There are a lot of blog posts and resources out there that can help you find a job in Germany. But this post features some tips that I can give from my very own experiences. I’ve been a job hunter three times in Germany, and have always been fortunate enough to find something. Here is what I’ve learned.
1. Keep trying
This is may be the most important bit of advice. Searching for a job in Germany can be incredibly soul-destroying: you can send out dozens of applications and never hear anything back. Or, you can get several rejections. Just a few months of this can feel like a lifetime, and you might be close to giving up. But don’t! Well, unless you’re running out of enough money to support yourself while looking; in that case, maybe weigh up your options carefully.
When I was applying, it took me a full four months of searching (and yes, there were times that I honestly believed I would never find a job). But then, in the fourth month, a company got back to me and offered me an interview for a job I really wanted. One interview turned into two, and then they offered me a contract. My point is, just keep trying, even if months are going by and it all seems hopeless.
2. If a job requires English AND German, apply anyway
I almost didn’t even apply for the first job I got in Germany! The job specification said that the position required fluent English and German. At that time, my German was very basic, and so I didn’t apply. It was only a few weeks later, when I was desperate, that I decided to send them an application anyway. And guess what? Two days later they called to offer me an interview.
If the job needs a good level of English, and you can convince them you will actively learn German, you could still make a good case for why they should give you the job. And if they really, truly need your German to be fluent, they just won’t approach you and you’ll have lost nothing. But it’s worth a shot. Just apply!
3. Tailor your application to the job you’re applying for
Although this bit of advice adds extra work, it’s well worth the effort. While your CV (resume) can remain relatively static, it’s vital that you write a separate cover letter for each job you are applying for. The cover letter needs to convince the hiring manager that you can do the job that they are looking to fill. So…convince them!
Go through the job specification and write to specific points. For example, if the job specification requires that you should have experience in managing a team, give them a few high-level details of teams you managed in the past. Write your cover letter as if it is a direct answer to the job specification.
4. Target big international companies
This point is especially true if your German is not very good yet. Larger international companies already have an international culture and in many cases conduct their internal communication in English. Also, international companies have branches everywhere, and they’ll have jobs requiring certain languages. So, for example, if you are a Spanish speaker, look for big companies who do business in Spanish-speaking countries.
5. LinkedIn and Xing profiles are important
If you’re in the job market in Germany, you absolutely need to have a LinkedIn and a Xing profile. Now I understand that you might be someone who is adverse to social media. However, you’re looking for a job in a foreign country; this is no time to exercise your anti-social media policy.
Many companies that you apply at will check if you have a profile so they can learn more about you. Or, if companies are looking to fill a certain position, they will do a search online for suitable candidates. You need to make sure that your profile is accessible, and that it gives a good overview of your skills and working experience.
6. Be honest and realistic
In your cover letter and the interviews, be realistic about your experience and your abilities. Germans are not that into hyperbole, and you don’t want to set yourself up for unrealistic expectations if you do get the job. So rather than going into an interview trying to exaggerate the positives and hide the negatives, simply be honest! Make a solid case as to why you would be a suitable candidate for the job, but also highlight your shortcomings.
A personal example is when I did a career switch to marketing. My cover letter had two main points: “Why I am suitable for this role”, and “Why I might not be suitable for this role”. In the latter point, I highlighted my lack of marketing experience while trying to offer proactive ideas of how I could develop my knowledge as quickly as possible (training courses, mentoring, and so on). This led to an open discussion in the interview, and I eventually got the job with both parties knowing what they were getting into.
7. Demonstrate your willingness to learn German
One of the biggest factors that can set you apart from other foreign job applicants is German skills. And while your German might not be very good in the beginning, you still need to show them that you are actively taking steps to learn it. This means maybe doing German courses at the A1 level before you start applying for jobs. With A1, you won’t be able to conduct an interview in German, but it at least shows your intent.
My first interview started in German, but then switched to English later on once we got past all the things I had learnt by that point (“guten Tag”, “Wie geht es Ihnen?”, and “Ich heisse Shaun”). But by that time, they could at least see that I was actively learning, and that I had already made some progress.
8. Be ready for a lengthy application process
The application process can take a while. Most German companies have two rounds of interviews, with many even having three or more. This process can last a few weeks.
The process at my current employer took around a month: there was an initial interview, then a “schnuppertag”, or trial day, where I came in and spent a full day with the team and met the other managers, and then a final discussion to finalize salary and conditions.
9. Have a clear idea of the salary you want
This can be very tricky indeed, but you need to have a ballpark figure when going in. To find out, ask other Germans in the industry what their opinion is, ask others on expat forums, or search around on the Internet. Very often you will be asked even before the first interview what you are asking for, so make sure you have already done your research.
And those are my lessons I have learnt as a job seeker in Germany. Take a listen to my podcast episode for this advice, as well as information about applying for jobs, writing a resume, and what to expect from interviews: Finding and getting a job in Germany.