By Matthew Ward
September 24, 2007

One of the hardest lessons many of us foreigners learn here in Brazil is that there is always a disorderly queue of individuals happy to relieve us of some of our hard earned cash, by fair means or, more often than not, foul. I suspect the account I’m about to relate may be familiar to some readers, who in a state of unemployed desolation like me, fell for the idle promises of hungry sharks poised to devour novice surfers dipping their toes into the Brazilian job market for the first time.

After hiring a marching band and a fly-past to celebrate finally receiving my RNE in September 2003 (I’d almost forgotten that I’d applied for it way back in June 2002, shortly after arriving in Brazil), I embarked upon the challenging endeavour of finding work. My background is in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL to the uninitiated), but I was keen to make my move to Brazil from Britain a clean break career-wise. Having dabbled a little in web design, I fancifully imagined it would be possible to work in that field, so I started scouring the local press for opportunities. Unfortunately, as I live in a small town in the interior of São Paulo state, the jobs advertised were nearly all related to manual, semi-skilled professions – if I’d wanted to be a butcher, for instance, I could have chosen from a veritable smorgasbord of openings. As the months passed without opportunities forthcoming that didn’t involve the chopping of meat, my self-esteem and associated love of Brazil both entered a worrying tailspin.

In my opinion, despite its obvious blessings, the arrival of the Internet has made the task of finding a job an overcomplicated and frustrating burden. Whereas in the past it was sufficient to buy a newspaper and answer an ad with a letter enclosing our CV, or a simple phone call, now we have to trawl the Internet, sign up to various sites, upload our CVs, edit them online whenever facts change, all without any inkling of the reputation of the organisation in which we are putting our faith. However, not wishing to appear a technophobe, particularly considering my ambition to work in the slick realm of web design, I opted for the Internet job site Catho, tailoring my CV to reflect as favourably as possible my paucity of web design experience.

Taking advantage of their introductory offer, I spent the best part of a weekend uploading my CV, which under the terms of the agreement, would remain available to potential employers for the next fortnight. Imagine my unmitigated delight when I received a phone call on the following Monday morning, apparently in direct response to my having launched my CV into cyberspace.

Are you interested in working in Campinas?” the young lady’s voice breezed promisingly.
“Yes, of course,” I enthused. My brother-in-law lives there, and, before arriving in Brazil, my wife and I had planned to seek work there, if possible. An interview was arranged for the following day and my depleted sense of self-worth instantly took a deep whiff of smelling salts.

Arriving at the company’s offices in one of Campinas’s classier districts, I had the distinct feeling that things were finally dropping into place. The office space was all sleek metal furniture and clean, crisp lighting. The receptionist was welcoming and polite, attractive even, though I think in hindsight that this appeal was less based on physical beauty and more on the fact that she and her colleagues might have the key to end my eighteen-month exile from the land of the productive. My wife and I were ushered efficiently into a meeting room, and while we waited for a “consultant” to arrive, we exchanged excited glances of anticipation. I shrugged off the fact that this wasn’t the company offering the job, confident that they were on the brink of helping me find some elbow room in Brazil’s crowded job market.

Looking back now, it is hard to imagine how I fell for this outfit’s trickery. Granted, at the time I had no idea as to just how grotesque a scam they were pulling on me, but there were certainly warning signs that, under normal circumstances, would have caused me more than mild concern. But the spiel was so cleverly tailored to play on all the hopes and fears of a university-educated professional who is beginning to feel, in his mid-thirties, that he may never work again, that, like a rabbit trapped in headlights, I happily played along with their woeful pantomime.

One such warning sign was that they didn’t appear to know I was British. If you call somebody to offer them a job, however cursory your review of their curriculum vitae beforehand, their nationality is surely one of the basic facts you’d pick up on. A second blaring alarm was the fact that I was never going to find work as a web designer with my hopelessly limited experience – as “headhunting specialists”, I consider it was their duty to inform me of this. However, I was behaving like I was the subject of a conjuring trick – even if in the back of my mind I had an inkling as to how the magic was being performed, I preferred to play along so as not to ruin the effect. In essence, I wanted to be deceived.

Part 2 next week…

Matthew Ward is a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language and article writer. His wistful reflections on the peculiar world of TEFL, and life in Brazil, can be seen on his blog “Notes from the TEFL Graveyard”.

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