Work in Italy
Where to Find Jobs and How to Network
By Emma Bird
|Emma Bird on a beach in Sardinia.
Italy is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe and the relaxed way of living makes it an ideal choice if you are searching for a way out of the rat race in America or elsewhere.
Since falling in love with Italy as a 19-year-old au pair working for a family in Naples, I have lived and worked in Bologna, Aquilla, Rome, Milan and am now happily settled in Sardinia.
I am a qualified newspaper journalist, but in the time that I have been here I have done everything from au pairing and washing dishes in a restaurant to setting up and running a magazine office in Milan, being the Italian correspondent for a series of high-profile textile and fashion magazines, and teaching English to babies and to top business executives.
Finding Work in Italy
Finding work is hard in Italy for everyone as evidenced by the fact that unemployment is so high. In Sardinia for example, the unemployment rate is 18%. Then there is much vaunted red tape, as we will discuss later.
But don’t let this put you off from turning your dream into reality and moving to Italy. While you will face competition from the natives, remember that you have a major advantage. You speak English and you speak it fluently. This already sets you apart from most Italians whose knowledge of the language rarely goes beyond the English picked up at school and taught by a teacher who never lived in an Anglophone country.
Secondly, you probably have far more work experience than your Italian counterparts. Although the Italian University system is one of the most demanding in Europe in terms of the sheer amount of information students learn for each exam, there are no time constraints. Thus, it is not uncommon to find people still studying at a University into their 30s after having first enrolled at the age of 18 or 19.
This means that while Italian students are still burning the midnight oil studying for exams, you have the experience that most companies need. With American and English companies often at the forefront of new business trends, this can be a huge advantage.
Media and communication, tourism, finance, and international business are the main job sectors open to foreigners. If you are after a top executive job, then searching through Italy’s national papers could be a good place to start. The Corriere della Sera newspaper has an online employment portal called Trovolavorro, which provides searches for work across Italy.
Temping agencies are a valuable hunting ground. Short-term placements may not be your aim but they give you an insight into the Italian work culture, let you see what kind of company you’d like to work for, and also prove that someone in Italy thinks you are worth hiring. Manpower and EuroInterim recruit on a temporary basis, but you can often find jobs for a longer period. The big cities, such as Milan, often have several branches of each agency, although these are usually franchises, so visit each agency in turn in order to maximize your chances of finding a job.
One of the stumbling blocks you will encounter, however, is that Italians like their potential employees to be super-qualified with advanced degrees in the relevant subjects. If you want to land a job in marketing you will be expected to have a business and marketing degree, even if you have years of practical experience in the field.
This is true for all jobs. Even if you feel you are qualified to work in tourism or as a travel agent you will often be asked to prove that you have taken courses. If you are young and don’t have experience in the sector, you may also be expected to work for little or no money while you complete what Italians call a tironcino or training period.
In most cases you will also be required to speak good – if not fluent - Italian, so consider taking a language course, first in your own country before the move to cover the basics, then another one once you have unpacked your belongings. It is never too early to begin getting to grips with Italian. And with a wide range of courses you are sure to find one matching your requirements.
Another factor to consider is location: if you have a choice, then think carefully where you want to be. Milan, Rome, Florence , and Bologna all have large expatriate populations and offer unlimited opportunities for work, study, and leisure. This means that if you have vocational qualifications you can directly target this community. After all, there is always a need for doctors, dentists, and health practitioners to deal with native English speakers. But here you need to weigh the cons of living in a big city. I worked in Milan for 18 months before I realized that I would rather give up my high-profile job than continue to live in a city where smog is much higher than EU regulations and where standing groin-to-groin with a sconosciuto, or stranger, on my ride into work every morning on the metro was too much to bear.
If you decide to live in the countryside, job opportunities are much harder to find. So if this is the case you need to reinvent yourself and use your initiative to land yourself the job you really want.
Instead of viewing the move as the end of one career and the start of another, why not look at the Big Picture and see it as a continuous line? Remember that truly successful people are passionate about their work, so try to find a way to combine those marketing skills with your love of Chianti, or your writing skills with a company looking to expand abroad. If you can afford to do so financially, also consider working for little or no financial compensation initially. It could be the price to pay for meeting new people who undoubtedly will open new doors for you.
Of course, this is what Italians do best. Cold letters to potential employers rarely work in Italy because networking is the Italians’ preferred method of finding a job. Here, it is firmly who you know rather than what you know that will secure you the contract you have been hankering after. And as much as nepotism may not be your thing, it’s a very real fact of life that even if you are the most suitable candidate, you may be pipped to the post at the last minute by the managing director’s cousin’s son who has just graduated from University and needs a job.
There are lots of professional networking organizations in Italy. These include Ecademy.com, an international social networking organization that has offline groups in Bari, Cagliari, Como, Florence, Milan, Rome, and Salerno. The Professional Women’s Association in Milan, the Benvenuto Club of Milan, and the American Women’s Association of Rome are other valuable associations that double up as welcoming committees when you first arrive. My organization connects professional women in Sardinia with an e-newsletter which has subscribers throughout Italy (and beyond). Turning up at networking events religiously gets your face known. And once your face becomes familiar, people start to trust you and want to do business with you.
One of the most portable careers is English teaching, since nearly every Italian would love to be able to speak English well. However, don’t assume that just because you are a native speaker you are qualified to teach the language. Although there are some schools that will take you on without any qualifications, the pay and conditions are often extremely poor. Investing money and a month of your time in gaining either a CELTA or Trinity certificate in TEFL will pay dividends later and are necessary to teach in any serious language school. You can gain a certificate either through many teaching programs in Italy, at home, or through an online learning course.
Had anyone told me five years ago that I would end up sidelining my journalism career to become an English teacher I would not have believe them. Yet now, when I am not bashing out articles on deadline, networking or simply enjoying the quality of life in Sardinia, I can be found prancing around the classroom, playing preposition basketball or judging karaoke contests. What was meant to be a short-term bridge-the-gap job has turned into the long-term it-gets-me-out-of-bed-with-a-smile-on-my-face job. What more can you ask than that?
Job Sites in Italy
Popular job sites in Italy (Including vacancies for a wide range of sectors and feature career articles.)
Contracts in Italy
There are several contracts available for employees in Italy. Check carefully which one your employer offers you:
- Contratto a tempo indeterminato (permanent contract). These contracts are like gold. You are fully protected under Italian law.
- Contratto a tempo determinato (fixed-term contract). The contract may not renewed, but you retain your benefits.
- Contratto a progetto (working for a project). The contract can be renewed. Your employer is not entitled to provide sick, maternity, or holiday pay.
- Job Sharing. Your contract is shared with another person. You have more flexibility.
- Job on Call. You are paid a retainer fee during the period in which you don’t work. When you are called to work, you receive full wages.
- Staff Leasing. Companies that do not need their staff at all times may hire them out to other companies. If this happens to you, you effectively become an employee in the new company.
Emma Bird continues to work as a freelance journalist in the U.K. after many years working in Italy.