New HR Frontiers: An Italian Recruiter In Bulgaria

hr recruit spola
Photo courtesy of Gianluca Spola.

Gianluca Spola, HR intern in Bulgaria, interviewed me a couple of months ago for a job. Now it’s my turn.

Well, it’s not new. A lot of us already know that great stories about modern business can be heard from company senior experts. However, the challenge is also to hear the same story from people who have just entered the labour market.

Although it may sound unusual, Gianluca Spola interviewed me a couple of months ago for a job. Now it’s my turn. And to my satisfaction, he was able to answer the important questions that many young people face in their first career steps.

This young Italian majored in Human Resources Management at the University of Pisa. Thinking about how to succesfully pursue his future path towards a HR manager position, he landed in Sofia, Bulgaria. He is an avid cinephile with a strong interest in domestic and international politics and he is in love with literature and traveling, as can be noticed throughout the conversation. His other passions are football and hiking, but we will start the conversation talking about his current IT recruiter position.

You are an Italian who work as a recruiter for a digital company, Poc Creative, in Bulgaria. These first two decades of the 21st Century can be entirely summed up by your business card. How would you describe your job in a nutshell?

Basically, I am an IT recruiter. Bulgaria can be defined a paradise for IT companies for several factors: low taxation (the flat tax here is 10 percent), low labor cost, great preparation for IT profiles, and good universities for math and informatic. So, my job is to contact IT profiles through LinkedIn, propose the vacancies, interview them and submit who pass to companies, when they fit the positions.

“It’s challenging because it’s a complete different way compared to the work of the Italian recruitment agencies.”

It’s challenging because it’s a complete different way compared to the work of the Italian recruitment agencies. Here they’re pure intermediaries, which earn by commissions if they manage to place people. Also, IT is the future and the present already, so gaining a knowledge on this is very important for my future job opportunities. I love my job because we are a startup, we work in a informal environment. Flexible working hours, several interns from all over Europe. Croatia, Portugal, Cameroon (a guy who is enrolled in an Italian university, so he’s eligible for the Erasmus), and a girl from Honduras (same thing). From November I also have an Italian colleague.

You arrived in Sofia as an Erasmus student and you finally stopped there. How and why did you decide to move to Bulgaria permanently?

Well, not permanently. My internship actually ends in December, but I hope they can hire me. However, I came here for job opportunities. Basically, in Italy after you graduate, within one year the company can hire you as an intern. So they have low costs and it’s very convenient for them. That means you are underpaid (you don’t get more than 500/600 euros), and the internship can be up to six months with a little chance to get hired. Many of my friends are having these problems, jumping from company to company.

Right now, for job opportunities and for HR specifically, it’s easy to find something in Lombardia, especially in Milan. But life is more expensive there, so you get 500 euros and spend 700/800 minimum per month. I prefer to have my 350 euros of grant plus commissions, live in a cheap country and put on my CV a work experience abroad which is very valuable for the future. Plus, I love living abroad: this is my third experience. After this period, I’ll still work abroad if they don’t hire me.

The digital sector knows no downturn, despite everything. What’s the difference compared with other employment sectors affected by the financial crisis?

The digital sector is the present and the future. First, you cut a lot of costs, take as example my job. I don’t need an office theoretically, just a laptop, Linkedin and Skype. I can work everywhere. Second, we work in a digitalized era. Even if you work in a sector not directly related with IT, you need digital products: a website, programs and software for administration, etc. And behind this, there are people who make it possible. So, nowadays, every service is connected to digital.

Why is Italy lagging so far behind in this instead?

For several reasons. First, I would say that the structure of productive fabric is largely made up of small-medium organisations, often run for generations or business families which are not keen on technologies. Second, we can just take the example of the internet connection which is slow and doesn’t cover the whole territory. Paradoxically, in Italy we have one of the best connection coppers because of Telecom and its deal with the state. But we don’t have fast connections like the Mega Fiber, so we lack basic things such as the Internet, figure out the rest. Plus, we have an old population, one of the oldest in the world, composed mainly by digital immigrants and not digital natives.

More generally, what is it like to work in the field of human resources in Italy today?

It’s getting better. The culture in the organizations is changing by giving more importance to people, so they are developing HR departments. The paradigma of “take care of people and they will work better” is penetrating also there, especially in big companies. Therefore, we need more HR operators, although, as I told before, most the organizations are small-medium sized and sometimes they don’t even have an HR department.

However, HR is many different things: recruitment, administration, corporate welfare, training, etc. So you can be employed and specialize yourself in different areas. That’s why I’m optimistic about the future. Where there are organizations there is HR. So, job opportunities.

An increasing number of companies use IT software to recruit candidates. What do you think about it? Is there room for improvement in Italy?

Well, I use mainly LinkedIn. I know there are other platforms such as Xing, and then of course software where you have to register everything. However, in Italy there will be room for big and medium companies which have HR departments. On the contrary, I am not sure about old-school recruitment agencies. They get candidates from their own database because the employees must be subscribed with them, so they don’t really hunt. They just check the availability of the candidates. And people use to enroll in recruitment agencies like we used, going in person to their office. Also because very often they hire low skilled workers, while they have no idea how to use Linkedin or other platforms.

Of course, not every recruitment agencies works like this. The headhunting agencies which hire high profiles use modern systems. Some friends of mine worked in the recruitment agencies, and they had to explain how Linkedin works. All is due to our low digitalization.

What’s the first thing you notice in a curriculum vitae? And what are the most common mistakes the candidates do?

Well, common mistakes are: spelling and layout, which is very annoying because it means that you don’t cure the details. Your CV is your business card, so it must be perfect. The first thing I notice is how long it is. It doesn’t have to be too long, just summarize the main points. They say you should personalize your CV based on the company, including its structure and look. If I’m hiring a marketing profile I expect a good looking CV, but if I’m hiring a developer it’s different, I just need to know what his/her skills are.

What strengths do Italian candidates usually have compared to their international colleagues and vice versa?

Italian young profiles for sure lack experience due to our education system. Instead, we generally have good theoretical preparation and social skills. What I can notice about foreigners is that some of them have more internships, thus more practical experience acquired during university. Also, they have more informatic skills ,as our universities are not very digitalized either. Some Italian students don’t even know how to use Microsoft Office properly.

The employment laws in Italy make things harder for everyone. What are the major challenges that HR managements will have to face over the next five years?

Well, first of all many of our talents are going abroad. We lose great profiles due to low youth employment rates. However, we have a lot of young people who want to work. I think the main problems are connected with the structure of our labor market. Older workforce usually have high benefits. So this means higher costs for the companies which can’t afford fresh and young workforce.

“If you do not hire young people, you do not keep up with times. Because young people bring innovation and fresh ideas.”

Moreover, another problem is the huge gap between southern and northern Italy. In South Italy there are literally no job opportunities. The economy is almost dead. The problems are the barriers in the labor market. Young people struggle to get in due to our old workforce, so an HR manager could easily find a young profile who fit the position. Many companies don’t hire much, but this doesn’t mean that we lack workforce. We have lack of jobs. And if you do not hire young people, you do not keep up with times. Because young people bring innovation and fresh ideas.

Education, talent, motivation and charisma are not exclusive to sporting champions. What’s the key to pursuing this profession successfully?

Well, being curious and ambitious first. Always try to improve yourself, which means inform and educate yourself constantly. And do not be afraid of making mistakes and failing. Because it is normal. We learn by making mistakes.

And what about motivation? How do you find it? In your field, it may often happen that you are disappointed by someone’s behavior.

Well, I can give an example which happened recently. I contacted a good profile for a top position, saying that I have an interesting position which fits his background. The guy insulted me, because he already works for that company, but he didn’t update his LinkedIn profile, so it wasn’t my fault. In HR, and especially in recruitment, you deal with people, and people can be rude and careless. Sometimes this can be frustrating, but I always think that I’m here to improve and learn, it’s not my fault if sometimes people’s behevior is bad. If I am committed and try to do my best, I don’t have to blame myself or be discouraged.

Also, I write to hundreds of people every week and just few of them reply back. It can be very frustrating and annoying sometimes, but this is how it works. You can’t teach them how to properly act and behave, the important thing is that you have good values and a good work ethic.

Finally, an advice to those who want to follow your path. What should young people do in order to start working in HR?

It’s fundamental to choose carefully your first workplace, at the beginning you don’t have to be driven by money but by your willingness to learn, improve and grow. Unfortunately, in this sector there are jobs which are pointless, super stressful and with no opportunities to grow. So you have to do an in-depth reserach before accepting a job, as you don’t have to waste your time. Furthermore, I’d say in my experience that going abroad helps a lot. It opens your mind and you learn different ways and systems to work.