This short series of articles is related to expats earning a living in the Philippines. I am focusing on sales and marketing, because that is the area of my expertise… It is my trade, and it is where my education focused. I hope to pass on some of that knowledge to readers on this site. Sales, or marketing for that matter, despite what the textbooks might tell you, is not a science, but an art. There are no hard and fast laws or rules, but the influence of marketing is felt throughout the business world. It is my observation that many, if not most, expats who fail in trying to earn a living in the Philippines fail, in part, because they lack an understanding of basic sales and marketing principles. However you decide to earn a living here, you must always remember that without sales, you are not in business.
This article focuses on finding and acquiring a job in the Philippines. Following articles will focus on sales and self-employment.
So John, I’m not trying to get a job as a sales person… Why should this article be of any interest to me whatsoever?
There are several reasons:
1. Always consider sales as a career option. In a tight economy, the sales staff are always the last to be let go. Why? Without incoming revenues, businesses in dire straits become more precarious in their financial situation.
2. Every business needs sales people. A good sales person can sell anything… The product or service being sold is largely irrelevant (In many cases). What is important is being able to listen to the customer, identify their need, and give them a solution to fulfill that need.
3. You still need to acquire that job in the first place. Nobody will give you a job. You must sell yourself. You need to tell a prospective employer why they need to hire you: Even if you are applying as an accountant, mail room, or call center operator. You need to sell yourself into that position.
Expat job seekers in the Philippines face a number of high barriers in obtaining paid employment here. This is not to discourage you from trying, but rather to hammer in the reality of the Philippine job market:
1. There is far more demand than supply for jobs in the Philippines. You are competing with every qualified Filipino in obtaining that job. There are plenty of college graduates who work manual labor or unskilled positions here due to this over-supply of workers. Nearly 8,000 Filipinos leave the Philippines every day looking for work overseas. It is highly competitive here for ANY job, not just those jobs that are “desirable”. It is far more competitive than anywhere in the United States or Europe. If you are having trouble finding a job in those places, magnify that trouble times 100 here.
2. Wages in the Philippines are nowhere near US or European levels. A call center worker here, considered a good and desirable job, earns P15,000 per month as entry level, and tops out at around P20,000 per month with experience in the position. In my industry, a marine engineer holding a ME degree with 5 to 10 years of experience will earn no more than P40,000 per month. Simply being a foreigner does not qualify you for higher wages. In fact, it usually will be held against you, since employers here certainly know the prevailing wage rates in their industry abroad, and they will automatically assume that you will be discontented with local wages.
3. Expats working for foreign companies here generally were transferred here from abroad. If you are hoping that a local firm will pay to move you here, the only comment I have is that you had better be among the top ten in your field worldwide. Companies here hire expats only if they possess skill sets in demand and that are highly specialized.
4. Cultural familiarity, native English ability, and years of experience in your home country are usually not enough to justify hiring you. In fact, this can often work against you, too. Many companies will view an expat employee as “trying to change things” or creating problems.
5. Many professions here are prohibited for foreigners, or tightly restricted. So, for instance, say that you are a CPA and that you have 20 years of experience. Say that you are talking with management at a bank and they need someone to handle the accounts for their US customers. Too bad. CPA is, most definitely, a restricted profession here. Your US CPA does not even qualify you to sit for the exam here. Are there exceptions made? Sometimes. However, you had better be able to convince a company to go through the miles of bureaucracy, the enormous expense, and time spent in order to hire you. They had better have a strong need for your skills and you certainly better have the credentials, experience, and references to back up your skills.
So, now knowing the barriers and constraints you will face, you still want to look for a job here. How do you get this job? Quite simply, you will need to sell yourself. YOU need to convince a company to hire you. YOU need to show that you bring sufficient value to an employer.
You will not be able to do this by blasting out your resume or CV on Monster or any other job board.
Passive job hunting won’t cut it. You are simply wasting your time. Job hunting is a full-time job, if you want to succeed. You must sell yourself through networking. Networking is far more than simply sending “Please help me find a job” inquiries to me, Bob, or other expat or Philippines web sites. Networking is using tools like Linked In, your personal contacts, and contacts you meet through organizations like Toastmasters, the Masons, or Alumni groups. It is being active in your industry. It is giving assistance or advice, as well as taking it.
Networking is how you will find out that a job is available. Sometimes, it can even lead to a job being created for you (As happened in my present position).
So, you have now identified the job. How do you sell yourself? It’s actually quite simple. It is just like selling a product:
1. Through networking, you have identified the job, and thus, the fact that the employer needs someone.
2. You need to listen to what they require. Ten years experience? There is a reason for that. In my industry, some technical knowledge is necessary to sell our product. They want an MBA? There’s a reason for that, too. Ability to speak Mandarin? They must do business in China. English only won’t satisfy that need.
3. This step is the most important. YOU need to prove the value that you bring to the company. By hiring YOU, what are they getting in exchange for that salary cost. Back to my CPA example. There is a big difference in how you present yourself. “I worked for XXXX firm ten years and did _____” says NOTHING. Compare this with “I was responsible for preparing the annual report. Through my knowledge of accounting laws and procedures, I was able to generate savings to the firm of $15MM by identifying incorrect product classifications and incorrect depreciation estimates.” You just sold yourself. You proved your expertise, and succinctly told them how you generated profits. You have just given them a solution to their need.
4. Offering to take a job… Any job… reeks of desperation. You are viewed as an expense, not as contributing to the company’s profits.
5. Likewise, trying to bargain salary can land you in the same trap. This is an even more difficult problem to overcome in the Philippines due to the notions of foreign and expat employees and their expectations.
In the Philippines, if you want to work for someone else, you need to focus on looking and living in Metro Manila, Cebu, or Davao in order to find a job. Though there are exceptions (Like mining, fishing, resorts / tourism, etc.), most employers will be located in the large cities. Keep in mind that thousands of Filipinos migrate to Manila from the provinces looking for work. Tough as finding a job in Manila might be, in the provinces that task becomes next to impossible.
Yes, there are exceptions to all I wrote above. There are many expats who do live and work at jobs in Manila. Many are here on contracts or obtained the jobs abroad. It is not impossible, but is very difficult to secure such positions. In every case, those people got those jobs by selling themselves. It is the only way you can succeed, barring dumb luck, whether you want to work as a chef, computer programmer, sales person, or scientist.
John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.