pay taxes on it. Actually, your whole pay stub may take months to decipher. Be friends with your HR people. They will help you figure it out.

I’m still a pretty new employee here, and still learning the office culture, navigating the ins and outs of full-time working parent life in Israel. It’s crazy and wonderful, and I’m trying to keep my new coffee drinking habit at bay.







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