Recently we have detected an increase in the interest of non-Russian IE alumni in working in Moscow. Luckily, IMBA April 2010 graduate Sergey Gorbatov who specializes in HR and runs his own blog HR Boutique wrote about it and we’re happy to share his insights.

“Russia is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” – Winston Churchill could not have explained it better. 

Up until the 80s Russia was behind the “steel curtain”, unavailable for foreign investment. The 90s have seen the frenzying madness of the Western invasion and the radical change of the business practices. Back then to grab a piece of the Russian market was easier than stealing a candy form a child – consider just one example: the Production Sharing Agreement of the Sakhalin II project. As the government was regaining its stake and say in the “free” market in the 2000s, foreign investors (including those who helped the country survive the cash-lean 90s) are being gradually ousted either by giving preferential contractual terms to the national companies, by imposing quotas and restrictions (e.g. visas) or by direct attack as in the case when importing of Georgian wines was completely banned. Yet, it’s a BRICS country and the market potential is enormous, and having a Russian location on your CV is well-regarded by the international headhunters. If you are young, ambitious, you are not afraid of challenges and multiple setbacks, you want to learn fast and make your career double-quick, Russia is definitely for you. The question is: are you definitely for Russia?
Let’s consider two variants: (1) you are Russian and (2) you are not.
Variant 1, there are also two options: (a) you have got a Russian MBA, you are a United Russia party member and working in Gazprom is the summit of your career aspirations – Russia needs you! You will have no problems whatsoever to get a job and retire happily from the same company having no need to learn English or any other language whatsoever. Option (b) suggests a bleaker future: let’s assume that you went abroad to study, you share basic democratic values and you believe that performance and pay must be somehow related. Forget about the Russian companies (for reasons click here) – unless you are extremely adaptable, a good actor and have thickish skin, the system will manage you out… or throw out offhand… you will be luckier in the latter case. Hence, it is the Western or Western-like companies, i.e. those Russian companies that have accepted the international business practices and at least know what a Conflict of Interest or Anti-Corruption legislation are. Off the top of my head, examples of such companies are Yandex, TMK or Kaspersky Lab. These companies combine both: the satisfaction of getting the adequate reward for your ideas and services and being still unspoiled by the corporate dogmas of the process driven blue chips. When it comes to opting for a Russian branch of a large multinational, you already know what you signing up for… with a Russian twist.
Now – suppose you have set your mind on a prospective employer in Russia: it’s only a part of the deal. Even though increasingly the workplace flexibility becomes a popular demand item, the Russian labor legislation has not moved an inch yet – read my earlier post on this: the country is not ready. If you are a Gen Y biz whiz expecting to work by your own rules, do spend a could of weeks studying the Labor Code of the country you are potentially going to work in. Add to this a possibility of the authorities not renewing your permit, the cost of living (1st in Europe – check, traffic congestion, sky-high salaries, rich cultural life, -35 C in winter, kind but unsmiling people, and boundless business opportunities – and you’ve got the mix that you need to consider. Keep in mind that the market requirements for top execs and for recent MBAs or mid-level professionals differ significantly. If only a few years ago merely being a foreigner with some corporate experience would have bought you a one-way Aeroflot ticket to Russia, today this privilege is mostly reserved for the CEO -1/-2 level executives. If you are still on the steep curve of your career, the following requirements are essential:
  • Speak Russian
  • Possess a rare skill (marketing, subsurface engineering and industrial safety are no longer considered rare skills)
  • Be humble about your expatriate roots and conceal well your intentions to revolutionize the way business is done in Russia
Having previous work experience in Russia or in one of the Russian-speaking countries is, of course, desirable, just like education in a Russian educational institution.
How to get to a Russian company – the scheme is pretty much universal:
  1. Strain your personal connections: even now Russia is more an Aseopian country than Eurasian, so friends and family matter more than rules and papers;
  2. Have a strong network of recruiters and headhunters: the market is hot right now and I have never been refused a personal meeting with a recruiter from any well-known agency if I wished to;
  3. Shortlist your desired future employers, put on your best suit and start visiting their HR departments (with a little bit of LinkedIn preparation and prior phone calls).
The decision is yours just like choosing the way how you are going to build your career in Russia. Working here is like walking on thin ice: exciting but dangerous. Make sure that you are familiar with Russian history, culture and political life (even if you are a Russian!).
Having started with a British politician, I would like to finish with a verse by a famous Russian poet Fyodor Tuytchev – you decide which you like better… but only after you have really come to know this vast and passionately cold country:

You won’t perceive the Russian Land,
You’ll fail to measure it with measures.
From common way apart it stands –
You can but trust in Russian treasures.