This is the second in my series on surviving in Germany based on my experiences. In Part 1, we discussed the German language. After you’ve learned some basic vocabulary and grammar, the next thing you need to do is find a job.
I can trace my difficulties to landing a job here in Germany to four main issues: the city where I live (really badly located), not knowing the language, not understanding the German system, and various errors I committed while sending out applications. This article aims to explain why it can be difficult to find a job here (even if you have a PhD, like me) and to help anyone considering finding a job in Germany.
The Ausbildungssystem or Apprenticeship System
After a German graduates high school they have two options: they can either go to the university or they can apply to an apprenticeship or Ausbildung.
Apprenticeships are offered for most professions (nurses, hairdresser, lab technician, bank teller, travel agent, chef, baker, etc.), and you apply to them like you would a job. They last two to four years and you get paid a salary. It consists of practical work and class work at a school. At the end you are certified in the profession and can move on to find a real job or continue on to become an expert or master.
Pros and Cons of the Ausbildungssystem:
The apprenticeship system guarantees a qualified work force and is great for people who want to get a head start in their career. It’s a great way to try out a profession and see if it’s right. If it’s not, you can continue on to university or just apply to a different one.
Can be good for integration purposes, since a foreigner can get full immersion into German work life and practice the language.
On the other hand, it can be bad for integration purposes since your foreign certification or experience may not be recognized by the German government. It would then be necessary to go through an apprenticeship for a profession you’re already familiar with in order to get a job. This is especially true for professions that only require a high school diploma in other countries.
People with higher education (like me) will be overqualified to work in positions that only require an Ausbildung. Example: In US, a lab technician needs at least a bachelor’s degree, but here you only need an Ausbildung and get paid accordingly (i.e. not as much as a person with an university degree).
Just because you know another language, like Spanish, doesn’t mean you can teach it or be a translator. You would need to become certified to perform that job, not just have domain of the language.
In order to have a successful career in Germany my advice would be:
Study in a German University – you’ll learn the language and get a degree in a popular field.
If you already have a degree, then your best chances are in engineering or a medical field.
If you don’t have a degree, be prepared to not have it recognized and having to do an apprenticeship.
Know the German language – English is not enough and you’ll be at a disadvantage to Germans, who already know English.
Barring all of the above, if you have good connections you will have no problem finding a job.
How to apply to a job in Germany:
It’s not as easy as sending a resume. You have to follow specific requirements. This makes the whole process very rigid, or as my German husband says, “efficient”. Since I used to be a Quality Assurance Manager, here is my Standard Operating Procedure for applying to a job in Germany. Deviate from these rules at your own peril.
1. Get an application photo (das Bewerbungsfoto)
Yes, Germans are superficial, so you need to include a photo with your resume. And not just any photo, but one specifically for job applications, following a specific size and style. Go to a professional studio dressed as you would be when attending an interview. Paste the photo to the upper right side of the resume.
2. Include your personal data
Not only do you need to include your name, address, and contact information, but also your place of birth, nationality, and marital status. In some cases, you should even include the number of children you have (yes, Germans are nosy, too).
3. Organize your information in reverse chronological order
List your work experience in outline form with no time gaps. Be concise and brief: no wordy, descriptive passages about your achievements. German efficiency means getting to the point. Keep the resume under two pages.
4. Sign and date at the bottom
It’s not an official document until it is signed and dated.
5. Include school transcripts and letters of recommendation
You must prove that what you write in the resume is accurate (again, Germans want everything well-documented). If you have a PhD, you have to include the bachelor’s and master’s transcripts as well. Also, for every job listed in your resume, you need to include a valid letter of recommendation. In US you can get away with sending a list of references when requested, but Germans want to have that upfront. Here, when you leave a job, you always get an official letter from your boss, so they expect everyone to include it with their application.
6. Find out the name of your contact person (der Ansprechpartner)
Always address your cover letter to the correct contact person in HR for the job you’re applying for. No “Dear Sir or Madam”. The job posting will usually mention the name of the contact, but if it doesn’t, you have to check on the company’s website or call personally.
7. Use the correct format for the cover letter
Include the date and addresses at the top left corner of the letter and sign it. Also, follow the correct format in terms of spacing within the letter. Again, no room for originality. The name of the game is standardization and structure.
8. Collect everything into one file
Do not send separate documents as attachments, but create an application package with the cover letter as page one, and convert to PDF format. Copy the cover letter into the body of the email.
Are you still with me? Do you feel like you need a course to be able to apply to a job in Germany? It took me about a year to master all this. Don’t worry about this too much if you apply to an international or US-based company. This advice mostly applies to traditional German companies. The rest of the process is similar to that in US, and in my experience, interviews are a lot more informal here than over there, despite all the formality of the actual application process.
Have you or anyone you know had experience working in Germany? Anything else to add?