How to Tap into the Opportunities of the Job Market in Latin America
By Fabiano Cid and Cecilia Iros
Once a region that was only attractive for its beauty pageant contestants, talented soccer teams, exotic sceneries, tasteful dishes, tropical climate, and sensuous dance rhythms, Latin America today offers unique advantages for foreign professionals wanting to diversify and boost their careers with a multicultural experience in an exciting economic landscape. However, there are many factors to be considered when deciding to move southward and, despite its ever-increasing movement toward internationalization, Latin America is still a bit resistant to the new attempts of massive immigration waves that occurred in the beginning of the last century.
The cultural similarities with North American and European countries are perhaps greater here than in other continents, such as Africa or Asia, but fast adaptation is crucial for a successful enterprise. Like in any other area of the world, moving to a foreign country requires a minimum knowledge of the culture, business etiquette, work environment, and—perhaps above all—the language. The great advantage here is that you have basically two languages to choose from: Spanish or Portuguese. In Latin America, you also have to be ready to adjust your biological, psychological, and moral standards to a number of factors, ranging from the food to the concept of time to the ways some more-complicated matters are better resolved. But, these issues go beyond the scope of this article. What we will try to describe are the opportunities that have been created in recent years with the economic boom experienced by most of the 21 Latin American countries and how you can better position yourself to eventually find the new Eldorado of the global job market.
The projected average growth in the region for next year is around 4%, which is below recent figures but still promising when compared to other regions of the world, especially in more developed countries. The emergence of the middle class, which can be detected in most emerging economies, has provided Latin Americans with better living standards and access to higher levels of education. With this economic prospect comes an average unemployment rate of 6.5%, which is less than half that of the previous decade. In some countries, unemployment has reached zero as the low-digit figures can be attributed to people changing jobs rather than not actually being able to find employment.
Even though income inequality is still the norm, the gap between high- and low-income earners has decreased considerably, and so has the disparity between men and women, who have increased their share in the labor force, with 65 percent of women aged 25 to 65 joining the lines of the employed. According to The Labor Market Story Behind Latin America’s Transformation, a report released by the World Bank Regional Chief Economist office in October 2012, with the average length of schooling rising from five to eight years and the share of women in the labor force growing steadily, 35 million jobs were created over the past decade. “It’s quite remarkable that Latin America has been able to break with a tradition of high unemployment and informal employment to bring down overall unemployment rates to new historic lows,” said World Bank regional chief economist, Augusto de la Torre.
Figure 1: Gender Inequality in Latin America
Not everything in the Latin American garden is rosy. Despite the increasing levels of access to school, the goals for universal education in some countries are still very far from becoming a reality. According to UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report, published in October 2012, 2.7 million Latin American children do not attend primary school and 1.7 million teenagers are out of secondary school. This prevents new generations from acquiring the necessary and much desired skills for employment.
“We are witnessing a young generation frustrated by the chronic mismatch between skills and work,” said Irina Bokova, the director general of UNESCO. “Many youth, and women in particular, need to be offered alternative pathways to education, so that they gain the skills to earn a living, live in dignity and contribute to their communities and societies.” (See Figure 1.)
Latin American universities, too, lag behind when compared to other regions of the globe. Even though some institutions, like the University of Buenos Aires or the National Autonomous University of Mexico, enroll several hundred thousand students, overall performance is rather unimpressive. Scientific research studies are mediocre in number and not rewarded with additional funding. In most universities, students pay nothing to attend, but drop-out rates are extremely high, teaching methods and curricula are outdated and politicized, and staff cannot be fired, despite low performance rates.
“Across the region, good students are recruited to faculty at their own universities, rather than encouraged to leave and broaden their horizons,” says Jamil Salmi, a higher-education specialist at the World Bank. “And there’s hostility to the very notion you might hire faculty from abroad.”
Figure 2: Distribution of Multilatinas According to Nationality in 2010
This situation, although presenting great challenges to local governments, businesses, and population, is the perfect scenario for foreign professionals with higher degrees or better levels of education. As the region maintains its growth rates, businesses prosper and the need for skilled workforce increases. This applies to both local enterprises and multinational companies with offices and branches in Latin America. These so-called Multilatinas (see Figure 2), a recent phenomenon that was only possible due to a combination of economic reform, advances in technology, improved education, comparatively low costs, abundant natural resources, and increased management sophistication, are the primary place to look for a job if you are a native English speaker willing to “offshore” yourself.
In 2009, the Boston Consulting Group updated their previous list of the 100 high-performing Latin American companies that “are expanding their operations internationally with impressive speed, ingenuity, and sophistication, adopting approaches that may offer valuable lessons to others.” Their countries of origin include Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia, and more, which means several different cultures and geographies to choose from. If these companies are selling to the United States—and they certainly do today —then you have an advantage over local candidates because the difficulty of finding English-speaking employees has increased considerably in recent years. (The region has, according to some rankings, one of the lowest levels of English fluency.)
“Remember that communicating in English fluently, at the executive level, is essential in most searches. Sometimes, it is even more important than having an MBA,” said Carlos Marro, owner of Cozzi, Marro & Asociados and Hand Selection, a headhunting firm with offices in Argentina and Brazil, whom we interviewed for this article. “It is fairly common to work with organizations that already have relocation policies. Depending on the executive being relocated, offers are more or less generous,” he added. “Searches are more globalized. Executives apply online and recruiting companies actively search for profiles in other countries through executive networks.” (See Figure 3.)
It is not just language that will interfere in your ability to secure a job in Latin America or even to make you decide to apply for one. Does the country you are moving to have a tax treaty signed with your country of origin? Are the relocations costs high and would your potential employer be willing to cover them entirely or partially? What is the best time to move and adjust to the climate and other circumstances, and how much time is necessary to be fully functional? What are the best and most affordable cities or neighborhoods in your target destination? What are the best means of transportation to take you from home to work and around the city? How will you cope with the distance from family and friends? And last but not least, what are the visa requirements and how do you make sure that you will have a safe stay
throughout the period you planned?
Adecco Group is the world’s leading provider of HR solutions with more than 33,000 employees and a network of over 5,500 branches, in over 60 countries and territories around the world. We interviewed Pauline Amilhaud, international requests coordinator at their office in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “Usually the preference is for the nearest location,” she said. “But in the absence of specialized labor force, companies open their selection scope to candidates from other states and even from other countries, depending on the requirement level of the position.” She also said companies that need to seek candidates from other locations know that they need to build attractive proposals so that these candidates accept the offer and this usually includes the costs of displacement and, in some cases, even the housing costs.
LinkedIn recently reached 10 million users in Brazil, which was greatly celebrated both in their Sao Paulo office and in the Mountain View headquarters. We talked to Danielle Restivo, manager of corporate communications for Brazil and Canada, who told us that there is a great deal of competition between companies in Latin America to attract the best talent, which means that there are plenty of opportunities for candidates if they have the right skills. “Candidates should think about how they can build a strong network on LinkedIn in order to find out about the best jobs and to be introduced to the right people to open the door to new opportunities,” she said. “Recruiters in Brazil are leveraging LinkedIn to find top talent so professionals should think about not only building their network, but keeping their profile up to date with a clear explanation of their skills, background, expertise and education.” Understanding what skills are required for the job is key.
Figure 3: English Proficiency Ranking in Latin America.
Resources for Job Hunters
LinkedIn skills tracks all the skills on LinkedIn being posted by members and can help a professional see what skills are growing or declining. Researching the résumés of professionals on LinkedIn who have positions you aspire to can help you understand what kind of experience and skills you would require to land a job internationally. Professionals can also leverage LinkedIn to research and get introductions to employees at the companies where they would like to work in a foreign country. In addition, LinkedIn Answers is a great place for professionals to ask such questions and to learn from others who have relocated to another country for a job.
In our personal experience, LinkedIn has proved to be an excellent tool for recruiting talent. In an ad posted during a single month in November 2011 looking for an administrative and financial director, we received 174 submissions. Even though it was clear that the successful candidate would have to live in Rio de Janeiro, most of them came from other Brazilian states, and from countries as far as Australia, Canada, Denmark, India (two candidates), Israel, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal (six candidates), United States, Saudi Arabia (two candidates), Serbia, Spain (three candidates), and United Arab Emirates. This was for a position in which the selected person would have to have extensive knowledge of the Brazilian legal, accounting, banking, and financial systems; therefore we could not continue the process with a foreigner with little or no familiarity with the Brazilian market. Later, in March 2012, we used the same system to fill in a sales and marketing manager position and the results were similar. This time, though, after analyzing the 150 submissions, we ended up hiring an Italian expat living in Sao Paulo, which only proves that the opportunities are there, all you have to do is be alert and prepared.
Another meaningful experience we had was the search for a United States–based director of business Development for our Latin American company. Since this position did not involve relocation, even though it meant becoming part of a Latin American team, we used the services of a North American recruiter to do the initial screening. In only a couple of weeks we had eight interested candidates who matched the profile we were looking for, and after an exhaustive selection process we chose a Pittsburgh-based professional with previous experience in the translation and localization industry, who later came to our offices in Argentina to be trained and familiarize himself with how we did business.
Whether you respond to a job post on LinkedIn, contact a local HR consultant, or send your résumé to a global staffing firm, all options are worth pursuing. It will definitely depend on the position and the profile of the hiring company and what you are looking for in terms of position, salary, and commitment.
If you have made up your mind and have found a job opportunity in Latin America, then it is time to prepare for the necessary adjustments. One good way to start is talking to colleagues who have had similar experiences or who are currently living in your locale of choice. There are numerous forums, blogs, and discussion groups on the Internet created and run by expats who will be happy to share their experience with you and give you tips on how to make the move less traumatic. Kiss, Bow, Or Shake Hands, Latin America: How to Do Business in 18 Latin American Countries, by Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conway, can also serve as a good reference to understand the culture and customs of the Latin American people. Having lived here for most of our lives, we can attest that it is worth the try.
Today, Latin America is a land of opportunity and perhaps one of the most exciting places to experience the revolution that sound economic policies, democratic governments, and an ever-optimistic population can create. And, if none of these social and economic transformations are of interest to you, there will always be beautiful people, passionate soccer matches, exotic landscapes, hot temperatures, exotic meals, and voluptuous dance moves to enjoy. Regardless of your choice, know that the vacancies are there and we are now hiring (or, as a local sign would read “Estamos contratando”).
Fabiano Cid is the managing director of Ccaps Translation and Localization, a language service provider based in Rio de Janeiro. With over 15 years of experience, Fabiano has helped Ccaps secure a leading position in Latin America since 1999. He is currently a member of the GALA Board of Directors and the creator and one of the leading organizers of Think Latin America (www.thinklatinamerica.com).
Cecilia Iros, from Cordoba, Argentina, founded former industry leader IMTT as soon as she graduated from university. More recently, she founded suma, a Latin American Language services provider serving clients around the globe. Cecilia has performed all the different roles in a translation and localization company and has organized more than 30 training events for translators and translation companies in six countries. She has given several presentations at different industry events.
Reprinted from Intercom magazine, www.intercom.stc.org (January 2013 Issue) with permission from STC, the Society for Technical Communication.