Do you need a university degree in Greece?
Based on work experience, job hunting and the people who agreed to speak about their work situation — regardless of nationality, intelligence and financial status — a university degree has little or no impact on making a job candidate more competitive, more viable or more powerful when negotiating a salary in Greece. And the hard stats support that.
Before and after I arrived, I was told time and again that it’s all about connections, and non-locals will have a difficult time breaking into established circles and networks, as most friendships extend to childhood and families and their acquaintances are close knit.
You may be optimistically convinced you can break these barriers, wedge your way in or simply take advantage of an opportunity by proving yourself at the right time and place. But to be honest, it isn’t that easy — a 10-year friendship is nothing in comparison to 30 years, and a single event can end everything whether or not you did anything wrong.
In a 2012 WSJ article called Crony Capitalism, it says: “In Italy and Greece, the most talented don’t get ahead.” That’s always been true. It is not a phenomenon brought on by the crisis.
Men befriend women with promises of helping because they “know someone,” but it often turns out they know no one and their intentions are not honorable. Working freelance jobs can also be risky, as many people report problems in getting paid, and employers dare them to sue, which can take several years, with no promise of ever recovering money despite a judgment in your favor.
Having a degree has been a detriment to many attempting to secure a job in Greece, while playing down qualifications and skills is often an advantage.
Extensive experience and a university degree often garners one or more of these reactions:
1. Classified as overqualified
2. Classified as expensive, even before discussing salary or if you’re hired.
3. Offered a job based on years of experience and skills, but employers don’t want to pay more than 800-900 euros with IKA (social insurance). Not a horrible salary by Greek standards, but the basic living expenses of a person supporting themselves without help of a spouse or parent or outright ownership of an existing property is usually far more, especially if they have children.
4. Offered a salary of 1000 euros or more, but won’t provide IKA (social insurance). Also not bad by Greek standards but non-EU citizens must have continuous insurance to keep a Greek residence/work permit, so it means paying 250+ euros/month out-of-pocket for private insurance.
5. Hours after an application deadline closes, a candidate is selected for the position. Meaning, they never intended to consider candidates based on merit — the job listing was a formality, and a candidate was predetermined to fill it.
6. An employer or manager may feel threatened the first few months and ask educated, female or non-Greek employees to perform menial tasks that have nothing to do with the job description as a way to humiliate them, i.e., Make coffee, serve lunch to co-workers, do the boss’ undesirable personal errands, lie to clients or dump garbage.
7. An employer sometimes acts insulted when employees quit, calling them ungrateful and that they owe him for hiring them as if it was a favor.
There are cases when a job candidate successfully beats out several others to fill a vacancy and negotiates a reasonable salary, only to work alongside less productive people with no experience, no skills and no university degree, earning a higher salary. To add insult to injury, co-workers end up hating anyone who “works too fast and makes them look bad.”
One could say this only applies to certain people or foreigners, but Greek workers en masse report the same experience. The majority of longtime friends aged 25-35 are Greek citizens — educated both abroad and in Greece — have rarely been offered IKA or a salary higher than 800 euros with IKA. These are smart, hard-working people who are eager to make a difference and enthusiastic about being fully independent adults.
The few I know with high salaries own their own business, are performing favors or got their job through a relative, spouse or friend of the family. It is rare to find someone who secured a well-paid job on meritocracy alone.
One could argue it’s about supply and demand. That’s true if you’re talking about too many intelligent people and too few positions in every field. Bottom line: Greece is a small country without a diversified job market, and does not have a climate based on technology, innovation, capitalism or investment, so the demand is for unskilled labor.
Some professionals without connections choose to work in cafes instead of their field of study and experience because it pays a lot more money. Some with connections don’t have a CV or a clue about how to draw one up because they’ve gotten all their jobs through someone they know and have never been on a job interview, which may explain why many find it scary to go abroad and find work outside the borders of Greece. The real world works a lot differently.
Observing the experience of workers in Greece over 15 years, those holding the few, coveted home-grown positions with high salaries in each industry got their jobs through connections or contacts established over several years or generations, are doing personal favors on the side ($exual or otherwise), work significantly more than 40 hours without overtime pay, are usually multilingual and/or are working with a family member. There are few exceptions, and this is true whether the Greek economy is healthy or in crisis. It’s exactly what I was told from the first day.
With the recession changing the hiring/firing landscape, more companies in Greece are dumping experienced professionals and replacing them with cheap labor in order to survive. Job security is at an all-time low, especially for career-oriented, educated workers who are amongst the increasing number of homeless.
So what is the value of a university degree in Greece? Not much.
*Article last updated July 1, 2013
In the News
“Greece consistently favors the connected not the talented” — NY Times
“More women than men in Greece find themselves in low-paid dead-end jobs” — Athens News
“Increasing number of educated Greeks and ex-business owners join ranks of homeless” — Kathimerini (Jan 2011)
“One in three university graduates unemployed in 2009” — Ta Nea
“Το πτυχίο δεν φέρνει μεροκάματο” — Ta Nea
“«Στέλνω παντού βιογραφικά, αλλά μάταια…»: It takes more than a university degree” — Ta Nea
“Unemployment rate for women twice that of men” — Eleftherotypia
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