Many foreigners are lured to Rome by the pleasures of the Italian lifestyle, only to find that the stress of the rat race they left behind is easily matched by the stress of finding a job here. It is the lucky few who are transferred within their company to Italy on a London-level wage, who have a lucrative contract with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) or who are diplomats. The rest come to Rome with enough money to survive for a few months, and a lot of optimism.

Initially, most foreigners do not even try to compete with the Italians for jobs. Instead they carve out their own employment niche for jobs where they can use their English or native language and can get by even without much Italian. The list is short: teaching English, babysitting, translating, tour guiding and sometimes secretarial work.

Competition for the English-language jobs is fierce, and highly-qualified people often settle for low-paying jobs in sectors far removed from their actual field of expertise. If you are in Italy mainly for the lifestyle, or are planning to spend only a short time here, then these frustrations may not bother you. But if you want a career?

If you speak and write good Italian, your possibilities increase beyond the translation-and-teaching scope, because you can compete in the Italian job market. But you have to be able to play the game by Italian rules.

"The Italian job market is much less flexible than those in Britain or the United States," says Silvia DAngelo, head of selection for the employment agency Adecco which operates in central and southern Italy. "There is not a very high turnover of jobs here. The search for a job for life is still a strong part of the Italian mentality."

There have been attempts in recent years to make the market more flexible, for example with the introduction of temporary employment agencies in 1997. This year, more changes are taking place due to the Biagi reform, named after the economist who was assassinated in 2002 for his advice to the government on liberalising Italy's stringent labour laws. The reforms have introduced new types of work contracts, such as job-sharing and short-term contracts for project-based work, as well as allowing private employment agencies to broker long-term work rather than just temporary jobs.

This privilege had hitherto been reserved for the job centres or uffici di collocamento run by the state an inefficient province-based network where the unemployed have to register but which only four per cent of Italys employers ever use to fill positions. With not even a website of their own, public sector employment services will hopefully be jolted into action by the sudden competition from private employment agencies such as Manpower, Adecco and Tmp Worldwide.

Those looking for work only stand to gain from greater competition among employment agencies and by law their services are totally free of charge to the job-seeker. However, this does not necessarily mean there will be more job opportunities. "New laws alone cant change the job market," says DAngelo. "Peoples mentalities have to change, and that will take time. On the positive side, once you do find a job in Italy, you can count on a lot of stability."

DAngelo says that one advantage that many young foreigners have is work experience. "Most Italian graduates dont have any work experience at all. It seems to be much more common abroad to work while youre at university. This is a big advantage for foreigners looking for work."

One of the biggest obstacles to stable employment in Italy is the bureaucracy. Agencies can help you with the whole process, from documents to contracts, so it is surprising that so few foreigners make use of them. The agency Manpower helped 124,088 people find temporary jobs in Italy in 2003; only 16,741 (13.5 per cent) of these were foreigners, the vast majority of whom came from outside the European Union.

The biggest lament among job-hunters is that in Italy, it is all about who you know. Almost every Italian office has someone who is raccommandato, a person who was "recommended" for the job thanks to their connections. "I dont think its like that any longer," says DAngelo. "But of course, its always important to cultivate connections"

Where to look for jobs

NEWSPAPERS

"Corriere della Sera", www.corriere.it. Job ads are published on Fridays, but as the paper is Milan-based, most of the jobs are based in northern Italy. Also on Fridays the paper publishes an excellent supplement, "Corriere Lavoro", with interesting features on employment law and specific professions.

"Il Messaggero", www.messaggero.it. Job ads are published on Thursdays; this is a Rome daily newspaper so there are more local jobs.

"La Repubblica", www.repubblica.it. Job ads are published on Thursdays.

"Porta Portese", www.portaportese.it. This is not a newspaper; its all classified ads, published on Tuesdays and Fridays. It can be useful to find stop-gap jobs in a hurry, but be sure to check out the legitimacy and reliability of the advertiser.

Wanted in Rome, www.wantedinrome.com. On newsstands every other Wednesday, plus lots of ads published on-line daily.

EMPLOYMENT AGENCIES

Official agencies accredited by the welfare ministry offer their services free to job-hunters. You submit your CV; some require one or more interviews before including you in their pool. They will contact you if any jobs come up that match your profile. In some larger agencies different branch offices specialise in different professions; for example the Adecco office on Via Emilia in the Via Veneto area specialises in the hotel and catering sectors.

There are 72 authorised agencies in Rome; try searching the Pagine Gialle (www.paginegialle.it) for ricerca e selezione del personale.

WEBSITES

Some big international websites have Italian versions with a wealth of employment information; not just job ads, but also templates for CVs and application letters and sections where you can post your CV.

"Monster" claims to be the world's leading on-line recruiter; the Italian site, www.monster.it is a gold mine of information, and often features job ads from big multinational companies.

Yahoo!'s Italian employment section is also very useful: http://it.careers.yahoo.com.

PROFESSIONAL BODIES

If you are looking for a job within a specific profession, and already have all the professional qualifications from your country of origin, it is worth finding out if it has an association. Try running an internet search for the profession alongside the word ordine, consiglio, federazione, unione, etc.

Here are some examples:

Ordine dei Giornalisti, www.odg.it

Consiglio Nazionale degli Ingegneri, www.cni-online.it

Societ Italiana Autori e Editori, www.siae.it.

Associazione Italiana Traduttori e Interpreti, www.aiti.org.

Ordine degli Avvocati di Roma, www.ordineavvocati.roma.it.

PUBLIC SECTOR COMPETITIONS

For those blessed with nerves of steel, and who want to work in the Italian public sector, there are official "competitions" or concorsi. These are required by law for jobs in the public sector and are held for everything, from forest rangers, to museum curators and PhD places at Italian universities. Competition is intense for these long-term jobs, and the selection process involves multiple exams and interviews. Most of the jobs are open to foreigners, if they have the necessary qualifications recognised by the state and can produce the required documents. A comprehensive list is published in the "Gazzetta Ufficiale" every Tuesday and Friday, www.gazzettaufficiale.it.

How to apply for a job

When preparing your CV in Italian, think twice before including referees, as according to some, this smacks of name-dropping and trying to play on your connections.

Sometimes job ads request that you give permission for them to process your personal data; this is due to strict privacy laws that have been introduced in Italy in recent years. In order to allow the recruiter to look at your personal data on the CV and process it within the limits of the law, you need to write "Autorizzo il trattamento dei miei dati personali ai sensi della Legge 196/2003" somewhere on your CV or covering letter.

All job offers must by law be open to men and women. Some newspapers do allow advertisers to be gender specific in their vacancy ads, getting around the problem with a reference on the page to the gender equality law (Legge 903/77).

Italian contractual law has codified a form of ageism, because companies pay less contributions for certain entry-level contracts open only to people below a specific age. This is why many job ads specify age limits.