Eight years after the fall of communism, the frantic pace of social change in Slovakia continues unabated in the job market. Recruitment agencies and multinational companies operating in the country agree that the quality of university graduates entering the job market has never been higher, and say that the language skills and business sense shown by today's job applicants would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.
But this high praise does not mean that young Slovak school-graduates are considered to be on par with their western counterparts. Many foreign firms cite the "personality profiles" of Slovak job-seekers as flawed, saying that graduates show far too little of the "go get 'em" enthusiasm that companies are looking for. The passivity and apathy of today's young people, analysts agree, springs from Slovakia's communist past.
The wrong personality
"Our young people are often very passive," said Martin Novotny, principal consultant at J.F. Jenewein, Slovakia's largest recruitment firm. "They lack a sense of responsibility for themselves, and this is something that comes from 40 years of communism." Novotny said that some of Jenewein's business clients have also complained that after years of economic hardship in Slovakia,"many of our young people want everything at once," and that they lacked the patience and self-reliance needed to climb out of entry-level positions.
David Frier, general manager of the business consulting firm Arthur Andersen Slovakia, reported that many Slovak job seekers lacked basic presentation skills. He explained that his firm held annual recruitment drives that drew as many as 400 or 500 applicants. "What we are seeing is that at least at this initial stage, the ability of applicants to really sell their talents is in most cases close to zero," he said. According to Frier, the application process was meant to give prospective employees "a chance to explain why the company should take a closer look at them."
From the applications his company received, Frier continued, some 80 people might be invited to assessment centers for further evaluation, and 12 interviewed seriously. "Even here, we come back to the question of selling skills," he said, "but now it is more an issue of confidence. Some people are scared to come for assessment, while even people we hire may be scared because they don't think they are good enough. I don't think they know how good they really are."
The right profile
"If I had to draw a picture of the ideal candidate for a top-salary job," said Novotny, "I'd say he or she should be between 28 and 35, with the relevant education, of course, and between 5 and 7 years work experience, strong german and english language skills, and the right kind of personality."
Frank Walsh, a consultant at Arthur Andersen, agreed that the personality of job applicants was one of the highest considerations in hiring decisions. "Absolutely, the personality profile is key," he said. "Our employees have to be able to inspire confidence in our customers."
Frier claimed that the academic quality and business skills of their new Slovak employees was outstanding. "We hire from perhaps the top 10 percent of Slovak university graduates," he said; "the top people here compare very well academically with those from western countries."
Nevertheless, both Frier and Walsh agreed that academic training was only a relatively small part of the picture, and that what held many qualified applicants back were deeply-ingrained character traits like "not wanting to stand out from the crowd," and an insufficient appreciation of the importance of "presentation, looking the part and portraying a sense of confidence."
The Slovak Spectator's Top Five Job search Do's
1. Decide what it is that makes you different - sets you apart - from the hundreds of other university graduates pouring onto the labor market.
2. Sell these qualities confidently during your interview.
3. Have something intelligent to say when asked why you are applying for that specific firm.
4. Expect less than the world from your first job - remember that everyone has to start at the bottom, and concentrate on proving why you should be raised to a higher position. Be prepared to accept that other people may not take you at your own (possibly inflated) estimate.
5. Remember that how you present yourself is far more important than what is written on your resume. After all, everyone being interviewed for the job went to university and got great marks, but few have mastered the subtle art of inspiring confidence in others.
The Top Five Job search Don'ts
1. Don't submit a handwritten resume, especially one that records in fascinating detail your academic results from primary school.
2. Don't forget to volunteer important personal details during your interview. If you skied for the Slovak National Team, don't refer to yourself as "a pretty good skier."
3. Don't confuse immodesty (normally a vice) with self-advertisement (during a 10 minute interview, a cardinal virtue). The ordinary rules of behavior do not apply when you are trying to get a job.
4. Don't forget the cultural divide that still exists between east and west - in the west, the customer rules, but in Slovakia, the producer is king. For in an interview, it's up to you, as a seller, to win over your future employer, the customer.
5. Don't wear jeans.
Source: Interviews with Slovak and foreign firms
20. Nov 1997 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson