To a student or graduate looking for a job in Europe, Germany may be a very obvious choice: it’s the biggest economy on the continent, has a low unemployment rate and is home to many international companies as well as a number of hidden champions. This combination of factors has most recently resulted in a #1 Ranking as "Best Country in the World 2016". The quirky startup scenes in cities such as Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich add to the impression that Germany is a playground for top talent straight out of university.
Still, despite an increasingly international business structure, there are quite a few local specifics to the German job market that can be difficult to navigate when you are not used to them. Therefore, we at Graduateland have put together a small guide on how to dazzle German employers during the application process and what pitfalls to avoid. You can start searching jobs right away, but we suggest you also have a look through our Q&A on the most important issues on how to get started on your application for an internship or graduate job.
How important is it that I speak German to find work in Germany?
As in any country, the better your command of the native language the higher will be your chances of finding a job. This is especially true in Germany. Even in international companies that have English as a business language most of the day-to-day working routines are conducted in German. While English is a mandatory subject at German schools, the language proficiency can vary quite drastically among co-workers (especially if you compare it to smaller neighbouring countries such as the Netherlands or Denmark, where nearly everyone is used to communicating in English on a daily basis). So every bit of German you speak in advance brings you a step closer to your dream job.
Unless you are sure of your German conversational skills, resist the urge to write in or translate your application to German - as any potential employer will test your language skills in an interview.
However, the strong focus on German as a working language also means that any foreign language and intercultural knowledge can potentially become your big asset. Germany’s economic success is largely due to its exports, so being able to communicate with trade partners and customers across borders is important.
What do German companies require in a written application?
In their job descriptions, most German employers ask you to provide “Bewerbungsunterlagen”, which roughly translates to ‘application documents’. The word implies a collection of papers that should always be part of your application Germany:
- a cover letter
- a CV that reflects the German standard
- a grade transcript and (if you already have it) a copy of your diploma of your most recent completed education
- diplomas of your previous higher education (that usually also includes your high school diploma)
- written references from your previous workplaces (including internships)
- any certificates that you mention on your CV (such as specific language or IT courses)
- occasionally: ‘Arbeitsproben’, meaning a portfolio of your previous work (mostly required in creative fields such as communication or design).
What regulations do you have to consider before starting the job hunt in Germany?
Even though the German labour market has become more flexible in recent years, there are a number of rules and laws that companies have to adhere to when they hire new staff - meaning that you potentially have to fulfill a number of requirements in order to work in Germany. A couple of the most important checkmarks are:
- Working visa regulations: If you’re a citizen of a European Union member state or Switzerland you will be able to relocate to Germany with minimal bureaucratic effort. When you come from outside the EU, moving to Germany for work can be a long and formal process. For more information, check the German Federal Foreign Office .
- Health insurance: Having health insurance is mandatory in Germany. If you’re employed under any type of German working contract - even as an intern - the employer is required to make sure you are properly insured. Therefore, most companies will ask you to provide them with the details of health insurance from your home country. If you plan to work in the country permanently it is usually mandatory that you become a member in a “Krankenkasse” - one of the companies that provide medical insurance packages for employees and students.
- Students and graduates doing internships may have to fulfill additional requirements. According to German labour law regulations, interns have to be either enrolled in a university education or bridging the gap between their Bachelor and Master studies (with few exceptions). This has to do with the minimum wage laws that have been in effect since January 1st, 2015.