Need Work? Find a job in Russia.
Before My Time
People who were in Moscow 20 years ago often describe it as the Wild West. It was a place where a man with a good idea and some business savvy could become a millionaire overnight. It was a new democracy and everything was up for grabs. Many of the millionaires and billionaires that populate Moscow or have since moved on to own football clubs in London established themselves and their companies during this era. The climate also catered to expats. A middle manager could take a 10 hour flight to Moscow and suddenly he was an executive. Times are different now.
Going to Russia
Twenty years is a long time. In fact, three years is a long time in this young democracy. I came to Moscow three years ago as an English teacher. Why I came and my on the job experience is a topic for a future blog. This one will focus on my job seeking experience in Russia. Initially, I applied online to a very reputable and well known school in Russia. I had no teaching experience or a TEFL certification and my degree was in I.T. Due to my lack of experience and certification, I applied for the intern program. Anyway, a school representative called me and asked me some questions about my interest in Russia, what makes me think I can do the job, etc. I think the think which sold me the most was my past experience working with people. I was accepted and they sent me several “modules” of English grammar and vocabulary related to the language. I completed each module in as timely a manner as possible, tried to come across as professional in all our correspondence. My questions were frequent because this was to be my first time working or living abroad and Russia has a reputation for being dangerous. I wasn’t scared though, I was excited.
In no time I was scheduled to arrive in Moscow ASAP. I was going to arrive before the rest of the interns, receive condensed individual training, and start working before them. I was cool with that. Now it was just a matter of getting my letter of invitation, applying for a visa and buying my ticket. I got my invitation letter just before Christmas so I applied knowing that they wouldn’t start processing my visa until the new year. Come January 1st I tried to find out about my paperwork. I’d never applied for a visa so I was a bit worried that I’d done something wrong. Much to my surprise the embassy was closed until the 10th for the New Year’s holiday. In Russia they take a 10 day break between January 1st and January 10th to celebrate New Year’s Day and Orthodox Christmas. This gives Russian embassy workers in America about three weeks off between December 25th and January 10th. Keep this in mind if you’re applying for a visa. Finally, January 28th, I landed in Russia.
Upon Arrival I was met at the airport by a car, taken to my new home, and scheduled to meet my new directors for a briefing. The job I got was underpaid, the living conditions weren’t great (to say the least), and I was stuck living with a stranger. Fortunately, the bad pay was exactly what I’d signed up for, the place was about 3 minutes walk from the entrance to the metro, and my stranger of a flat mate was easy to get along with and, most importantly, I was in Russia!
Starting to Work in Russia
At the briefing I found out that I was an easy hire. Many new hires didn’t do the English modules they were assigned and asked a lot more, less relevant questions than I did. I began my training immediately and was working in no time. After training I learned that teaching isn’t the respectable job I believed it to be. Many of my colleagues and counterparts in Moscow were drunkards, social outcasts, or gap year students who didn’t care about their job or their students at all or a combination of the three.
While working for the school I wanted to make some money on the side to try an supplement my income. I went to some well known internet forums and posted my resume there. I wasted my time competing with teachers from all around the city for freelance teaching jobs that may or may not have even existed. Have you ever been speaking to a friend or coworker and learned that they’d recently taken up a new hobby or lesson and their excitement made you want to look into and maybe participate in the same activity, for example, yoga or studying a language? I believe that about 40% of the ads on these sites are such cases. And the rest? Well, they’re mostly schools which are willing to pay you as much or less than the school you’re currently for. I also believe a very small portion is people who want, need, are willing to pay for, and have the time for English lessons. On a side note, if you’re interested in meeting single Russians, look into language exchanges which are offered on the site.
Needless to say, I gave up on those forums as a method of finding work. I found that the best thing to do is network. In Russia, maybe more than in other places, it’s all about who you know. Eventually, I received a response from an old ad I’d posted on those forums. The email was from a school which we’ll call BS School. They’re a school which teaches in-company and they needed some native speakers for a recording project they were working on. The representative asked me if I was interested in recording for a couple of hours a day for a couple of weekends. We exchanged emails, we spoke on the phone, I agreed and they offered me the gig and promised to inform me when they were set to begin recording. A month or so later I still hadn’t heard anything from them so I gave them a call. They told me that the project had been indefinitely postponed due to “the crisis”. The recession hit Russia in late 2008, a little later than it hit The States. ( The crisis was a great excuse for large companies to cut back on expenses in the forms of laying off employees and decreasing benefits. ) “The crisis”, fair enough, but my experience with BS wasn’t over yet.
More From BS
I served my nine months as an intern. In that time I learned a lot, I’d received my certificate and nine months experience. When the time to renew my contract drew near I decided to look around for other options. I wasn’t happy with my place in terms or distance from the center, area, and the flat itself. As I started teaching more private students and my pay was increased I had more desire to leave home. I lived 30 minutes from the center in a grimy, dangerous area and if anyone had been interested in travelling that far to hang out with me in a boring area like that I would have said “no”. I could not entertain guests in that flat. I considered working for other schools which paid more than my existing school. I searched everywhere, I checked those dreaded forums again, sent my CV to agencies, asked around and I got two interviews. Both interviews were with in-company schools. The first interview went well, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. It paid more but didn’t provide housing and required a lot more travelling than my existing job. I didn’t follow up after the interview and I wasn’t disappointed in the least bit when they didn’t call me back. The second interview was with ol’ BS school. It was recommended by a former colleague of mine, Dave. Dave worked for BS. A mutual friend of ours had just left the school and Russia for good, Dave was planning on leaving in the very near future, and a colleague of his had recently put in his notice. At this point I had no idea that this was the same organization that I had dealt with in the past regarding the recording gig. Chances are, if I had known, I still would have gone because based on what Dave had told me the pay was a lot higher, they took care of visa paperwork and gave you a housing allowance. I went to the interview and met with an American guy named Mike and a Russian woman named Olga. Mike looked like a giant bullfrog and his accomplice was a small Russian woman who looked good for her age but really ordinary. Calling a woman ordinary is almost an insult in Moscow, where even the most ordinary woman are dressed to impress. They asked me about my experience, what I liked about teaching, why I wanted to leave my current job and about my teaching resources. All the while Bullfrog man was scribbling circles on a piece of paper and looking rather bored. The only thing I really regret about meeting that odd couple is telling them some of the resources that I use.
I sent my follow up email, waited a few days and BS still hadn’t called me back. They knew that my contract was coming to an end and I needed to hear an answer soon. So, I called. They didn’t answer at first but I left them a message and waited. Eventually I reached the Bullfrog king of BS and he told me that they didn’t need anyone at the moment but he’d keep me in mind if the needed anyone to teach children. Why is that? Is that because I said that I’m better with children than many of my colleagues? Maybe they misunderstood me? I was forced to re-sign with the school. It wasn’t so bad, they’d always treated me well. BS didn’t want to give me a contract but they still decided to keep my name in their address book in case a job that no one else wanted came up.
Remember, at this point I still didn’t realize that there was a connection between the recording situation and the interview with a bullfrog. I realized this when Battle Toad’s sidekick sent me an email asking me to start teaching a class on Saturday morning. I had no interest whatsoever in doing this. By this point I’d filled my schedule with private students. Yet, I still gave them a pleasant refusal and promised to ask around. I asked around but no one wanted to teach on Saturday, which probably explained why they resorted to calling someone who wasn’t good enough to teach for them full time. That ended my dealings with BS. Good riddance to bad rubbish. (Don’t get me wrong I love frogs, but frog men aren’t so easy to deal with)
Later on down the line I ended up teaching at a franchise school .The franchise school offered to pay me about double and provide a place to live in a much nicer part of town. The apartment itself was 1,000x better too. Before accetpting this position I went in for one more interview. This interview was a recommendation from a friend of mine who was leaving for a better paying job in a bigger company with more opportunity for advancement and looked better on a CV. The job I was being interviewed for was an editor position. I had no professional experience in editing, just some side work and favors I did while teaching. I went to the interview and didn’t get the job. The company was kind enough to inform me over the phone that they’d chosen someone else. So, I accepted to offer from the school. I worked with that school until I realized that if I ever wanted to go home I’d need to work in a field which provided experience relevant to jobs in the U.S. It was time to start searching again.
Teaching English in The States and in The U.K. without a degree in teaching is less demanded, offers lower pay, and less flexibility. I started my search using the same methods as before but this time asking around took priority. Some of my private students at an executive search firm agency suggested that I apply to work for their HR Group. They advised me to call the CEO directly and talk to him. They refused to talk to him for me because they knew it would be more effective if I made the call myself. These people were professionals, after all. I made the call, we spoke and he agreed to give me a chance. Today I’m still with the HR group working for a management selection firm. I still teach the students from the executive search agency, only now they’re my colleagues.
At the time I wrote this hub I was working as a recruitment consultant in a management selection agency. I have since moved on to doing my own recruitment side project.. I receive a lot of emails from people who are job hunting. The senders of these emails vary. Sometimes they’re already in Russia or and sometimes they dream of coming to Russia. Some of these people are Russian and some are not. Unfortunately, many of these people can’t be helped through my agency. In the time that I’ve been in this job, about 6 months at the time of writing this, I only had one vacancy which required a foreigner. Most of the others would not even consider foreign candidates due to bureaucracy, language barrier, and many other factors. That means my agency can’t help you, sorry. The best I can do to help is to offer advice or direct you to someone or somewhere that might be interested in what you have to offer. I will provide some general advice below including links.
Advice about finding a job in Russia
Advice for finding a job in Russia as a foreigner:
If you want a good job in Russia I suggest coming here with an international company. Apply for a job at a company which has operations in Russia and see if they are in need of your expertise or apply for a position within your current company if they work or want to work in Russia. Multinationals in Russia tend to treat their expat employees like gold. Some pay for modern, well furnished flats in the center, provide drivers on the weekends, provide company cars and phones, plus a nice salary.
That is not an option for everyone. If that method doesn’t work out for you there is a lot of fun to be had in the teaching biz. The major schools will also provide accommodation for their employees. The real money to be made doesn’t come from the school but from teaching independently. Not everyone can hack life in Russia and not everyone can teach. Once you’ve got some experience under your belt schools which pay more are more willing to consider employing you. One thing I recommend doing before you try to find a job teaching is obtaining a CELTA or TEFL certificate. You can get these online or in schools around the world. Sometimes they’re expensive but you’ll receive higher pay if you come with one of these certs.
You can come to Russia as a student and while you're here studying you can get a feel for the place and explore the market. This is a great option for anyone because in addition to getting you here it's also a way to learn the language which is a very skill to have here and abroad.
Another option is to come to Russia as a governess or nanny. These jobs pay incredibly well, offer opportunities to travel in comfort, provide accommodation, and often times a driver is provided as well. If you enjoy the job and stick with it for a while there is one downside. Finding a job with ‘glorified babysitter’ on your CV isn't such an easy task. But, with no expenses you should be able to save enough money to buy a home or start a business of you own back home or anywhere else in the world you’d like to live.
Most importantly, joining a school or becoming a nanny gets your foot in the door. Once you’re on the ground you can apply directly to companies in the city and network to meet employees of companies which you want to work for. In my time here I've discovered that word of mouth is the most powerful tool.
With that in mind there is another option for those who are coming with a spouse. It’s easy to get a tourist visa for three months. You can use these three months to network and search for a job. It’s also easy to supplement your income with consulting if you have a specialized background as well as teaching or other language related activities. It’s amazing how your native tongue can open up opportunities that your degree can’t.
I hope this helped answer any questions you may have about working in Russia.