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It has been a fulfilling, and at times challenging, experience to deal with many of the unique aspects of Israeli culture. Job search has been one of those “unique aspects” and it is fascinating to stop and observe the cultural differences between the interview experience Western immigrants are used to, and how job interviews are conducted in Israel.
Tie and Jacket: Leave that tie and jacket at home! Don’t even bring it to Israel unless you are planning on getting married (and even then, it’s often optional). Israeli dress code is very relaxed; however do plan to be a little bit more dressed up than the interviewer. A pair of slacks and a nice shirt should do that.
Jeans: It is an interesting phenomenon I still need to understand, but wearing jeans in Israel is considered “business casual” and sometimes even “elegant.” Perhaps that’s due to the cost of clothing here? My recommendation is to go with your Western definition of “business casual.”
Brand Awareness: Make sure you are not wearing a “crocodile logo” shirt if you are meeting with the “horseback sport logo” company. This applies to other products as well. For example, don’t ask for an “X-Cola” if you are interviewing at the “Y-Cola” company. (Exception: If interviewing at a wine or alcoholic beverage company, the question “Would you like something to drink?” does not mean “Would you like an alcoholic beverage?”)
To many Israelis, traveling from one city to another is usually a 30 -minute drive. Keep in mind that the “30-minute commute” concept holds true even when they are traveling to the U.S.
I recently read about Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (1849 - 1932) who joked: “If a person decides to meet at a certain specific time and he arrives at that exact time, I am afraid that he might have transgressed the prohibition against following in the ways of the non-believers.”
Turn your cellphone off… so that you don’t interfere with the interviewer’s cellphone calls: I would say each interview I’ve had has been interrupted by an average of 4 cellphone calls (not kidding), although there are always exceptions. Expect some email action as well.
Leave the kids at home: This was shocking but true. During two different occasions I had the interviewer’s children interacting with us. During one of those interviews, I even provided my notepad and pen to entertain his kid at the coffee shop. I guess that answered the question regarding my problem-solving skills!
It’s Mincha (prayer) time: I loved this one. My interview was halted so that we could head down to the building’s basement to daven Mincha (pray the afternoon prayer). Was it a second round interview with “The Boss?” Was it part of the interview? I don’t think so; however it definitely had a positive effect on my views of that company. I love this country!
It’s not personal: There is no such thing as “personal questions.” It’s all open here - How old are you? How many kids? Where are you from? Why did you make aliyah? Expect your handwriting to get analyzed by a graphologist. For a 3rd round interview, I was going to go through a polygraph (lie detector)! Too bad I didn’t get to experience that one.
True story: As I entered the office of the interviewer, he looked at me with my kippah (skullcap) on my head. Before even shaking hands, he wrote on a paper and murmured loudly, “Israel W… Shomer Mitzvot (keeper of commandments i.e. religious)”… That was actually a compliment, although a potential lawsuit if it happened in the U.S. I definitely love this country!
Blind date: I do not have any experience on blind dates; however I think I can be an advisor now. For research purposes of writing this blog post I read about blind dates and amazingly, they are the same as blind interviews.
Who to look for? Make use of Google and social networking sites to know what the interviewer looks like if possible. That can avoid many embarrassing moments, or it could lead you to getting a completely different job if you meet with a different (read: wrong) person. Trying to make eye contact with each lonely person at the coffee shop to check if he/she is your interviewer can send the wrong signal about what you are doing at the coffee shop in the first place.
Where to meet? The meeting place can be anywhere. The natural choice is their office or a coffee place. Some unusual places I interviewed at include: car dealership, a gas station convenience store, convention center, and a cousin’s living room, with the entire family around to offer advice and opinions after the meeting.
Listen closely: On phone interviews make sure you pay close attention. That first sentence can often be crucial, and will probably be in Hebrew. So be prepared, especially if Hebrew is not your mother tongue.
Phone: “We are calling from AT regarding the email you sent to us. Sorry it took us so long to get back to you.” (Note: It was never made clear exactly where they were calling from.)
Me: “Oh yes, of course. Don’t worry about it. I’m sorry but I am about to sign a job offer with another company. If I had a little bit more time I would have loved to meet with you; however, I’m afraid at this moment I’m close to signing with this other company.”
Phone: “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you mean. We are calling regarding the email you sent to us a couple of weeks ago for…”
Beware of the time before, during and after “the holidays.” This is the time between Rosh Hashanah until after Sukkot, usually around September-October time. Become familiar with the term “Achrei Hachagim (after the holidays).” Everything for about 3-4 weeks is halted until “Achrei Hachagim”, and then when “Achrei Hashagim” actually arrive, I guess it’s time for everyone in the country to get all those things done, so you now need to wait another 3-4 weeks until it gets to a status of “Achrei Ha-Achrei Hachagim” (after the “after the holidays”).
I want to thank all the potential employers, headhunters and industry experts for their time during our many meetings and for providing material to choose from for this blog post. The post is not intended to harm anyone; it is intended to offer a humorous way of looking at our cultural differences.
Israel Weisser, originally from Mexico, made aliyah from the U.S. in 2008 to fulfill his dreams with his wife and kids. He is an experienced marketer from well-known leading multinational companies and is currently looking for a job. He is also starting his first freelance job leveraging his marketing and multinational background, as well as his international network, to connect Israeli companies with the U.S and Latin-American markets. With only one year as a blogger, he has maintained family and friends up-to-date and entertained with his experiences in Israel at his blog, The Weissers’ Journey to Israel.
This article is part of the 3rd Annual JobMob Guest Blogging Contest. If you want Israel Weisser to win, share this article with your friends.