– After I was laid off, it became apparent that finding another job in Italy would prove virtually impossible. My wife and I made some enquiries, sought advice, and came to the conclusion that although the economic crisis was, of course, a global one, in Russia it was never going to be on the same scale as in Italy. And that in such a huge city as Moscow, the chances of finding something to put my efforts into were immeasurably greater. The plan was a simple one: move to Moscow at the height of the crisis, and then come back. But, as you can see, I’m still here.
Brunel International N.V. was established in 1975 by the Dutch engineer Jan Brand. It specialises in recruiting qualified multinational staff for the oil and gas, financial, telecommunications, mechanical engineering, and pharmaceutical sectors. Today, 11,000 Brunel International N.V. employees operate in over 40 countries. The company has more than 100 representative offices. Its annual turnover has hit 12bn euro.
Brunel International N.V. has branches in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Irkutsk, Novorossiysk, Novy Urengoy, and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. The Moscow branch is its largest, employing 30 people, the majority of which are native Muscovites.
– When did you move here?
– November 2009.
– And did you find work straight away?
– Yes, pretty much straight away. At Brunel recruitment agency.
– What do your professional duties entail?
– I am a recruitment consultant. The company operates two programmes. We recruit top and middle-ranking managers. Aside from the normal programme of liaising with clients, we also widely use an outstaffing programming for recruiting a specialist to be taken on by a company. That is, our agency hires the employee itself, pays their salary, and makes them available to the client, as if leasing them on a contract. Brunel is one of the world’s leading recruitment agencies for this. In Russia, it is number one. Here we have more than 500 such employees, mainly in the oil and gas sector. In Russia, the “oil scene” is our trump card.
– Do you yourself deal exclusively with the “oil scene”?
– Not exclusively, no. My sphere of activity also takes in retail, engineering, construction, and manufacturing. The work is simple in some ways but very complicated in others. On the surface, it would appear to be mainly talking to people, making phone calls… But, you know, you have to deal with the most difficult “matter” there is: human matter. Every candidate has their own mentality, their own quirks, ways of thinking, and some goings-on can be quite unexpected. And it is not always easy convincing, bringing together, and “marrying” a specialist to the hiring company.
You have to deal with the most difficult “matter” there is: human matter. Every candidate has their own mentality, their own quirks.
– The employers, are they generally large corporations?
– Far from it. I have been recruiting managers for small and medium-sized businesses.
– Does the Moscow branch of Brunel look for staff only in Russia or in other countries, too?
– In principle we look all round the world but we find the overwhelming majority of candidates in Russia.
– How is the search carried out?
– There are many tools. Personal contacts, dedicated internet portals, social networks. We have our own database and anyone can send their CV to us directly.
– Do you ever entice employees from other companies?
– It does happen. The hiring company, for example, might ask us to seek out a chief accountant with solid experience in retail chains. Such people are not usually sitting twiddling their thumbs.
– Does the Russian employment market differ from the Western one in any way?
– It has own characteristics. Well, the Moscow employment market in particular. If you take the rest of Russia, the situation there is somewhat different. The market in the Russian capital, compared with the US or Europe, has a noticeably higher degree of staff mobility. People stay in the same job for a lot less time than in the West. As a result, there are always a large number of offers on the Moscow labour market and such a high demand. I call Moscow “the candidate kingdom”.
The market in the Russian capital, compared with the US or Europe, has a noticeably higher degree of staff mobility.
– What goes to explain such a mobility?
– The fact that the Moscow labour market is still relatively young. And the strong impetus in Muscovites to earn money quickly, to quickly build a career. This focus on career building quickly leads to such phenomena as a low level of horizontal mobility. Let’s say a senior accountant agrees to move somewhere as chief accountant. But persuading him to take the position of chief accountant is difficult if the salary increase isn’t so great. But the advantages are not always only material. The same job at another company may have better prospects for professional growth and promotion, a more developed and comfortable corporate culture. Lots of things. But such arguments are not really taken on board here yet.
People in Moscow are frequently paid considerably more than in Europe for the equivalent position.
Linked to this, by the way, is another specific characteristic: the gulf between the level of professionalism and that of salary. People in Moscow are frequently paid considerably more than in Europe for the equivalent position. There is always little genuine talent around, and companies, naturally, want to get their hands on it. A “salary war” is starting up. Some put pressure on the employee to move by way of high remuneration, and, where he is already working, they try to keep hold of him by offering additional perks.
– What are the typical demands from the candidates themselves, apart from a large salary?
– In Moscow, particular attention is paid to the geographical location of the job: how far away from home it is. Which I completely understand, knowing the extent of the city and the gridlock: something which I cannot get used to myself, either.
People don’t like doing overtime. They prefer working hours to be clearly set out: from now until then…
– Do any issues arise around work discipline?
– Far be it from me, an Italian, whose compatriots have never been counted amongst the most disciplined, to read the Russians a lecture on this subject. But it is probably fair to say that the Germans, Dutch, and Swedish have a stronger work ethic…
– If you are not going to read a lecture, then, which faults amongst Russian workers would you say stand out to foreign employers?
– Some would say that your specialists don’t have the right attitude towards their clients. I think that it is a matter of a mentality which is changing, albeit slowly. I repeat: the market economy in Russia is still young. Client-focus, the urge to prioritise the customer’s requirements: that will come with time. People still think more about their careers and short-term gains, often not realising that by “wooing” the customer you are encouraging them to come back to you, and that that will lead to more profits further down the line.
– Does the standard of Russian education give rise to any criticisms at all?
– It depends on the educational establishment. The best colleges turn out very good specialists.
– Your Russian really isn’t bad at all…
– Alas, it could be better. I started to learn Russian in a systematic way when I first moved to Moscow. I went on courses. But after a month, I found a job, and I became pushed for time. When you are getting in at ten, or even eleven, at night, you don’t always have the energy for doing homework.
– Is being able to speak Russian essential for the candidates you recruit?
– These days, for many of our clients, it is.
But there is one thing you should understand. Only a few years ago, foreign firms working in Moscow preferred to fill management vacancies with foreigners. They didn’t have a great deal of faith in Russians. But now, anyone can see that the number of qualified Russian workers is large. And that they are sought after for even the highest positions.
– What do you think overall of the Russian capital’s business environment?
– In Moscow, there is greater potential for increasing your business connections than in Italy. There, members of middle management have their own social circle, which is fairly narrow and exclusive. Whereas here, different communities integrate. I am always receiving invitations to conferences and official events. There are loads of societies: Italians working in Moscow, British-Russian ones, the European Business Association, the American Chamber of Commerce... You can meet whoever you want to there: from the CEO to the secretary; there are expats, and Russians, too, and not just from Moscow. Everyone has their own approach to life, to work, their own take on situations… It’s fascinating: on both a professional and on a purely human level.
In Moscow, there is greater potential for increasing your business connections than in Italy.
– How do you spend your spare time?
– With my family. Other than that, I like to go running in Moscow’s parks at the weekend. These are my favourite spots in the city. We live in the Leninsky Avenue area. There are two little, but very nice, parks there. I go running come summer or winter. I try to keep in shape.
Also in summer, I take my mountain bike and head off to Bittsevsky Park or the Sparrow Hills. The city is empty with everybody at their dachas. I ride along the riverbanks. On a sunny day, Moscow is wonderful. You can ride up to the middle of a bridge and take in the view. It’s beautiful!
– You run in winter? Does the cold not get to you?
– I’m used to it. I have a liking for ice and snow. I mean, in Rome, there are only two seasons: spring and summer. Whereas here, there are four. I have already got used to everything in Moscow, with the exception of the traffic jams. I really like to go by metro, for example.
– So you are completely settled in Moscow…
– Yes, I like living and working here. Although it’s not an easy city. But it keeps changing for the better. You can buy whatever you like in the supermarkets. The prices, though… But you can find anything you want. It feels like the capital has grown in wealth. Now, here, so much more money is circulating than 10 years ago.
– What advice would you give to someone coming to Moscow, following, so to speak, in your footsteps?
– I would recommend anybody planning to work here for a while, first of all, to make contact with compatriots or acquaintances already living in Moscow. Don’t arrive without having set yourself some aims in advance. The employment market in Moscow is gradually becoming saturated. Although, I’ll say it again, the possibilities here are significantly greater than in the West. It is worth, perhaps, giving it a try here for a few days, having a look around. Quite a few of my fellow Italians have already done so. Rung up, asked around, asked to meet up, flown over… I’m always glad to help out. All the more so as it can be of interest to me on a purely professional level.