Positioning yourself for success

“Thank you for your application, but your profile does not fit the requirements; we consider you overqualified,” is the answer that many experienced candidates get when looking for a job – assuming they get any, since the national sport among Slovak employers is to not respond to applicants at all.

International competition is the best ‘battlefield’ to verify one’s qualities. International competition is the best ‘battlefield’ to verify one’s qualities. (Source: Sme - Vladimír Šimíček)

“Thank you for your application, but your profile does not fit the requirements; we consider you overqualified,” is the answer that many experienced candidates get when looking for a job – assuming they get any, since the national sport among Slovak employers is to not respond to applicants at all.

The label ‘overqualified’ is frequently chosen as the most politically correct response, as its doesn’t hurt anyone’s feeling and reassures candidates that they are otherwise good. But what is hidden behind this label?

Overqualified, in most cases, actually means overqualified-and-therefore-expensive for the employer. It also means “even if we hire you for a lower position we are sure you will accept the first better offer and we will then need to recruit someone else”.

Furthermore, this label might also be used when a candidate is not only overqualified but also ‘too old’. Last but not least, it is used when responding politely to managerial applicants who have worked for Slovak companies but lack “the ‘badge’ of international experience”; in other words, the employer thinks that such a candidate will be unable to adjust to the way international companies operate in Slovakia.

The Slovak market has matured and competition in top and middle management has grown tougher. While in the past, companies very quickly grabbed those who spoke two languages and had big international names on their CV, nowadays this is nothing special. CVs and LinkedIn profiles are screened for specialities, cross-border project experience, regional responsibility, signs of seniority which suggest applicants will be capable of challenging and coaching local managers, as well as firmness, modesty plus wisdom when addressing corporation owners with concepts and business plans.

Not enough managerial positions, a great deal of qualified competitors and picky employers: this is the reality of the Slovak labour market. What can help set you apart from the rest?

Mobility: clients seek experienced and senior people who are ready to take a job in the least attractive locations. Clients also seek managers who have gained solid local experience and are ready to take a regional role. Frequent travelling, making up 70-80 percent of working time, family, schooling for kids and one’s simple work-life balance all need to be considered before undertaking such a mission. A great challenge lies on one side, while hours in the air, at airports and lonely nights in hotels lie on the other.

The fact is that Slovakia will not grow any bigger and it will take several more years to attract the kind of sophisticated, technology-driven business that will create a natural challenge for senior managers without the desire to go regional. Therefore, a regional job is the right way to go for those who feel neglected and overqualified for the Slovak labour market.

International competition is the best ‘battlefield’ to verify one’s own qualities. Some survive, some return home and happily accept a local managerial job even in some countryside locality. Who could possibly question such a decision and the work-life balance people learn to value?

Let’s have a look at the other side of the market: shortages in some professions. The shortage of skilled experts is fatal in some locations and poor recruiters sweat to find any literate engineer they can get hold of. Manufacturing experts, process engineers, technologists, customer quality engineers, sales engineers, application engineers: do these positions sound sexy? They should, especially to high school graduates who are considering which university to apply for.

Perhaps state authorities dealing with Slovak labour market shortages should ‘massage’ the public on a daily basis with the profiles of successful technicians, and stories of manufacturers from various corners of the country. Confused students may think it is still ‘in’ to study law, marketing and journalism. But the market is hungry for technicians, engineers, logistics planners, controllers and, naturally, salespeople. It is still safe to study business, but even safer to enrol at a technical school.

What are the other reasons that the country does not supply a sufficient number of skilled technicians? Do technical jobs pay well enough to support a decent life? These are facts that cannot be overlooked. Everybody knows foreign investors came to Slovakia to save money. They usually refuse to pay for expensive training courses or career development for their employees. Still, they do pay for salary benchmarks, compare these across their organisations and sometimes arrive with really bizarre expectations for employees and totally out-ofrange pay plans. This is one of the reasons why they cannot find proper-calibre employees, and this has led to a vicious circle. Companies pay little, people are not in a hurry to work for them and are ready to leave when the employer next door offers €50 a month more: over-the-fence tourism works well.

“What I would like to express is that Slovaks are good people but they lack experience for their job,” said a Dutch expatriate manager in Slovakia, one of the respondents of Target’s regional study aimed at assessing the CEE management culture. “That means, for example, that there is not a good relationship between schools and companies to work together during the student’s courses…. The working environment and the education environment should work more closely together to achieve education in reality.”

Mariana Turanová is a managing partner in Slovakia for Target Executive Search

For more information about the Slovak labour market, HR sector and career issues in Slovakia please see our Career & Employment Guide.

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