Finding your First Job in a New Country: Cult Culture and What to Avoid

By Thomas Cleary / July 21, 2021
first job in a new country

Let’s say you’re a recent graduate in your first job in a new country, a door-to-door sales job mind you, which is far from ideal, but you figured it’s better than nothing. After a couple of months of grinding for next to no pay, your manager announces that you and your colleagues will be attending a company-wide conference in Dublin, with the guest speaker being the company’s CEO from America.

Your manager isn’t going to pay for anyone’s bus fare of course, but your trainer assures you that this will be a great event to attend, and you’ll gain some industry knowledge that you can carry forward into the field from now on. Just look at how well she’s doing!

Oh, and, by the way, attendance is mandatory.

So, you put on your cheap shirt and tie, board the bus with your cheap shirt and tie wearing colleagues, and make your way to the conference.

Before leaving the bus on arrival, your manager shouts out the “motivational office chant” as he does every morning and you all give the appropriate response. He tells you to speak to and learn from as many people as possible this afternoon. 

The conference starts and you take your seat among around 300 more cheap shirt and tie wearing people your own age. The first speaker is introduced, and he’s given a warm and arguably overly-enthusiastic welcome. He steps up to the microphone and immediately, on the verge of exploding with enthusiasm, belts out the same office chant that your manager rattles off every day.

The room seems to shake as the whole crowd gives the appropriate response in startling unison.

Your blood runs cold as you think: “Shit, I think I’m in a cult”.

 

This may seem like an extreme story, but companies like these exist in some form or another all over the world, and many young graduates and new immigrants tend to fall into their trap due to their desperation and eagerness to join the working world. The promise of “potentially earning hundreds of thousands a year” is bound to be attractive to the young and naive. It’s convincing. They are salespeople after all.

The thing about these companies is that they lie, they withhold information about the true nature of their business, and they post misleading job descriptions online. This allows them to attract as many young, doe-eyed, still wet from the womb, hopeful people as they can.

So, how do you see through the insidious nature of these employers and make sure you find a job that doesn’t exist purely to exploit you?

 

 

Direct sales, MLMs, and cults

When finding your first job in a new country, it’s hard to resist an option that appears “easy” or promises things like unlimited earning potential or to “be your own boss”. Unfortunately, these MLM jobs turn out to be more of a nightmare for most people.

According to an article by the Huffington Post, most people earn next to nothing and 73% to 99% earn nothing at all. The small number of people at the top can earn massive commissions thanks to a huge number of “underlings” from whom they take a percentage of sales. 

However, pyramid schemes are a lot easier to identify nowadays than they were decades ago. This is thanks to the wealth of information about them in articles, studies, and even documentaries. 

Direct sales, however, are an altogether different beast. Even though they are not inherently pyramid schemes, and are a legitimate and profitable way of selling a product, many companies use predatory techniques to employ their salespeople. Some even use cult-like techniques to make sure people stay with them. 

 

The warning signs and what to avoid when finding your first job in a new country

Many people may think that they’re smart enough not to get into such a nightmarish position. To those people, I say: “Aren’t you a genius?” But, sometimes, it’s difficult to see what a bad position you’ve been in until you manage to get out. 

People who end up in these jobs aren’t idiots, they’re just customers themselves (although anyone who has worked in the retail or service industries may struggle to tell the difference). They’ve been taken advantage of. Let’s not forget: These companies are run by professional salespeople. You aren’t as safe as you may think.

So, here are some warning signs for those of you working on finding your first job in a new country.

 

The job posting is vague

If you’re just out of university or have just immigrated, the first thing you may do when finding your first job in a new country is to go to job sites like Indeed and start typing. There are always a wealth of opportunities out there, but make sure that the job posting is completely clear about the role. Unclear postings could indicate that the job is a scam and they will literally take anyone.

If the job posting isn’t specific about the hiring requirements, keep looking. The post may be written in a way that makes you feel like you won’t need any experience to qualify, but that’s a major red flag. Employers usually want to be as specific as possible so that they only encourage those who would be perfect for the job to apply. 

The approach of “throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks” may work for these “companies”, but it’s guaranteed to not be good for employees.

The interviewer is unclear about your role

If you’re just throwing out job applications, as many of us do while looking for work, one of these companies is bound to bite and offer you an interview. 

If the interviewer, like the job posting, is being unclear about what exactly the job will entail, you should ask as many questions as possible. Job interviews are nerve-racking and it isn’t easy to work up the courage to ask questions, especially if the interviewer is speaking with a lot of confidence and authority. Here are some questions you should ask:

  • What does this job entail?
  • Who are your clients?
  • What do you do on an average day here?
  • What kind of hours would I be working?

Be as specific as possible with your questions. If the interviewer answers you candidly, that’s great. You can relax a little. But, if they continually dodge the questions and circle back to talking about what a fantastic opportunity this is, how you can become successful here purely through tenacity and sheer willpower, how successful they are despite the obviously cheap suit they’re wearing, and ‘Oh my god you’re so BLESSED to even be sitting here!’ then you may be better off remaining unemployed a little longer.

It can be difficult if you haven’t really had a job before, but know your worth. 

Talk of outlandish earning potential

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The common consensus around finding your first job in a new country is that you’ll be earning next to nothing. We’ve mostly accepted that we’re going to continue to live in cheap accommodation with several other people for a number of years in our twenties. It sucks, but it’s part of moving forward in life, and your grotty, mold-infested bedroom builds character, don’t you think?

When a company tells you that you could earn €100,000 a year, it can be very exciting. It may even seem too good to be true! Spoiler alert: it is. Not only that, you’ll be borrowing money from your parents to pay for your grotty, mold-infested bedroom and your daily pot noodle. And it’s not the company’s fault! No, no, you just haven’t been working hard enough.

When jobs are not specific about the wages or salary they offer, that usually means you’ll be working on 100% commission. Commission jobs aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but they are a huge risk. Especially if you haven’t been made aware of them before you start working.

 

Signs that you’re working in a cult-like environment

As mentioned above, it can sometimes be difficult to see that you’ve been in a bad situation until you get out of it. So, you could easily have missed or willfully ignored the warning signs due to desperation, and now find yourself in an exploitative and predatory work environment.

This is not purely limited to direct sales or outsourced marketing firms. Cult-like office culture can occur in any job.

Here are some signs that you may have fallen victim to one of these cretinous organisations while finding your first job and need to get out.

Your boss is revered

This draws a parallel with the cult leader archetype and even though it (hopefully) won’t go anywhere near the same extremes as well-known cults have, it can be hugely problematic. It’s a basic requirement for most management positions to be somewhat charismatic and for them to command some level of healthy respect among their employees. But there is a fine line between respect and reverence.

If some of the “higher-ups” at your job constantly talk up the manager and say things like:

  • “You should see him when he’s in the field. He’s a wizard.”
  • “I got to see him sell once. He was incredible!”
  • “He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”
  • “Dude, his apartment is SO nice.”

Then you may have an unhealthy work situation on your hands.

He may be charismatic and your colleagues may look at him with cross-eyed adoration as he speaks. But, remember, your manager isn’t a wizard, he’s a dude from Galway named Philip with one suit and a shitty car.

Outspoken people are dismissed as “negative”

This is a more obviously weird one.

Many offices try their best to encourage a positive attitude in the office, which has great benefits, and creates a more friendly and tolerable work environment.

But, as with everything in life, there is a line. If your managers constantly encourage you to be positive and to “cut negative people out of your life” as they are detrimental to your work, that is a huge red flag. Some companies often go so far as to abbreviate it to “NP”, meaning negative person. This mirrors the discourse used by a certain group which includes a certain dead-behind-the-eyes Mission Impossible star.

Demand for devotion is never a good thing, especially when the devotion is to a company that literally wouldn’t bat an eye if you dropped dead.

Reluctance to speak about ex-employees

These environments may be toxic, but you’re not a prisoner and can leave whenever you want. All companies have employee turnover, and most employers will just hire a replacement and move on with no hard feelings. Not all companies though.

One day you may notice that a certain colleague of yours hasn’t been at work for a while. So you ask your manager what happened. If the response is little more than a shrug and a murmur that sounds something like “she’s not working here anymore” and nothing more, then it’s another sign that you’re in a toxic work environment.

Management in these companies doesn’t want to talk about people who have left because they obviously didn’t “have what it takes”. They demand everyone to be 100% devoted to the company and those who have left clearly weren’t, so forget them.

They’re not angry, they just don’t care. Again, they’re just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. It costs commission-based companies nothing to train new people, so they just find another sucker and move on.

Office chants

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“HEY, GUYS!”

“HEY WHAT!?”

Office chants are extremely creepy and embarrassing, that’s just how it is. But they are seen as a way to motivate employees and make them feel like they’re part of a family of sorts. Even though you may make you cringe – everyone else is doing it, so why not?

Chants are common in many workplaces and you can find examples on YouTube. They can be harmless of course, but not always. 

According to writer, language scholar, and podcast host, Amanda Montel:

“A chant is something that you can get someone to do so quickly, in order to start grooming them a little bit. Unlike shaving your head, or getting a new uniform or moving to a different location, [it’s] quick and seemingly non-committal.”

And again, they’re so creepy.

Make sure your taxes are being paid

It’s easy not to think too much about taxes, as most employers (depending on the country) pay it before you receive your pay. It’s especially easy to not think about it when you’re already earning so little. You may just assume that everything is above board. Especially due to willful ignorance.

When finding your first job in a new country, make sure the company tax policy is above board.

With some direct marketing firms, however, this isn’t the case. Some managers can be sneaky enough to register the business in a way that lets them avoid taxation. You may think this isn’t your problem, but it will be when you go looking for another job or try to claim unemployment only to learn that there’s no official record of your employment.

Just be aware

Most companies that hire graduates and immigrants are not predatory and have genuinely positive work environments where you will gain valuable experience and will be valued. 

Just don’t sell yourself short, you don’t need to settle for the first job you’re offered. Take your time and do your research, and you’ll remain free of employer scumbaggery. Finding your first job in a new country may be an arduous experience, but you’ll find something. 

 

 

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Thomas Cleary

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