The following is a guest post about working at Yandex and the general Russian work culture in Moscow as a Canadian expat.
I have lived in Moscow for over 2 years now. Currently, I work in strategy at a popular short video app and before that, I spent 2 years working at Yandex, a Russian tech giant. Here is a look at my story about coming to Moscow and starting my career in Russia.
I was born in Ukraine, grew up in Canada, and graduated from the University of Toronto at the end of 2017. I had a real desire to experience living in Europe, particularly in Moscow with its rich cultural life, diverse entertainment options, and familiar language environment.
As I was writing my final university paper and preparing for exams, I started hunting for jobs in Moscow.
Moscow Job Market
I quickly learned that Moscow’s private-sector job market is actually very diverse. Here are some of the industries with great career opportunities and decent salaries for potential expats coming to Russia.
- IT/Digital: Russian tech giants offer products and services that often outperform those available in Europe or North America. These companies have a super liberal work culture, plenty of free food in their offices, and many other perks. Working at Yandex, for example, is very similar to working in Silicon Valley.
- Management Consulting: McKinsey, BCG, and Bain are the destination for rapid career growth, generous earnings, and immense networking opportunities. Tier 2 companies (Kearney, Oliver Wyman, Ronald Berger) also have offices in Moscow. Be prepared for long working hours with lots of travel.
- Fast-Moving Consumer Goods: many foreign fast-moving consumer goods companies let university graduates kick-off their careers with leadership programs.
- Banks: Russia’s banks have developed the best digital banking products. However, non-digital teams in banks are known to be quite rigid.
- Legal: The “magic circle” as well as other major American and British law firms have offices in Moscow serving both Russian firms doing business abroad and foreign companies doing business in Russia.
- Telecom: Russia has world-class telecom companies and the big Russian telecom firms also have strong employer brands.
Investment banking which is highly popular in many North American cities is not very strong in Russia. While many top global investment banking firms are present in Moscow, their offices are usually small and the service they provide is limited. Oil & gas pays generously too, but these companies are quite archaic and heavily bureaucratic.
Getting a Job at Yandex
I have been a huge transportation fan for years and Yandex had many services that merged transportation & technology. Therefore, working at Yandex was a great opportunity for me in Moscow.
I quickly learned that using websites such as HeadHunter is rather pointless. Many jobs simply don’t get posted there and unless your resume is a perfect fit, it’s unlikely you will get a reply there. Instead, industry-specific Telegram channels are often used by employers to get relevant candidates to apply.
One of these channels had a job posting with a link to my future manager’s Facebook page. In North America it sounds crazy that roles are posted on personal Facebook pages, however, in Russia, where LinkedIn is blocked, it’s common. I messaged him on Facebook, answered some screening questions online, and later on, we had a video interview.
I remember arriving in Moscow a couple of weeks later at 3 a.m. and heading to the next interview round at 11 a.m. that day. In the evening, my future manager messaged me on Facebook that “everything is okay” and told me to come to work the next day.
Working at Yandex in Moscow
It took a while before I was officially hired due to all the HR bureaucracy. I don’t think I ever signed that many papers in my life before. Apart from the job contract that has to be signed on every page, Russia’s regulation requires you to sign a bunch of other papers (i.e. fire safety training) which not a single candidate ever reads. There were so many of them that I broke my lifelong rule and signed things just after briefly skimming them.
Quickly, I learned that the people at Yandex are as diverse as Moscow itself. It’s home both to apolitical tech nerds from Russia’s regions and to Russia’s liberal intellectuals. Yandex employees consider the office a safe haven for criticizing Russia’s decrepit autocracy.
Yandex is known for the people who make it. I found the people to be very smart, well-rounded, and super friendly at the same time. While many are career-oriented, the environment is very healthy without unpleasant competition. One of my colleagues had a Harvard MBA, a master’s from LSE, and experience at McKinsey & Google. We had a great working relationship and lots of things to talk about at lunch.
There are also many foreigners working at Yandex. In fact, there is a separate HR associate who works exclusively with non-Russian citizens.
When working at Yandex, there are also no fixed working hours. The time from 12 to 6 p.m. is considered to be an appropriate time for meetings, while apart from that you are free to set your work schedule. Employees are motivated to come early through free breakfast available before 10:30 a.m. Lunch and dinner were also paid by the company. Unfortunately, after the COVID outbreak, the meal plan was greatly reduced. There are also 28 paid vacation days in a year in Russia and many holidays (i.e. New Year’s and May holidays).
Despite Yandex’s progressive culture, the teams are very different. In some teams, you might still hear racist or homophobic jokes. Unfortunately, this reflects Russia’s unequally developing society. Yandex has an ethics committee where you can anonymously report these cases. Not sure what type of consequences these employees face, but I feel like a zero-tolerance policy would be beneficial to the company on these matters.
If a company decides to terminate an employee in North America, this is often done suddenly without even letting an employee say good-bye to his team members. Russia’s customs are very different when it comes to termination. Employees who were terminated had goodbye parties, gifts from coworkers, and usually were given some advance notice. Furthermore, Yandex is very generous with severance.
I had a friend who didn’t pass his probation period successfully. In Russia, when you join a company there is usually a 3 month probation period before being employed officially. This is because it is near impossible to fire employees in Russia without cause, unlike in the United States. Legally, he was not obliged to receive severance pay but the company still paid him two-months’ wages (this is in addition to his salary and vacation pay).
Yandex has employee reviews every 6 months. Depending on the outcome of the review, an employee will receive a bonus and a pay raise. In general, this seems like a good system, in reality, review grades are very controversial and often depend on how well a manager “sells” the performance of his subordinates to his managers.
Wages and Living Costs
Before coming to Moscow, I was a bit worried about wages being lower than those in Canada. However, I quickly realized that my living standard in Moscow is not any worse than the one I would have had in Canada. This is both due to significantly lower costs, lower income tax paid by the employee (it’s only 13%), and non-financial compensation that Yandex offered (i.e. free meals, free taxi rides, medical insurance with dental and international coverage). Pay raises are also quite significant as you gain experience and leadership skills.
You are also getting great city infrastructure, a well-functioning public transportation system, many tech services that are not available elsewhere (i.e. 15-minute grocery delivery), a city with a nearly perfect restaurant landscape, an abundance of entertainment options, and proximity to Europe.
Check out our guide to the cost of living in Moscow for expats for more information.
After spending over 2 years working at Yandex, I joined a popular short video app where I work on strategy in the Russian market. So far I have had a terrific experience both working and living in Moscow. Feel free to connect me on LinkedIn and say hi, I am always happy to talk about my experience living as an expat in Russia.