About two years ago Alexandrina “Alex” Hadzhiyska was in the throes of looking for a job in Berlin. Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, Alex went to university in London, graduated with a degree in management and marketing, quickly found a job, and settled into the rhythm of her life. Only she didn’t. After spending nearly seven years in London between her studies and first jobs, Alex knew she wanted something different. It wasn’t a vague “something” – she specifically wanted to live and work in Berlin. This determined, now 27-year-old woman, employed an unusual and compelling tactic to assist her.
Alex searched in the conventional ways, applied for dozens of jobs, and weathered a storm of rejections. The frustration of a job search is an experience a lot of people can relate to. I find Alex’s story particularly inspiring because she had a keen self-awareness that enabled her to dive all the way in and embrace her authentic self. It’s a gutsy move and yet the only way to be in a world that sucks us into a cookie-cutter sameness that doesn’t serve anyone, least of all ourselves. In late 2015, Alex decided to take a different approach that helped her land a gig in Berlin: she launched a marketing campaign that included a minute-long poetic video she called “Beloved Berlin”, a website with the same name, and a social media presence.
Alex produced her video “love letter” in January, 2016. She shot it in Sofia, which doubled nicely for Berlin. Friends and family began spreading the word online in early February and shortly thereafter, the head of marketing at a Berlin-based advertising technology firm contacted her. She interviewed with him for more than three hours and was offered a position as a marketing manager several hours after the interview.
In a blog post on Medium, she wrote about why she made the video:
“As much as I was hoping that I will manage to get attention, I was not ready to be in the ‘spotlight’. I didn’t want to be this ‘cool girl’ who did this ‘cool video’ about Berlin. I didn’t care whether my website will ‘go viral’. I just wanted to land my dream job. I wanted to prove to myself that I was worthy — in contrast to the long list of rejections I received along the way in my job search in Berlin prior to launching the campaign. I was not on any sort of ego trip. I just wanted to reach out to the one company which would give me this goddamn job.”
More than a year later, Alex reflected on her journey with me via Skype.
TE: Your “love letter” represented a bold step that ultimately landed you the right job in the city of your choice. The question I had after watching it was, why Berlin?
Alex: I could have gone anywhere but I didn’t want to go to a random place. My mantra was ‘I am going to be myself’. Every single place I was thinking of was not the right thing. When I visited Berlin in the fall of 2015, it felt like home and a place where I could grow. It would challenge me. People here dedicate themselves to what they do.
I wanted to move there because the people inspired me. There’s a specific, no bullshit mentality. Berliners allow themselves to be who they are, they don’t glorify things.
I found Berliners to be humble, authentic, and they follow through. They don’t play roles; they are direct in their approach. They might be perceived as rude but they are not into small talk.
TE: What was the problem with London?
Alex: I always followed a very ambitious path. Since I moved to London, everything was a very straight line. I was on a path that everyone wants to be on. So what’s wrong? I was applying someone else’s perceptions of what a good life is to myself. But that’s not how it’s supposed to be. Everyone has an individual path.
London is very addictive. ‘Busy’ is the cool thing to be in London. It’s all about ‘busyness’ there. There’s a huge fear of missing out.
TE: When did you begin feeling that you could no longer be who you really are while living in London?
Alex: I had this idea that I wanted to go somewhere else two years before I left. I was building a thousand scenarios a day about where to go. Half of my family lives in New York. I could have gone home to Bulgaria or to Dublin, Valencia, or Barcelona. It took a very long time.
I went on a holiday to Berlin for five days in September 2015. Those five days really changed everything for me. I felt as if I’d always lived there. I had only felt that way about New York. I found the people in Berlin friendly and smart, and they were all doing cool things. I had an instant feeling of being at home. I would have moved there regardless of anything.
TE: When you returned from the trip it sounds like you were incredibly motivated to make this move happen.
Alex: I was working as a marketing assistant for an industrial property developer and management firm. I began applying for jobs in Berlin and got interviews, but every time I was in the final stages, I wasn’t chosen because I didn’t have any references in Berlin. That’s when I decided to just move there and then find a job.
Just before Christmas in 2015, I went home to Sofia and thought about how I was going to tackle the challenge of landing a job in Berlin. After my trip there, I was reading a publication about the creative scene in Berlin. That’s when I decided to create a portal to strip down to my core identity. I had the idea of making a video about why I want to live and work in Berlin and why someone should choose me.
TE: As you’re talking, I can really feel the evolution of the process and the momentum you built to realize your dream. You were very clear about your goal. The funny thing is, the video wasn’t shot in Berlin.
Alex: That’s right. It was made in Sofia. The important thing is I wanted to show what I felt like. My friends shot and edited the film. I wrote the script.
I thought, what’s the most personal thing you do when you really want something? There’s nothing more personal or real or more honest than a love letter. I thought, that’s it. I’m in love in Berlin. We found each other. It was love at first sight. We have to be together.
We shot the video over three days in Sofia in extremely cold weather. It was snowing the whole time. I launched the video and website February 1, 2016; the video was the landing page.
TE: What kind of response did you receive once you went public?
Alex: I applied to jobs using the website I created. I didn’t get any responses from the companies I applied to this way. I think the whole process of hiring people needs a rethink. It doesn’t fit with the way work is anymore. The responses I did get were from former colleagues who said they were proud and impressed and they would forward it to people in their networks. Then a former Swedish colleague saw my video and he sent the website to the CEO of adsquare in Berlin. The company was looking for a marketing manager.
Daniel Rieber, now my boss, contacted me on February 3 and invited me for an in-person interview on February 11. I had moved to Berlin on February 10. I had the longest job interview, ever.
TE: That was quick. Are you fluent in German?
Alex: I don’t know a word of German. Our industry is a bit specific. What Daniel needed was someone with a proactive attitude to lead projects autonomously. That said, he was was happy I had a tech background. We clicked. It was a natural fit, I didn’t have to ‘win’ him over or vice-versa.
TE: You write in the Medium post that you wanted to strip down to your core identity without pretense or hype. What life lessons can you share with people?
Alex: Be your authentic self. Nothing good comes out of not being yourself. This was the first time I ever had the guts to be myself. You have to be honest with yourself. You have to have the guts to find the place where you fit and change the path you’re on. You have to push through that.
You should appreciate your personal timing and your sense of where you belong. There will be a lot of people who try to influence you. You need to know that you belong somewhere and your timing to belong in this place is your own! You don’t have to follow someone else’s idea of what you should be doing or their timing.
TE: After more than a year in Berlin and at adsquare, you were promoted to Senior Marketing Manager. What’s next?
Alex: I want to relaunch the website and interview people from Berlin who have influenced, inspired, and empowered me. So far, I’ve interviewed a software engineer and an entrepreneur. Everyone here inspires me and knows something that I want to learn.