Career

A foreigner’s guide on how to find a job in Barcelona!

It’s been a little quiet around Relocationjunkie.com recently, and that’s because I have some exciting news to share. This trusty Guiri (foreigner) just started a new job!

It’s been quite an adjustment after 15 months of doing my own thing. However, it’s definitely been an interesting experience too.

Getting to this point was not entirely smooth sailing though. It actually wasn’t at all a given that I would find a job here in Barcelona.

In fact, to be completely transparent: I very nearly ended up leaving for Vienna 2 months back!

Amazingly though, one week before my final moving decision deadline, I got hired for a job that I had been interviewing for two months before. It was quite a stressful time time say the least.

I absolutely didn’t want to end up on the edge of my best friend’s couch, crying myself to sleep because I’d misplayed my life cards. (Believe me – that option was definitely under discussion back then!)

Thankfully though, it never got to that point. So here I stand before you, with a shiny new job and a number of learnings at hand.

To find out what they are – keep reading. They might just help get you started on your journey to successfully finding a job in Barcelona too!

 

Step 1: Know yourself and what you want…

…and set your expectations accordingly.

When I first started job hunting in Barcelona, I didn’t feel like I had an idea of the kind of job that I wanted. I felt like I was open to doing new things, trying new adventures and seeing where the wind took me.

However, after several months of job searching, I had to admit to myself that my desires were, in fact, quite specific.

Originally, I thought I was open to working pretty much anywhere as long as I liked the job description. Since I had learnt Spanish to a good standard, I thought it would be great to work somewhere I could use and practice it every single day too.

However, after several interviews in Spanish, I soon realised that was unrealistic. Mostly because of what I quickly came to realise, was a growing list of preferences I was gathering throughout the job dating *cough* hunting, process.

I came to find that I was feeling rather incompetent in Spanish. Considering my job area requires clear and accurate communication, it was limiting to only have maximum 1/3 of my normal vocabulary at hand.

Moreover, I wanted to make the most of my background, experiences and passions too. As such, I found a profile building in my head of my ideal job. It looked something like this:

 

Ideal Job Criteria

  • In a multi-national company
  • Working in and with global teams
  • Project management as a main focus area
  • Change management and continuous improvement opportunities
  • HR systems as a specialism (if possible)
  • A salary to match what I was on before (if possible)
  • Flexibility to work from home and/or in an office (a perk that I love!)

I never actually wrote this list of desires down at the time. However, my job search shows me that those were the kinds of opportunities I was targeting.

The only issue is – looking back at it – that those kinds of opportunities are not a dime a dozen in Spain. As such, it’s not very surprising that it ended up taking 8 months for me to find a good fit. (I had initially planned for 4).

My hunt may have been a lot shorter, if my requirements hadn’t been so specific. Especially, considering the fact I was offered jobs as a waitress, shop assistant and even project manager within my first couple of months here – without me ever applying!

As such, I think the first really valuable lesson I learnt coming here, was that it’s good to know what you REALLY want. Then do your research to discover what it’s going to take to get it.

Gaining a realistic idea of what the market around your ideal job looks like is important. Specifically, because it will help keep expectations in check when adjusting your job-seeking timeline.

It will also keep you focused and hopeful while working your way through it. That’s super important in order to maintain an upbeat attitude and keep putting your best foot forward for each interview.

 

Step 2: Be prepared to adjust your CV and strategy

At the beginning of my job hunt in Barcelona I had an impressive CV at hand. It listed some key accomplishments, a bunch of impressive statistics and some formidable experience that likely very few could match.

That being said, when I sent it off I received… crickets.

I was sending off CV after CV and gaining very few responses. To give you an idea – in my 8 months searching, I sent off:

  • 102 applications
  • Received 7 requests for interviews
  • Made it to the final round for 4 positions

By contrast, in previous job searches, I would be surprised if I had to send off any more than 10 applications. Usually that would be enough to produce at least 3-6 viable opportunities.

That being the case, this situation was a bit of a surprise to me. However, speaking to other foreign professionals this experience was by no means unusual. Indeed, 100+ applications was considered very normal.

A lot of this response, can likely be attributed to current conditions in the Spanish job market (I’ll talk a bit more on that in Step 3: Be a ‘great’ fit, not a ‘good’ fit).

However, I believe that a part of my difficulty also stemmed from the fact that I had absolutely no network in Spain when I first landed. Therefore, also meaning that I had little to no idea of how to adjust to it either.

Here are a few things I’ve learned whilst searching for jobs and sending out CVs that you might find helpful.

 

Job Hunting Strategy Tips

 

  1. Get to know people
    • Networking is a huge thing in Spain. The more people you know, the better your chances of getting anything you want. I got several job offers just through talking to new people. Sure, they weren’t exactly what I was looking for, but if I had just been looking for A job, instead of THE job, then they would have been great
    • There are a number of professional organisation present in Barcelona that can help connect you with people in your field. Helping out with those organisations can prove really useful in extending your credibility as a professional in town too. I joined the PMI Barcelona Chapter when I got here, for example, and have found it immensely motivating and rewarding whenever I join in (It’s been great for improving my Spanish too!)
  2. Test which online job site works best for you – and apply as early as you can!
    • Originally I started using LinkedIn Jobs until I realised that jobs on there that appeared to be new, were actually only re-posts. One thing Spanish companies like to do is keep refreshing ads until they are filled. So, even though it looks like they are new postings, you will actually see that they aren’t once they show up as new week after week
    • One trick to avoid applying for repeated job postings is to check the application numbers. As a rule of thumb, if you can be among the first 50-100 applicants, you will generally have a good chance of getting through to a screening call. Any higher than that and it’s unlikely you will get a response – unless you really are the ‘perfect’ fit
    • In my case, I figured out that Glassdoor often posted new items slightly earlier than LinkedIn. This would often give me a 2-3 day head start on LinkedIn candidate applications
    • You will also find that locals tend to recommend InfoJobs as the place to go for jobs. However, in my experience, I never really found much that suited my criteria on there. Nevertheless, I recommended you play around and see what works!
  3. Set yourself a reasonable job hunting timeline
    • I had the luxury of time on my job hunt, however, even that was limited. Originally, I thought I would be job hunting for around 4 months. In the end, I was job hunting for around 8 months. However, I realise that I was holding out for something specific.
    • If I hadn’t been looking for anything specific, my hunt may have gone a little faster. As such, I would encourage you to decide on what you want and then be reasonable with your timelines.
    • It is reasonable to think it will take you longer to find the right match if you are looking for something that isn’t too common in the local job market. Especially if you have no current network to promote you and open up doors for open opportunities to you
  4. Decide on what your dealbreakers are
    • Creating a great life for yourself is very often determined by your ability to navigate and negotiate your current needs and circumstances in your favour. This also goes for jobs.
    • The job I have now ticks off most everything I listed above as my ideal job specifications. However, it is still not ideal. It has a somewhat messy infrastructure. There are very few clear guidelines on how things should and should not be done. It is a small company, and there is always a risk it will all go under if it’s not managed correctly. Nevertheless, I think it provides a lot of great opportunities too.
    • The only reason I can say that and make the necessary compromises to improve my life though, is because I am crystal clear on my dealbreakers and what I will and won’t accept from life and work
    • What about you?

 

CV Adjustment Tips

 

  1. Make sure you specifically reference items in the job description
    • If they ask for PMP qualifications, or experience with selling gophers to Japanese tourists – They want to know you actually HAVE A PMP qualification, and they also want to know you have actual experience selling GOPHERS to JAPANESE tourists. Not a Prince 2 and not experience selling budgees to Chinese businessmen. (It sounds pedantic, but here it seems specifics actually do matter…)
  2. If you add Spanish as a language, be prepared to interview in Spanish
    • I clearly said that my Spanish was of “intermediate” level on my CV. Not high, not business level, not fluent. Yet even if the job description was in English, if I was applying for a Spanish institution or in some cases even English speaking companies, the pre-screening interview was often completely in Spanish. This was surprising to me!
  3. You may want to learn Catalan if are looking to work for government institutions
    • Catalan and Spanish are the two official languages in Barcelona. As such, even though many government institutions will write their job descriptions in English, they will expect fluent Spanish and Catalan as these will be their working languages. I never listed Catalan on my CV, yet this was requested from me each time I got a pre-screening interview for a government institution
  4. If you have any CV gaps – list years instead of months
    • In my case, I started getting a heightened response on LinkedIn, and upon sending my CVs, once I removed the Month/Year format. I think this is because even though I hadn’t been working since March 2019, when I was interviewing in early 2020, it was just automatically assumed that I had just moved. I never got questioned once on my career gap
  5. Show relevant experience first
    • If you are applying for several industries, your related experience in the company’s industry should always come first. So, in my case I put my HR/Project Management Experience in one category first. However, since I have useful related experience in Digital Marketing and Teaching too, I make sure to put that further down – in case they skim that far
  6. Keep your CV to one page
    • Unlike in the US, in Europe it is frequently the case that 2-3 pages is acceptable for a CV. However, given the high volume of applicants for jobs in Spain, I believe the rule “the shorter the better” will serve you best

 

Step 3: Be a ‘great’ fit, not a ‘good’ fit

When I first moved to Spain, I didn’t move with a job at hand. My immediate goal at the time wasn’t to find a job quickly either.

Rather I was much more focussed on improving the quality of my physical, emotional, mental and personal health instead.

I had been warned about the Spanish labour market beforehand. Friends urged me to find a job before I actually moved.

However, being in the situation I was in, I felt I needed to change my life in a big way immediately. And looking for work before making that change was the last thing on my mind.

I was certainly prepared for some degree of difficulty in finding new employment, so I didn’t go in completely blind.

However, I’ll be honest when I say that there were a number of things I miscalculated at the time.  Simply because I didn’t know any better.

Spain isn’t quite like any of the other countries I’ve lived and worked in before. I’ve worked in 5 different countries already. None quite like this though!

One of the lessons I learnt the quickest during my hunt though, was accepting that I would have to work at presenting myself as a “great” fit (i.e. demonstrating experience exactly as described on the job description), instead of the usual “good” fit (i.e. highlighting relevant experience that fit the job description) – which had been my approach in the past.

Let me tell you why…

 

Reason 1: Unemployment in the Spanish job market

Although everyone speaks of the high unemployment rates in Spain, it is one thing to hear about them and a totally other thing to be stuck right in the middle.

In my case, I casually started looking for a job around October 2019. My intention was to start working around January-March 2020.

Before quitting my job as of March 2019, I had enrolled in a 6 month Spanish language course, and as such I was giving myself around 10-12 months to get back into the workplace.

Given what I had heard about the job market, I was planning for a slightly longer search period of around 4-6 months instead of my usual 2-3 months.

According to statistics, the Spanish unemployment rate at the time lay somewhere around 10.5-14%. This was a lot lower than the 26%+ unemployment Spain hit back in 2013. Nevertheless, it was a lot higher than the 1.93% unemployment rate I was leaving behind in the Czech Republic.

I was prepared for a higher level of competition. However, I was pretty shocked to discover just how hefty that competition could really be.

To give you an idea of what I was up against…

One of the first jobs I applied for had around 996 candidates showing on LinkedIn before I came along. More usually I would see around 200-500 applicants on general job postings though.

 

Reason 2: Candidate screening in the Spanish job market

With so many applications to choose from, the job of finding a suitable candidate, arguably, gets both a lot easier and a lot harder for companies at the same time.

One thing I found very interesting to see was that Spanish companies tended to have several levels of recruitment. Typically, they would have a recruiter screen the CVs. In the case that the CV was of interest to them, they would then ask you to attend an interview.

However, I quickly found out that this first ‘interview’ was not actually an interview. Rather it was a ‘pre-interview check’ where they would directly compare my CV with their job description.

There were no competency questions, nothing about company values and rarely anything about why I would like to work for the company. It was really just another in-person CV check.

However, one thing that became abundantly clear in these interviews is how companies in Spain think.

My previous interview experiences have often allowed me to make an impression by outlining ‘relevant’ experiences I have in line with the job description.

One thing that became clear very quickly in Spain is that those screening you are looking for you to have exact experiences that precisely align with the tasks outlined in the job description. As described above already.

With so many candidates to choose from, employers can afford to be picky. As such, it seems, they generally will be too.

 

Reason 3: Salaries and Experience in the Spanish job market

Another thing to take note of is that salaries in Spain are generally considerably lower than in other European countries.

That’s not to say that it is impossible to get a good salary. However, it will potentially take a while longer to find a higher paying job. Especially if you don’t have an existing work history or network in Spain to help you.

For example, one of the earliest jobs I applied and successfully interviewed for was looking to make me an offer that was around 35% below my previous salary.

Granted, the position was slightly lower than my last position. However, I had been thinking more along the lines of a 20% cut. Not 35%!

As such, losing 15% more than that (with no leeway to negotiate) felt like a punch in the gut and I decided to walk away.

Admittedly, I had no idea a global pandemic was just around the corner at the point though, or else that may have influenced my decision differently at the time! (Thankfully it didn’t though as I am now roughly on my previous salary with better benefits to boot.)

Likewise, I also ended up in a situation where I had a fantastic interview, and great feedback. However, the result was that the recruiter said “We loved you and you have a great profile, but we thought you would get bored in this role given your extensive background, so we decided to go with someone who had less experience”.

I was later told this feedback may have been genuine, however, more likely was the fact that they were looking for someone with lower salary expectations.

You win some, you lose some. However, in Spain it really seems that being successful really does often count on minor details lining up just right.

 

Step 4: Be patient, flexible and don’t give up

Job hunting for professional roles in Barcelona, in my experience, is a little more challenging than it might be elsewhere in the world.

However, I do believe that with the right attitude, a flexible approach and some patience, it is possible to find some good opportunities here too.

That being said, if you’re looking for the global, high flyer, multi-national experience – that doesn’t seem to be frequently available.

On the flip-side, if you’re looking for something a little more casual, then this can be relatively easy to find. Walk into a bar, restaurant or smaller shop and start talking to someone. You’ll likely be hired before you know it!

This being the case, if you are looking for something quickly, then it is definitely possible to find something.

Glovo, Deliveroo, Ubereats, and other delivery services, for example, are very popular here. Tourist related jobs also seem to be pretty common. That said, there are definitely ways to make money when you’re strapped for cash – even though it may not be much.

Another important thing to bear in mind is that a little Spanish goes a long way. The one thing that really surprised me when I arrived in Barcelona, was how few people actually use English.

Networking and job hunting, therefore, became a lot easier the more my Spanish improved. As such, do consider investing in some lessons at some point. I’m sure you’ll find it useful!

And with that being said, we come to the end of my guide to you on how to find a job in Barcelona. I hope you find it useful – and if you feel I’ve missed anything, do let me know in the comments below!

 

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