Brazil: Finding Work

By Mark Taylor
There tend to be two types of gringos” (foreigners) in Brazil, in terms of people living here permanently: those who are posted here with a job, and those who aren&rsquot;t. That&rsquot;s aside of course from those who come here to retire, or similar.

For the former, chances are they are posted with at least a reasonable salary (which can be worth its weight several times in relation to the Real, dependent on the exchange rate), and all the perks a foreign posting can bring. Perhaps they exemplify the stereotypical gringo, at least in the eyes of Brazilians.

For the latter, finding work in Brazil can be a serious challenge, and that can be just the challenge of finding work full stop, let alone finding work related to previous careers, and that will pay a salary you are used to. If you are moving to Brazil to find work, or are thinking it will be easy to find a job, you may want to think again.

One situation this often happens with is when a foreign couple move to Brazil, with one having been posted. The other is then in the difficult situation of trying to find work. Another situation occurs with the increase in Internet usage and foreign travel, and hence long distance relationships. So often a foreigner might move here to live with a Brazilian partner.

I fall into the latter category, someone who came to Brazil to pursue a relationship. I&rsquot;ll also preface the following with a caveat, that in 2 years of searching for work in Brazil I have yet to find a job related to my career or that pays at a level I&rsquot;m even remotely used to. I know from Gringo friends here that this is the norm, and some people have been here significantly longer in the same position. I have worked in three jobs though, ranging from the classic English teaching, to part time technical jobs. Other opportunities have presented themselves, but often don&rsquot;t pan out or are just very slow going in terms of being resolved, to the point where nothing happens.

Number One Tip
In terms of finding work, a phrase I&rsquot;ve heard many times since coming here is “Não o que voce sabe, quem voc conhece”, translated as “It isn&rsquot;t what you know, it&rsquot;s who you know”. There&rsquot;s a huge amount of truth in this. Those who come from Europe and the USA may be used to finding work easily through agencies and magazine/newspaper ads, but in Brazil work principally comes through networking and contacts. So the number one tip for finding work here is: network, network, and network some more. Networking is one of these nebulous terms that is easy to say, but not so easy to do. But essentially we&rsquot;re talking about forging contacts at as many levels as possible. For example, find companies in the fields you are interested in, both multinationals and nationals, and ideally reconnoitre the Brazilian friends and contacts you make here to see if they know people who work in your field. Then probe them for details on where is best to look, and forge contacts. Also try direct contact with companies that are in the fields you are interested in e.g. contact their HR manager. The ideal is to try and find a company before you make your move to Brazil, as you may well end up in the fortunate state of being posted with a job which will typically mean your Visa is dealt with, aside from the financial benefits mentioned earlier.

Another area to network in are any Gringo societies or clubs e.g. chambers of commerce for your country. Often a chamber of commerce or society will have a publication and/or web site which you may be able to advertise in, typically for a price though. Chambers of commerce, your country&rsquot;s embassy and business related organisations may also have details of multinationals from your home country as well, which gives a place to start in relation to business contacts. For example, the British Embassy has a list of British owned companies that can be found via their web site.

Aside from networking, it&rsquot;s still worth trying the traditional routes of agencies and newspaper adverts, as well as any magazines or journals related to your career field. Catho is the most famous Internet agency in Brazil, but my experience and that of others is that it isn&rsquot;t particularly useful in liberating results. My personal experience in applying for several hundred jobs via Catho was one hit, which liberated 2 hours per week of private English teaching. This lack of success with Catho may simply be down to the difficulty foreigners have with finding work, or the huge unemployment rate and oversubscription to jobs. Something that is going to apply across the board unfortunately. Bear in mind that you&rsquot;re competing against not only those who are friends, family and contacts of the person advertising the job, but perhaps also several hundred Brazilians. I&rsquot;ve heard with some advertised positions it&rsquot;s not unusual to receive over 500 CVs. Make sure to keep an eye out for when your local newspaper publishes it&rsquot;s job section e.g. Sunday for São Paulo&rsquot;s Folha and Estadão.

Don&rsquot;t forget also when applying for work the compounded problem factors of a very costly work Visa for a foreigner, and your possible lack of Portuguese fluency. The latter leading onto my next tip.

Number Two Tip
My second tip is to learn Portuguese. Fluency in Portuguese is typically a vital skill, so if you have no fluency or are lacklustre you need to get busy working on increasing it as much as possible. Would you employ someone in your country of origin who didn&rsquot;t speak the principal language? Jobs that don&rsquot;t require Portuguese, at least on some level, are going to be extremely rare.

English Teaching
English teaching is the age old profession that English speaking foreigners feel they can just drop into. But it&rsquot;s not always that straightforward, certainly in recent years. For starters it&rsquot;s often poorly paid unless you are willing to work very hard at building up a private client base, or you are lucky in finding one of the better schools. Also unless you have a qualification in English e.g. TEFL, it&rsquot;s not as simple as you might think to do anything other than conversation classes. A lot of Brazilians are far better placed technically, due to their background and having learned English “the hard way”. Most schools will pay around R$10 an hour, and this often involves working evenings and weekends for the same uniform rate. You may also be expected to prepare lessons, mark homework and attend meetings on your own time.

Unfortunately the bottom dropped out of the English teaching market a few years ago, due to a combination of factors such as 9/11 and an increase in the number of Brazilians who can also speak English at some level. This is aside from a huge increase in the number of English school franchises. Even if you work on a private level the English teaching life will not be an easy one, and will most likely involve early starts, late evenings, and weekend working.

In Conclusion
Ultimately the more you do to try and find work, the more chance you have of finding something. Job hunting is typically a luck (probability) related process, so a shotgun approach coupled with a targeted approach will always give a better chance of finding something. It&rsquot;s about being in the right place at the right time to find that opportunity, so make sure to increase that chance.

On that note I wish luck to everyone who is currently job hunting, and would also ask that if you can offer any more tips, constructive comment or experience on the topic then please drop me an email and I will add it to the article.

Readers comments:

Having a background in Business Administration, professional instruction (adult education) and IT, it was my expectation to be able to find work here on the local market with little or no stress. Well I&rsquot;m here to tell you that this couldn&rsquot;t be farther from the truth. When I left my position as Director for Latin America at a large German software company to remain here in Brasil, I almost immediately found a role with one of the “Big 5” consulting firms. Perhaps this spoiled me a bit, and distorted my perception of how difficult this aspect of life here in the Abacaxi can be.

When the consulting arm of my previous employer was purchased by a larger company, I received my first-ever pink slip. In 20 years of professional experience, this was the first time I was asked to leave a position. It was the beginning of a depressing phase in my life. I couldn&rsquot;t fathom the logic behind their desire to work without my contribution, particularly given the fact that I am known as a “contributor”, generating sales and profitability for my employers. Where I come from, it normally doesn&rsquot;t take more than a month to find a U$80k/year to U$90k/year job — so this was without a doubt a major setback. Well as I reflect back, I realize that it had nothing to do with my professionalism (as they told me in my out-processing meeting), it was simply a matter of market economics.

Another critical learning experience was the need for fluency in Portuguese. It took me a while to get it through my thick skull that I needed to become “pregnant with the language”, as one of my previous Brazilian mentors told me back in 2002, but I had a life changing experience that made the message crystal clear. It finally sunk in when I got robbed while in traffic, and afterwards couldn&rsquot;t find the words to communicate the thieves descriptions to the police. I finally knuckled down, and now have the capability to understand and be understood by the average Brazilian. As Mark indicated in his article, fluency is without a doubt the NUMBER 1 requirement for foreigners who want to work in this country.

After having been let go in late 2002 as mentioned above, I bounced around playing business developer and strategy consultant for small local companies. But as most businesses here are family owned, the tendency for the owners to change direction ( i.e. start and stop investing) at the most ridiculous moments is a fundamental motive for microscopic business growth. Of the several hundred small businesses that I&rsquot;m familiar with, less than 1% are capable of contemplating growth outside their local market (eg. beyond their city limits). And 99.97% are happy making enough money to upgrade their car every year, so mega-growth (new customer capture, which creates jobs) is not high on their list of desirability. Why? Because most business owners here are happy with the “status-quo”, and don&rsquot;t want to risk losing what they&rsquot;ve worked so arduously to gain by pursuing new opportunities that could double or triple their gains. “Don&rsquot;t rock the boat” is the expression that comes to mind here.

Of course there is another key factor that Mark mentioned, and that is being well connected. The local expression is “It&rsquot;s not IQ, it&rsquot;s QI (quem indica)”… which roughly translates into “It&rsquot;s not what you know, it&rsquot;s WHO you know”. So he was right on target when stating that if you don&rsquot;t do your do-diligence and network profusely, then your chances of finding rewarding work here are severely impaired.

My personal opinion is that Catho and Manager-on-Line are wastes of time, unless you&rsquot;re ready to work for a slaves pay (between R$500 and R$1.500 per month). Just to be clear, these pay rates are highly sought after, because they represent a significant leap in living standards above the minimum pay of R$300 per month. For those who have a higher standard of living, these jobs are not worthwhile to pursue because you&rsquot;ll be paying to work (automobile expenses, parking – when you can find it, etc.).

One strategy for anyone with an undergraduate degree is to invest in an MBA with a school like BSP (Business School São Paulo), where there is normally a fairly healthy database of active job postings in the finance and manufacturing markets for advanced positions (paying between R$5.000 and R$8.000 per month).

Another angle might be to get into the headhunting circles. Many of us veterans have long LONG lists of headhunters, but as the market has become somewhat saturated with them since 2001, it will require a bit of luck in finding one that actually has positions being actively filled. As a sidebar, many of the headhunters I&rsquot;ve met and gone through “processes” with were former HR folks at the firms they currently work for. For one reason or another, they were dismissed and are headhunting as a way of trying to generate personal income – so, as in the US or EU, they can be counted on to do their best to sell you (particularly if you&rsquot;re their first pick for the contemplated position).

My next recommendation is that you also consider talking with an “outplacement” firm like CareerCenter. There are a series of programs you can select from, including everything from a career (skills) evaluation to the full-blown job placement. Prices range from R$4.000 to R$8.000, depending on how much work you want them to do for you. I personally know a number of people who got their start in the market via this route, and have subsequently become completely integrated into the local job market.

And my final recommendation is that you consider perhaps starting your own business, providing services of one type or another. In my case, an ex-partner from one of the medium-size businesses where I worked on a project asked me to become a partner in a start-up providing outsourcing in the SMB (small & medium business) market. We&rsquot;ve been working since February of this year, and have already reached break-even. Our next challenge will be in growing ourselves to the point where we&rsquot;re able to start drawing modest salaries. But this is a topic for future conversations. The real message here is that in being your own boss, you can stop worrying about whether or not you&rsquot;ll be included in that next round of “cost reductions” coming down the pike.

Action beats inaction any day, so get moving if you&rsquot;re serious about working here in Brasil.

Good hunting, and even better networking!

— Alb


Previous articles by Mark Taylor:

Brazil: U2 Ticket Chaos
Brazil: Termites
Brazil: Queues, Queues, Queues
Brazil: Let’s Go Fly a Kite!
Brazil… the Film That Is
Brazil: The Bus to Nowhere
Brazil: Piracy
Brazil: Gestures
Brazil: Proclamation of the Republic
Brazilian Film Review
Brazilian Film Review
Brazil: Finados (Day of the Dead)
Interjections, exclamations and onomatopoeia in Brazilian Portuguese
Brazil: Halloween
Brazil says “No” to banning firearms
Brazil Humour: Phone Etiquette
Brazil’s Gun Referendum
Brazil: Scams
Brazil: Moby Review
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 5
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 4
Brazil: Avril Lavigne at Pacaembu
Moby in Brazil
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 3
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 2
Brazilian Film Review
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 1
Brazil: First season of Lost repeated on AXN

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