Looking for a secure, well paid job in Phnom Penh can be a daunting and self-effacing experience. In a country where the average worker earns around $50 a month, it seems rather greedy to be on the hunt for a gig that will pay many more times than that but show me a westerner that will work for $50 a month and I will bend over and show you flying pink pigs. If you do not come into the country on an expatriate package with all the trappings attached, you are just another western number looking for a job. Further still, if you are not a career NGO worker, a professional English Teacher or a cashed up entrepreneur, you are an even smaller number. You will need skin like a rhinoceros and the persistence of Wily Coyote to brave out the often lengthy process.
“Remember, in the zoo that is the Phnom Penh job hunt, only the strong survive whilst the meek get mauled.”
Back home in the west, the papers carry huge sections devoted to government, private, health and education sector employment. If you have a resume that reflects solid experience and achievements within your relevant field, you can usually pick and choose from the various job advertisements. Here in Cambodia, you have no such luxury. You might see the odd job advertisement that is an exact match to your skill sets, but they are rarer than the Cambodian Zebra. Guaranteed when you do see that Zebra, there are quite a few other job hunters out there all aiming their gun at the same quarry. I recently went for a job interview where 3 of us were interviewed out of 60 applicants. I felt privileged to just be at the interview! Two of us were then selected for a final and after an agonising two week wait I was told my shot had missed and the Zebra had been bagged by a better person. Better? Surely NOT!
Apart from looking in the papers, one thing that works no matter where you are in the world is social and business networking. Cambodia runs on networking and if you cannot network (and drink like a fish), you will be all alone in the jungle and down the bottom of the food chain. I have met some extremely interesting people whilst out and about in Phnom Penh and some of those people hold fairly senior roles in solid companies. Remember, in the zoo that is the Phnom Penh job hunt, only the strong survive whilst the meek get mauled. Pump the flesh, join associations, play sport, buy the beer, get to know people, pump more flesh and don’t be afraid to ask your new colleagues the question “Can you use someone with my skill sets?”. Why, recently I emailed the Chairman of one of Cambodia’s largest banks after having met him at a social soiree. Unfortunately he could not help me BUT he was more than happy to receive my details and was helpful with his response. Could I have done that in the west? I doubt it.
Of course, once you have secured that job finally, you have to hope there are no hidden surprises and that your contract is honored. Did they forget to mention that the job entailed regular visits to Snoul? Did they not mention that the Health Insurance in your contract was only available to Khmer nationals (and there you were riding around on your motorbike thinking you were insured!).” Oh! Sorry!”. I relocated to Cambodia having secured what seemed like a solid private sector job only to be told within the first twenty minutes of arriving that “you had better keep 3 months salary in the bank because we have cash flow problems and you may not get paid…” .Needless to say I was retrenched within 6 months.
Welcome to the jungle. Now where is my gun and where is that next zebra!