If there were a prize for having the most eclectic CV ever, Mark Hooper would win. A jack of all trades before he came to Barcelona, he went from studying welding in his native Wales to cutting grass, life-modelling for an art class, serving drinks in a hotel bar and even working as a traffic warden.
After moving to Barcelona six years ago, his first position here was hardly the job of his dreams. Badly paid and with no contract, he had to cold call companies in the UK and ask them about their computer systems; he left after four months.
A friend told him about a modelling agency and after several castings (which he muddled through with basic Spanish and a little language help from his Peruvian girlfriend), he got picked to do a TV commercial for a video game. “I was really lucky,” he grinned. “I basically got paid a ton of money for sitting around on a sofa.” Various jobs followed, and after a stint in retail, he landed a job with another call centre. This time there was no cold calling and he settled in straight away. Again it was contacts and luck that got him his foot in the door.
Fast forward two years and Mark is now working as a technical service centre agent for Colt, a British telecommunications company with offices across Europe. He’d heard good things about the company and got the job after applying on spec to the human resources department. He’s now one of around 150 people that make up the Barcelona-based UK team and spends his days handling calls about technical faults.
The job is a natural fit for someone with the gift of the gab. “If I’m honest, it didn’t interest me at first” he admitted, “but I actually really like it now. I’d prefer to be dealing with people face to face and using my Spanish but the money’s good and I like the people I work with. I really can’t complain.”
One-time museum curator Alexandra Nodes moved from London to Barcelona looking for a change of lifestyle but hadn’t anticipated she’d end up changing careers too. Drawn to Barcelona because of its reputation as a design capital, she and husband Paul moved here in 2008.
Alexandra is a pro when it comes to networking and after working the room at a conference, she found the perfect job, overseeing the initial concept stages of a new museum. With fluent Spanish and French and 10 years experience in the field, her employers hadn’t taken much persuading.
However, when the project finished, she realised she wasn’t living the life she had hoped for. The scenery may have changed but she was still working at the same frantic pace and feeling frazzled.
She decided to take some time to reflect on what she really wanted to do and having always loved aromatherapy, she went for a treatment at Studio Australia, a health and wellness centre that offers personalised Pilates classes and a range of holistic treatments. Bowled over by what she found there, she wrote to Mandy, the owner, and asked for a meeting. “When we met, I realised we had similar philosophies and backgrounds so when she said she was expanding her business, I knew I was ready for a different path.”
Now Alexandra is an executive assistant at Studio Australia, working on strategic planning as well as helping with day-to-day tasks.
For job-hunters, Alexandra stresses the importance of planning ahead and personal connections. “Business in Spain is done face-to-face, so it’s vital that you get out there and meet people. Ask for meetings, plan what you want to say and show them you’re prepared to go the extra mile.” Now developing her own organic skincare range, she also advocates having an entrepreneurial spirit when job hunting. “Think about how you can make your own work. If your ideal job doesn’t exist, be resourceful and find a way to create it yourself.”
Julia Heckles did exactly that. In February 2009, she moved to Castelldefels to be near her family and although she’d only planned to stay for a year, she soon started to see work opportunities that would allow her to stay long-term.
“A friend told me that they were crying out for English teachers in Gavà Mar near where I lived. Even though I’d worked as an IT trainer for 18 years, I knew it would be difficult to find work without having an English teaching qualification so I took a short course in teaching English to young learners.”
Julia had always loved art and almost immediately, she saw the potential of using it to teach children English. Local parents seemed to like the idea and when her English Art Club opened its doors at a community centre in Gavà Mar at Easter, she had a willing group of knee-high artists keen to learn English as they got busy with the brushes. “I teach entirely in English and the little ones learn colours, numbers and shapes. Art is a great way to channel children’s energy,” she said.
Already the business is expanding. In July, this year, Julia and a friend took a mobile art classroom to some of the local summer camps (casas de colonias) and new classes are planned for the autumn. In the future, her dream is to open her own centre as a creative space for children and adults in Castelldefels. Her advice to job-hunters: “Barcelona welcomes the unusual, so if you think of something different that nobody else is doing, just give it a try.”