New Job, New Town #3: The Italian Job

From Italy to Edinburgh — Challenges, Advice, Insight.

From an automobile sales role in Italy to a recent career progression at BlackRock one of the world’s preeminent asset management firms, Valentina sets incredibly high standards for herself and not only reaches them, she surpasses with distinct positivity and a constant smile on her face.

Graduating in Business Management from the University of Turin, Valentina wanted to use a more financial mindset than the junior sales manager role she was in provided, so she started working full time at BlackRock.

Guy Peleg (SymbaSync): Moving to Edinburgh marked a big shift for you as a professional. How would you compare the move from your local hometown to Turin to Edinburgh for a job?

Valentina Conzano: I was worried at the beginning when I moved, but it was really not as drastic as I thought. Funnily enough, Edinburgh is almost the same size as Turin, similar in the sense that it is easy to get around, only a very different culture. The most basic difficulty was that I didn’t have family and friends surrounding me, so I had to start from ground zero again.

If I look back it was a good growing experience, building my network from scratch again and trying to do that while also starting a new job… It’s not easy.

With direct flights from Edinburgh to Turin, homesickness was easily beaten for Valentina!

There are of course moments where you just think “I’m taking the next flight back” so to help that feeling I try to visit Italy at least every three months. Conquering that first ‘mountain’ of homesickness changed my outlook, and it got better quickly from there! Edinburgh is a lively city and it’s easy to meet people. Of course after you finish university and everyone leaves you have to start from square one, and building professional relationships are different to university ones.

GP: How was your experience getting a job in the UK compared to Italy?

VC: I started my job search as early as possible. This was important because securing a new job would give me the peace of mind I needed. And, after self-financing my MSc, I wanted to make sure I had the most opportunities open for me to start with.

In Italy this would not have been the case. Finding a job as a young person there isn’t easy at all, with unemployment at around 38% for young professionals between the ages of 20–29. Considering the gloomy situation at home, getting a job here in Edinburgh is considered quite an achievement!

To secure the job at BlackRock I went through a standard process, going to multiple and interviews with different levels of management. While it was quite challenging, the university actually ended up being quite supportive, giving me materials to prepare.

My impression was that in the UK there is a different approach to how candidates are dealt with. Companies are more willing to invest in your abilities if you prove yourself, which enables a young person to build their career. In Italy you graduate from University but then you are mostly eligible for internships or short, fixed-term contracts. Permanent employment in Italy is like a mirage!

Let me give you for example an application I did for a job in my home country:

I fulfilled all the requirements for a consultant position at a financial services company, but in the end the offer letter I got was for an “Analyst with experience” — completely different from what I applied for. The entire hiring experience was so negative. There was a ridiculous amount of paperwork required even just for my application to be considered, certifying my education and background. In the UK when they do a background check, it is often outsourced and doesn’t require much from the candidate. I filled in dozens of forms, disclosures, residencies, statements of any conflict of interest, and I spent hours on it — and then it felt like a waste of time when I got that offer, which wasn’t the role I even wanted!

Then, I was continually questioned about the documents I submitted (which were the same ones I provided to UK employers, landlords, even my university here without issue)! A regular procedure in Italy is requesting a picture of you, with your age and nationality upfront.

How am I supposed to believe the outcome of the job application will not be influenced by bias if this is something I need to submit before even being considered?

I know in Italy, age matters, and you simply do not qualify for a senior position if you are 24 and a woman, even though you meet all the other requirements.

Unconscious bias and conscious hiring bias still exist in hiring processes. In Valentina’s case — it was clear to her.

I really wanted to believe this experience I had was an outlier, and was not the case… Maybe it was bad luck and I was indeed a poor fit. But when you try once, twice, three times and the outcome is the same… you start asking questions.

Are HR processes in Italy as transparent as they claim to be? I am not so sure. It’s very painful for me to think I can’t have the opportunities I know I am right for, and capable of in Italy, and am accepted for in the UK.

GP: What was that first day at BlackRock like after going through that for several months?

VC: While exciting, it was very difficult. From a language perspective it was suddenly challenging because there was much more slang and workplace conversation that I was used to. The culture was very different from my previous workplace because it was much more quiet, where in Italy it was much more lively. In terms of training, in terms of the people I met it was excellent. I felt good about my personal and professional development.

I worked in that role for 18 months, and I just had the opportunity to move to a new team within the company, in investment data implementation and client-relationship management.

GP: Congratulations on the new role!

To wrap this up, what are some tips you could give to people looking for employment opportunities in the UK from your experiences so far?

VC: Identify companies’ hiring cycles and do your research. Some websites even help you identify these time frames to apply. The UK, I believe, still has some good opportunities for young people coming from abroad despite Brexit.

It is a good place to start a career in a fast-paced environment with some good opportunities.

In any situation, finding and starting a new job is difficult. Find the things that can make this process as smooth as possible, for example, when moving to Edinburgh securing accommodation early helps relieve you from part of the stress before you start working. Minimize the amount of headaches that will arise naturally when you move somewhere and it will help you!

Do your research, and know the outcomes you want from the job search process before starting.

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