- -  Day # 218  + +

EU > Bulgaria > Sofia

Life and work

Sofia, BG (View on map)

Ever since the two most recent enlargement rounds of the European Union, many `old` EU countries have put limits on the influx of workers from the new member states. Bulgaria is one of the states who are particularly touched by the restrictions. Despite their newly acquired freedom to travel, most Bulgarians therefore still need to find employment in their own company. Which is neither an easy nor a very rewarding task.

Vladislav (25):

..plays poker to make a living
Starting salaries for Bulgarian university graduates rarely exceed 200 euros a month. The price standard is also quite low in Bulgaria, but even here, such a salary is hardly enough to cover housing expenses, energy bills and food. Job offers have been on the rise since Bulgaria joined the European Union, although most of the advantage is reserved to the capital alone. Sofia has attracted huge numbers of candidates over the last years, many more than it is able to accommodate.

Apart from the unappealing salaries, Bulgarian employers can hardly be called considerate. The official working week is 40 hours, but most employees are forced to work overtime without seeing a single Lev in return. Plamena (25), who works as a personal assistant In an audit company, says that she can`t ever make any plans on weekday evenings, because she never knows at what time she will be done with work. `Whether I plan my work well or not, my boss always has something new to put on my table before I go home`, she says. `But there`s no choice. It`s either that or no job at all.`

Georgi (27) says that most companies will not cheat by offering continuous temporary contracts, as is often the case in for example Italy. `If you work for a decent company, you can expect to start working on a 6-month contract, but it will normally be converted into an indefinite contract if the employee lives up to the expectations.`

Nadia (24) is happy that smoking was banned from offices when Bulgaria joined the European Union: `I work for an Irish company who respects the prohibition, but I know that many small Bulgarian local companies do not. Almost everybody smokes in Bulgaria, which makes it difficult to impose anti-smoking rules. Anyway, I prefer to have fresh-smelling clothes when I get home in the evening, even though I am a smoker myself.`

Vassilena (25), who works as a journalist, adds that the majority of Bulgarian companies only report a part of salaries to the tax authorities: `That keeps both the employer and the employee from paying social insurances, so it suits both.` When I ask her about the independence of Bulgarian journalists, her answer is pretty straightforward: `You write what you get paid for, unless maybe if you work for one of the two major newspapers Dnevnik and Kapital. I am happy not to work in the newspaper daily sector. The company I work for is an international research company which works in the economic sector only. And we are a young company so we have no negative legacies of older generations.`

Finding a job
Maria (35) says that finding a job in Bulgaria is easier if you know the right people, but the social strategy is more likely to apply to lower-level jobs. `Large corporations do not work that way. They most probably post their vacancies recruitment sites like www.jobs.bg. For any office job, that site is the best place to go. It for sure helps if you have a network of people, but most of the higher level recruitment is likely to look at skills first. Fluency in English is an important criteria, no matter how often you will actually be in touch with international contacts. Small companies may recruit family members and shop owners will post a vacancies simply on their shop windows.`

Radoslava (25) advises applicants for Bulgarian jobs to certainly add a photo to their CV, explaining that employers are very likely to judge applicants by their physical appearance. `I even think that being a woman may be an advantage if you are looking for an average office job. It`s different in the higher echelons of business, probably because many woman are one level below the top and work as assistants to the business leaders. Apart from that, both men and women in office jobs are supposed to respect the corporate dress code. Casual clothes are not appreciated.`

Being creative
Many highly wanted jobs in the rest of Europe are relatively unpopular in Bulgaria. Becoming a teacher is not to be advised. Nobody can tell me what kind of person would actively choose to become a police officer. Medicine studies are full of students, but most doctors are only making little money. The best way to really make money is to become an independent entrepreneur ? either in real estate or in legal affairs. Least favourite, but a common alternative for people who do not manage to find the job of their choice, is to sell flowers in the streets, to work as taxi drivers. Many people have no choice but to work in a factory. Most of the production work came to a standstill when the Soviet Union fell apart, but new and modern factories are replacing them. They provide jobs mainly to old people and to young people without proper qualifications for other types of work.

Vladislav (25, photo) has opted for an alternative strategy. His main source of income is onlike poker. `I was studying Geodesia but quit after a year. They I joined the army, which at the time was obligatory but they hadn`t convoked me yet. I thought I`d be ahead of them instead of waiting until they would call me. Then, when I completed the service, I was talking to a friend who had managed to win more than 300,000 Euros in a year`s time, and decided to give it a try as well. I already played poker as a hobby, but it has quickly become my major source of income. I don`t think I will ever get back to a normal office job. I much rather specialize in my pokering skills a little more.`

Andreu (30) found another way to make a living. `My previous job consisted of selling fake shares to Dutch private investors. `We were using a big machine faking the IP addresses to fake the origin of the calls, used fake names and made good money selling worthless papers. But then I got offered a job as a bodyguard which is even paying me more. I have to protect a businessman here. He works in real estate and I am one of the three guys protecting him. I don`t know exactly why he needs protection and I don`t care. It`s producing enough money for me to finish my studies in Political Science, and then we`ll take it from there on. Making money in Bulgaria requires creativity and courage.`

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