If you are looking for a job in Germany (or Switzerland or Austria), this interview is for you. I sat down with Gerd Meissner, expert on job seekers looking to land a job in Germany to get the scoop on what you can do to better your chances for employment abroad.
About Gerd and the Germany-USA Career Center:
The Germany-USA Career Center is the leading specialized resource for career coaching ("Germany-USA Career Adviser"), resume writing, recruiting and search services for job seekers and companies in business between the U.S. and Germany. It was founded in 1997 - initially as an invitation-only mailing list for managers and executives in this niche - by technology business journalist Gerd Meissner, co-founder of Spiegel Online and author of SAP - Inside the Secret Software Power, published by McGraw-Hill.
1. What are the three most important aspects of a job search for someone who wants work in Germany/Austria/Switzerland?
First, you need a plan with a timeline. Second, get your resume and cover letter ready and start building or improving your German language skills. Third, if you're currently employed, treat your search like a full part-time second job. If you're currently between jobs, make this your full-time job. Seriously.
2. What kind of time frame should someone expect for finding a job in Germany/Austria/Switzerland?
Our career advisers get this question a lot. The answer depends on many factors, such as the work permit of course and the current economy or demand in a particular industry or region. What education, professional experience and skills can you bring to the table in Germany? Are you able to conduct a business conversation in German? Do you have a search strategy? What it really comes down to is how serious that someone really is about "getting there" and how flexible they are to make it happen. With all this factored in, the time frame often even varies wildly between employment seekers in the same field.
3. As far as language skills are concerned, what do you recommend to job seekers?
The main point to make here is: be proactive. This loops back to my answer to the first question. As a job seeker, you need a plan, and as an American job seeker in a German-speaking country today, you will be facing stiff competition from other highly qualified expats from inside and ouside the European Union who often speak two or three languages, including German.
In short, the approach "I'll focus on finding the job first and take care of language learning later" won't get you anywhere, and getting by as an English tutor may have worked several decades ago, if ever. Most expat guides that still recommend that were first published 20, 30 years ago. [Nicole adds: Getting by as an English tutor is a very slender income! My English teaching jobs were well paid, but my colleagues at other companies did not get by on what they earned.]
Potential employers want to see that you are proactively developing your language competency. Sure, we've seen rare exceptions from that rule. But given the odds, you're better off identifying opportunities to learn and refine and practice your German where you live, right now.
On the web, the German-learning program of the Deutsche Welle is a great starting point. In larger cities and many college towns, you can take German classes and join dinner meetings or roundtables for native speakers of German and Americans who are studying German. If your partner is German, make every day or every second day at home "German Language Day." Or get a German tutor who can custom tailor what you learn and how to your personal needs and schedule. Learn German with Nicole, for example. [Nicole says: Aw, thanks, Gerd!]
4. What changes do you expect in the German job market in the next 3-5 years?
A lot can happen in three to five years, but there are three changes that we already see impacting our particular niche:
Global banks and financial services firms are moving part of their operations from London to Frankfurt am Main, among other cities, to be prepared for the Brexit. As a result, the demand for financial service professionals with international background is growing in the Rhein/Main region.
2. "Brain drain" --> Willkommenskultur
Only a decade or so ago, Germany was worried about the "brain drain" that had top performers in fields like engineering or life sciences or IT leave the country, often for a long-term career in the U.S. What we now see is that the German efforts to create a "Willkommenskultur" - welcoming culture - that is more open and friendly towards expats and immigrants is paying off. In relation to the U.S., the trend seems to have been reversed recently. Right now, we see more top performers leave the U.S. for attractive job offers in Germany than the other way around.
3. Hiring Practices
Germany's internationalization and strong economy with companies competing for talent has also led to more flexibility, less rigidity in formalities and hiring practices. That can be an advantage for job seekers from the U.S. At the same time, they're facing more competition from highly qualified EU- and non-EU citizens.
5. What surprises you the most in your work?
Most surprising to me, and that has changed little over the past two decades, is how many people - who planned their initial career path in their native country to a high degree - don't apply the same diligence now when embarking on a career, or simply looking for a job, abroad. In my experience, this applies to German-speaking Europeans looking to work in the U.S. as well as to Americans looking for work in Austria, Germany, or Switzerland.
Some submit a CV to potential employers that was translated by Google. That doesn't cut it - duh. Others rely for visa or work permit questions on what this or that "friend of a friend" or coworker said, or what they were told by some random night owl in an internet chat group.
We recommend tackling your job search in Germany like many American and German executives do. They let professional services handle the application documents. They seek assistance from international HR experts in our niche. They involve career coaches and search consultants.The Germany-USA Career Adviser team knows all about doing these things on a budget, because most of our Career Advisers themselves have been there, done that. Did I mention that the initial consultation is free?
6. What inspires most people to look for a job in Germany/Austria/Switzerland?
In most cases, it's first-hand experience. Many were or are stationed with the U.S. military in Germany, feel at home there now and would like to stay. Some have done business in Germany for their American company or while they were working for a German-owned company in the U.S. Many accompany a partner or spouse who goes on an expat assigment in Germany for their U.S.-based company. Others visited on their European vacation and liked what they saw. Berlin in particular has become a magnet for young Americans with global career plans in tech, communications or international affairs. Quite common is also that the love interest is German or in Germany.
Thanks so much to Gerd again for this exceedingly valuable information. So head on over to the Germany-USA Career Center and talk to a career advisor about your job search.
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