In 2016, I graduated from Bournemouth University and got a BA in advertising. Since then, I’ve been looking for a job which I can truly enjoy and where I could put all of my positive energy into rather than jumping at the first opportunity that I got. I have worked across several European countries such as Italy, the UK, Belgium and through a wide array of industries, all of which strongly connected to advertising or communications in general. Having been through these experiences myself, I felt there was an obvious struggle for European graduates and young professionals to find a place of work where their nationality or background did not affect their chances of getting the job they were applying for. I wanted to see if others like me were experiencing the same struggles and how they were dealing with it, and for those who succeeded at securing a job abroad, I wondered about how they were living, if their expectations had been met, and if the communication industry had provided them with enough opportunities to build a path to success. I ended up wondering about something much bigger than I anticipated.
The hidden obstacle
Juliet Velicangil is a young professional with a British-Turkish nationality and a recent advertising graduate at Bournemouth University. Juliet’s previous experiences include an internship at Saatchi and Saatchi Istanbul, a famous and successful agency. Despite her valuable work experience, she had future employers raising questions about her acquired skills at the agency, even asking if she had access to programmes like PowerPoint and Excel in Turkey. Juliet believes this is strongly connected to the assumption that the success of a company or an agency is reflective of the economic and political welfare of the country. Juliet comments: “A lot of candidates are unprofessionally scrutinised for not having experience in the country they apply for, or simply not being a local. This is especially an issue when stereotypes of nationalities come into play… for example the candidate may be ruled unqualified simply because the interviewer has false impressions of the professional climate of the other countries the candidate has experience in”. As I interviewed Juliet, I realised she was not the only one having experienced this.
Maria Milenkova, a 24 year old Bulgarian millennial who moved to the UK to study Communications & Media, echoes this sentiment: “people thinking they are superior to others because of their nationality is the primary barrier to achieve a truly globalized environment in Europe for young professionals”. Consequently, it seems like what should be an added value – the ability of speaking more than one European language, the knowledge of diverse markets, and the capability to work with a varied group of individuals of different backgrounds- becomes instead the applicant’s biggest flaw. That is unless you come from or have experience from a country which is perceived as more modern or more capable.
I personally also had once the experience of being called for an assessment center at one of the biggest entertainment companies worldwide, when I was in my third year at university. Me, as well as four other non-locals, were cut off at the first stage despite having the same university degrees and acquired skills as the other, local, candidates. This was a placement which was advertised as being particularly focused on other European markets, therefore the knowledge of more than one of these, along with the respective language skills, was going to be highly valued. When I asked for feedback, the manager confirmed they liked me a lot and shook off any explanation with the usual “it’s a competitive job” one-liner. Perhaps these employers are lacking to see what we see: especially in the communications industry, it’s all about finding the next fresh idea and being different, so having a diverse workforce is what could really drive that. People from different countries have different mentalities, which means they can have different viewpoints that might provide that one unexpected insight, so that’s why it’s quite surprising that a lot of agencies seem to employ the same kind of people.
Proving my right to live here
When asked their opinions in regards to unity among European countries, the interviewees drew a distinctive line between young people and the older generation. They have noticed a more negative attitude towards the EU by the latter. However I believe the situation is a little more complicated than that. Most of the agencies we apply to are young, vibrant environments, where multiculturalism is, at least on the surface, highly valued.
So why is it so difficult getting hired then? It can’t be solely a matter of high competition, which is the typical response one gets. We indeed live in a very economical and political globalized environment, yet how is it possible that those who have lived and worked in several European countries and have knowledge of so many market dynamics and speak a wide range of languages, can’t find a proper job in one of these, where we should be considered a competitive candidate?
The only exception seems to be when employment is found out of graduation, from internships previously worked on. That’s what happened to Kasey Kharkinia, a fellow University colleague, who was hired back by the company where she worked for during her placement year at university. However, she admits, “I don’t know how well off I would be if my course didn’t have that placement option”. Kasey tells me how the political climate in Europe “becomes especially important if you’re someone that does not even belong to the EU to start with… it’s just sad when your visa becomes the only reason for a company not to hire you, given you have exactly the same qualifications as others on your course”.
Mark Freese, another talented Australian colleague explains how, despite the fact that companies are posting employment ads in English and are presenting themselves as internationally oriented, they are more inclined to hire a local, even if not as qualified. He understands Kasey’s struggle to secure the next employment opportunity as he adds that: “as a non-European I must constantly prove my right to live here”.
Another interesting general responses of my survey, was that the Northern countries such as Germany, UK and Denmark are considered to be of high value by prospective employers, whereas for young professionals coming from other outside Europe, southern countries or those belonging to Eastern Europe, there is a much deeper struggle, despite their many qualifications and talents.
It is interesting then to acknowledge that the only person I have interviewed which didn’t experience any issue with employment practices and unity in Europe, is Rosa Groot, a Dutch graduate, currently located in Berlin, working at a communications agency. Her experience with finding both an internship and a job across the Dutch border was “super easy”. Rosa adds: if we ignore the national borders within the European Union, in theory, we could be wherever we want. We could all become “digital nomads” and living and working from different locations across Europe”.
Pursuing your dreams
Surely everyone can understand and appreciate the benefits that a common market has brought us, but is globalization in Europe only meant to facilitate journeys amongst its countries? Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the modern European unification aimed to create a continent which was not only united through markets, political institutions and bureaucracy, but by a common sense of cultural belonging. And this was exactly where a European identity should had won against feelings of nationalism that had left Europe with two world wars behind. It is because of our European status that we are able to do everything that we do, and therefore, it is because of that that we should feel European to begin with; we consider ourselves and our own countries to be globalized, welcoming and open, yet we should recognise there is still a high level of individuality within the workplace and within our own reasoning too.
Despite our talks of openness and our sense of identifying ourselves as a European citizen, we do believe that some countries are better than others. This is particularly dangerous because it makes us automatically transfer these beliefs into people as well; who they are, what they know, what they can achieve. By doing so, we automatically limit one’s potential and employers fail to find a someone which can make a real difference in the company he/she may want to work for.
Perhaps in the end it is all about pursuing your dreams and finding those people who are willing to listen. If we don’t give up after being rejected, if we share our thoughts on the things that we see as being unjust, then maybe our idea of fair chances for all will reach the right people. By showing a good and positive example when given the chance, you can break barriers and shake stereotypes.