Tips from a communications job search in the Startup Nation
In a recent job interview I had at a high-tech company in Tel Aviv, the global head of HR said she found it amazing that that so many people from vibrant economic countries (in my case the UK) had decided to make the move to Israel. It is not the first time in my job search that the conversation turns not to why you want the job, but why you are even in the country in the first place.
The decision to move to Israel — and stay — is difficult for any new immigrant. It is even more challenging at ‘pain points’ — bureaucracy, language barriers, or finding a new role.
To rewind a little, until arriving in Israel two years ago I had been in exciting PR, corporate communications and marketing positions in the heart of London.
Then I made a decision to move to Israel. In my case I met my (eventual) wife on a trip to Israel (but everyone coming here has their reasons, not least falling in love with the country itself). It is also especially simple for those with a “right to return” to become a citizen (that is, the spouse, child, or grandchild of a Jew). The Israeli government also throws in a free one-way ticket and cash and benefits worth around $5000 for those becoming citizens). Last year alone over 30,000 people arrived from countries such as the U.S and UK — the highest in a decade with more expected to look to these shores post-Brexit and in a Trump presidency.
It is essentially a good place for marketing and communications experts to land. While R&D takes centre stage servicing the 6000 startups, there is also major demand for communications professionals. For most hi-tech companies, fluency in English is mandatory. Most high-tech firms target English speaking markets from their birth, rarely focusing any attention on the small home market of 8 million people.
In my first successful search two years ago it followed a culturally different job hunt than anything I had experienced before. I eventually landed a job as Head of PR and Partnerships at SimilarWeb (a company I have just left). SimilarWeb is among hoards of Israel-based companies embarking on wholesale disruption in a given industry, from transport, to retail to publishing or cyber (in SimilarWeb’s case digital analytics).
The 300-strong company built a great reputation and had its pick of the wave of talent coming to Israel. The communications team itself demonstrated this strength of the startup nation, consisting of a marketing melting pot with people represented from the U.S, Germany, Ukraine, Canada, the UK and most of us were fresh off the boat. This enabled us to run integrated content marketing, social media, event, product and PR campaigns based on industry and cultural expertise in these major markets.
For marketing and content experts breathing life into an amazing Israeli company is a real privilege. At SimilarWeb our communications helped set the tone and get people excited about the product in markets from the US, UK, Japan and India. SimilarWeb’s engineering genius (an engineering unit of 100) produced billions of data points on mobile, desktop and apps. This mixed with a mood for impactful rich data. This provided an opportunity for me to pitch data narratives to strategic retail, travel, businesses, influencers and top tier journalists, or for our team to wow crowds at events with deep dives into online secrets in their industry.
This strategy generated 500 media mentions a month, crucially showing the scope of the product in any sector or country, from the l aunch of the iPhone (USA Today) to strategies for Black Friday (Time), hacking the news cycle during Pokémon Go (1000 mentions in a month including The New York Times TechCrunch and Recode), global ride sharing (Bloomberg), to the dynamics of the Ashley Madison fallout (Washington Post), Facebook’s effect on publishers (Fortune), or the more technical applications of the platform highlighting new product features, such as the best performing SEO in travel (Tnooz). The constant noise and buzz provided air support for global expansion. In a major profile piece Business Insider reflected that SimilarWeb “seemed to spring out of nowhere a couple of years ago to become a star in the web and mobile app analysis world.”
One caveat — and the reason I am looking for a new role now — is that when Israeli companies grow to a certain size they often make a decision to move marketing functions away to the US or another major market (some do this right at the beginning).
Hence it is more common and realistic to find a role at the beginning of a startup’s journey when still rooted in Israel, also when you are more likely to gain stock options before the company explodes (hopefully) into growth.
For those of us now searching, or thinking about a job hunt, looking for the next big thing is a good start. Most of us dream of providing the marketing strategy to bring life, soul and vision for the next Waze (perhaps Israel’s most famous high-tech name, bought by Google for $1billion). Just some of the companies which have come out the country in recent years include Fiverr, Taboola, Outbrain, WalkMe and Moovit.
Based on my job searches and interviews so far, here are some important tips I have learnt (and am still learning).
1. Firstly follow the money. Find those Israeli firms which are freshly flush with investment and now seeking talent to help them penetrate major new markets such as the US. For instance as one CMO told me regularly check The Globes which regularly reports on new funding of Israeli companies. There are a lot of these funding stories — Israel is second in the world in absolute terms for venture capital funding.
2. Secondly, the key remains contacts. This means swallowing your pride and having to join this networking track rather than relying on a superb CV. Tahl Wilson one of the top headhunters in Israel reflected on this problem with Daniel Glickman, author and CMO of (Israeli-startup) Roojoom and the blogger behind CMO Concessions. Tahl says that no-one in Israel can rely on a great CV alone: “I have to serve as an advocate and basically beg Israeli companies to look at the resumes of people coming from major Ivy-league schools or having worked as marketing managers at major brands. There are those with the latest in social media and e-commerce and I will be told, no, instead of their thinking of the potential and what an amazing opportunity to take advantage of this human capital, most don’t even take the time and it really baffles me.”
3. Do check companies you are interested in and their careers pages and be proactive about making contact. According to MappedInIsrael part of MapMe, an investor-backed Israeli start up “community visualization platform” (and majorly useful site for looking for identifying jobs) there are currently more than 430 Israeli startups hiring in Israel. Jobs are almost always clearly listed in English.
4. Expect unpredictability. Jobs listed one day are gone the next, but appear a month later again in a different form. In startups, focus shifts all the time, reorganizations are common, therefore advertised roles can be changed or withdrawn at any time.
5. Do address the communications pains here. Many companies really struggle despite amazing visionaries and game-changing technology to begin to understand the challenges of marketing and building contacts in new markets and major audiences, which we have done most of our lives. So do take advantage of experience gained and point out even the basics of good communication and simple language on the website, thought leadership, branding or social campaigns.
6. Things are informal here .You will be invited to a coffee shop as often as a board room (one job interview they invited me to join a weekly team lunch). Often these meetings, due to the rapid changes, may not lead to a job offer (but I figure it is always great to meet interesting CMOs and CEOs). However, these connections — friend zone rather than long term partners — may pay off, for your own search, or in helping others and in building a network for opportunities.
7. Finally, to this end, Meetup is widely used in Israel and is a great way to network, share ideas and understand different companies you may want to approach and learn about the cutting edge pain points, technology, and opportunities. There are some fantastic meetups — not least Mobile Monday and FinTech Aviv.
Like in any country, it is a matter of timing, and catching the right startup before the wave of growth. In the field of marketing especially there is an added bonus particularly for us immigrants in fostering a deeper connection to the country and culture.
In our job, marketing acts as a bridge between the product or service and the customer. Once you are lucky enough to get a job, the role of shaping the messaging and translating the product to new audiences requires a need to understand the ins-and outs of the company. Our function gives us a front seat to understand a company’s growth — talking regularly to everyone from the CEO to CFO to sales and engineers — as we create content and strategy to push the company into new markets.
In Israel especially this is invaluable in feeling like your skills are enhancing the startup nation (undoubtedly part of challenge is also translating and diluting the full concentration of the forthright Israeli style when communicating to new audiences).
There are wider political and perception problems in Israel which cannot be solved by good PR and marketing professionals alone. But those arriving to run communications at incredible companies in the startup nation have the chance to play a major part in something big. We can help shape an amazing brand at whatever level (hierarchy does not really exist in Israel).
Bringing comms skills to a company doing amazing things with their product or service may be the best start for many of us who are seeking to show this complex, challenging but brilliant country in a new light to the outside world.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on December 7, 2016.