Find a Job in Berlin
So you’ve become a Berlin expat. Or maybe you’re an aspiring Berlin expat. You’re looking for a job in Berlin and are wondering exactly how people go about finding work in the German capital.
You’ve probably heard the expression that “Berlin is poor, but sexy.” While I personally hate the reference (it’s way too overused), it has a certain truuth. While Berlin’s known to be a creative mecca for artists and a technology hub for startups, it’s not exactly a place booming with high-paying jobs that you might find elsewhere, like in the automobile capital of Stuttgart or the financial hub of Frankfurt. As of August 2015, unemployment hovered around 11% in Berlin, while the rest of Germany remained at a rate of about 7%. Factor in not being able to speak German fluently and/or not being an EU citizen, you’ll find the odds of finding a job in Berlin are stacked against you.
While it’s not impossible to find work in Berlin, it’s not going to be easy either, even if people tell you otherwise.
I’ve been living and working in Berlin on and off for the past five years and can personally attest to the difficulties of finding a job in Berlin.
The first time I moved here, I worked as a freelancer for 18 months. When I lost my biggest client, I wasn’t able to quickly find a replacement client that could provide the same level of income. So with a heavy heart, I moved home to Canada to find more secure employment and figure out my next steps.
I finally moved back to Berlin two years later in November 2014, when I found a new job with a company who sponsored my visa application. Since then, I’ve worked at three different companies (startup life is a tumultuous one!) and now feel like a professional job seeker in Berlin.
Find a Job in Berlin
Since I’ve written a lot about why I moved to Berlin, people often email me asking for advice about how to find work or even how to make friends. While I’m not an expert by any means nor can I personally find you a job (I’m also not a recruiter, so please don’t send me your resumes or CV’s), I can certainly dole out some advice about finding work in Berlin as an expat.
To that end, here’s a list of my top 12 tips about how to find work in Berlin.
1) Be Realistic and Patient
It’s not likely that you will find your dream job overnight. Berlin’s a tough place to find work and it could take several weeks, even months (yes!), before you find a job that suits your education, experience and skills.
Even once you’ve a signed a contract with an employer, you may still need to wait before you actually start work. If you’re from outside the EU, you’ll need to submit a visa application and wait time for it to be approved. Based on personal experience, this can take anywhere from one to three months. During this time, you’re not permitted to work and there’s also no guarantee that it will be approved. All you can do is hang in there and wait for everything to fall into place.
Finding and starting a job in Berlin is almost a job in itself.
2) Learn German
Don’t come to Berlin expecting that you can get by on English alone.
Just think about it, the more German you learn, the better your chances are at finding employment. You’ll set yourself apart from the average expat if you’re able to communicate with potential employers in their own language.
Enroll in a language class *before* moving to Berlin. If that’s not possible, enroll in a class as soon as you get here. Make it a priority to learn as much German as you can and be as fluent as possible.
There’s tons of languages schools in Berlin to choose from. There’s the fairly priced Volkshochschule, the alternative school Babylonia, and Expath. More upmarket options include the Goethe Institute and if you’re very serious and committed about learning German and want to do so within a short timeframe, try Smarter German.
An alternative to in class learning, is online language school Lingoda. Signup for a German trial class for only 0.99€.
Pro Tip: Make sure your level of German (A1, B2 etc.) is indicated on your resume or CV.
3) Have Savings
Maybe you’re rich. Maybe you’re generously supported by family, like your parents or spouse. But maybe you’re like me? I moved to Berlin alone and without anyone to support me financially. It was therefore imperative that I have a solid financial plan in place.
Due to the length of time it could take you to find a job in Berlin, I’d highly recommend that you have enough savings to live off of until you’re able to find work. I came with enough to survive comfortably for six months and would suggest even having enough for one year.
Make sure that you don’t burn through all of your savings just trying to find a job. If you come to a point where money is running out, you’ll need to seriously consider your options. Do you have enough money to buy a plane ticket home? Do you have enough cash to ship your belongings home?
Pro Tip: Keep a financial buffer even after you’ve found a job in Berlin. You’ll be under probation for the first six months of your employment and during this time, your employer can terminate you on short notice with only having to pay you for two weeks of work. In more extreme cases, some companies in Berlin (most notably startups), are notorious for letting you go quite suddenly and even not being able to pay salary, as they go about restructuring and/or shutting down their businesses.
How much you need to survive in Berlin without a job is entirely up to you. It all depends on your lifestyle. Although Berlin is known to be cheaper than other European capitals, the city is getting more expensive every year, especially when it comes to rent.
If you’re looking for a place to live in Berlin, be sure to check out my article about how to use Facebook to find a flat in Berlin. Also, learn about why renting an Airbnb apartment is not a good idea.
4) Work Your Way Up
As you may not find that perfect job right away, think about taking an entry level position. Take a job as an intern, excel at it, and show your new employer why they should hire you for a more long term position. This tip is obviously more suited to recent graduates than seasoned professionals, but could be a great starting point for someone without a lot of experience.
Unfortunately, the intern culture in Berlin has a bad reputation. Be sure not to take a job that does not pay industry standards and requires you to work overtime without appropriate compensation. Germany finally implemented a minimum wage just last year but be sure to value yourself and don’t let yourself be exploited for the sake of any old job.
Embody the true Berliner spirit and hold several jobs at one time. Bartend at night, work at a coffee shop during the day, DJ on weekends, and walk dogs whenever you have a spare moment.
Make money while you’re looking for more serious work and you never know, perhaps one of those gigs could lead to something more. Perhaps you’ll end up running your own dog walking business for expats!
Note – this option does not apply to people who do not have a visa that gives them permission to work in Germany. For example, if you come to Berlin as an American on a 3-month tourist visa, you’re not permitted to work. Working “under-the-table” is highly illegal, and you, and the person who hired you, could face serious legal and financial consequences, even deportation.
6) Apply at Start-ups
Start-ups are one of the best ways to find a job in Berlin. Start-ups are more open to hiring expats than more traditional German companies. Score work at a start-up and help build a brand new company from the ground-up. Another perk is that starts-ups usually offer an exciting, fun working environment with international teams.
However, start-up jobs tend to pay less than industry average (see this Job Spotting report for stats) and involve long hours. As start-ups are more prone to financial woes than larger companies, be sure to research them in advance and apply at the ones that have solid financial backing, are (or soon will be) generating revenue, show a track record of successful business strategy, and/or have signed up big-name clients. Look to apply for jobs at Berlin start-ups that are more mature, around 3 – 5 years old, vs ones that opened their doors within the past 6 months – 1 year.
Do not take make a decision to take a job at a start-up lightly. While the promise of working at a fun and young start-up may seem awesome, there are unfortunate common realities with many Berlin start-ups that you may end up facing like not getting paid on time, and in some cases, not at all.
Some ways to protect yourself? Have a German lawyer review your employment contract before you sign. Know your rights and inform yourself about German employment laws before you start the job. Keep in contact with your lawyer, just in case something happens at a later date.
Where can you search for start-up jobs in Berlin? Take a look at Jobbatical, Berlin Start-up Jobs, HEUREKA, Deutsche Startups, Gründerzone, Startup Sucht, or check this map of Berlin startups. For more, see this list of Berlin start-up jobs web sites or check out IT jobs in Berlin. Also, join Facebook groups like Berlin Start-up Jobs, Berlin Job Board, English Jobs in Berlin, Berlin Job Detector, English Speaking Jobs in Berlin, and Berlin Start-ups.
For ideas into the salary ranges, check out this Berlin startup salary report.
7) Search Online
Use job search engines and job boards and scan them regularly (actually religiously) for fresh opportunities. I’d recommend looking daily! Of course, the usual suspects are helpful like Monster.de, Linked In and Indeed.de. Then there’s also Xing, Glass Door, The Local, Expat Job Seeker, Toytown Germany, Meine Stadt, and Stepstone just to name a few. Also, consider local job boards ExBerliner, Somewhere, Jobs in Berlin, Job Spotting, Work in Berlin, i-potentials, Berliner Jobmarkt, and Berlin Expat Jobs. Or signup with WOLOHO, to get on their mailing list and be alerted to new jobs in Berlin, and even other German cities. Talent.io is another option, where you signup, create a profile, and they’ll personally recommend companies and positions.
Search for companies that are based in Berlin. Subscribe to alerts or mailing lists to be made aware of new postings that may suit you.
A simple way to find a job in Berlin? Use Google to your advantage – for example if you’re an Agile Coach like me, simply Google – “agile coach jobs in Berlin” to view related postings.
Generally if jobs are advertised in English, there’s a chance the company is willing to hire someone who is not a native German speaker. Scan the job description to see if German language skills are required and if so, at what level.
Kick it old school and make a good, old fashioned, phone call! Before doing any cold online job application, call the contact person listed on the job description, quickly introduce yourself, and ask them some questions about the job. You can find out if they don’t mind you directly emailing them your CV and cover letter. The hiring manager might even be so impressed with your professionalism, they’ll call you in for an interview right away. Failing that, the conversation may also reveal quite quickly that the job is not a good fit.
This is especially ideal for those that have location independent work. I have a number of friends in Berlin who work as writers, graphic designers, software developers etc. and all make a living from existing contracts in their home country or elsewhere.
Freelancing is also a good solution for those looking to start their own business in Berlin. Join this Facebook group to start a conversation and connect with other local freelancers.
After my first working holiday visa expired back in 2012, I applied for a freelancing visa which allowed me to continue my work as both a travel writer and a project manager (yes, a bizarre combination). I made money writing for a Berlin hotel, through my blog, and doing project management consulting for a local company.
9) Special Visas
There’s also special visas that allow you stay in Berlin and look for a job without actually having one yet.
Depending on where you’re from, almost anyone can come to Germany, and stay for up to 3 months as a tourist. While you’re not allowed to actually work, you can at least stay in Berlin and begin your job search.
For more experienced professionals, you can apply for a job seeker visa that allows you to stay in Germany and look for work for up to six months. This visa is typically only granted to individuals who have experience in a specific field that’s in demand in order to make-up for labour shortages in certain areas like IT or marketing.
Young Canadians can apply for a working holiday visa that allows you to stay in Germany for up to one year to study, work, or if you like, do absolutely nothing! I had one of these visas before later applying for the freelancer’s visa.
Other citizens from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong can apply for one of these visas as well (research to find out the specifics about what options your country offers). Approval of these visas requires you to show that you have money in the bank and your own health insurance, among other things. Unfortunately, these working holiday visas are not available to Americans or “old people”, which is anyone over 35.
It’s important to note that once you find a permanent position, you’ll have to apply for an entirely new visa *before* you begin working at the new company. This step-by-step guide of the German visa process provides an example for how the process works and what the company must do vs. what you must do.
The company that hired me for my first job in Berlin had their own lawyer help me get an EU Blue Card. This card allows me to work as an agile coach and for them only. After some time has passed (around 21 months) and I’ve gotten my B1 level of German, I’ll be able to apply for permanent residency, and move to other companies, if I so wish.
Need help handling all of the complicated paperwork for a visa or getting settled here in Berlin? Try Karibu.
10) Go Local
Be aware that local employment customs in Germany may differ greatly from how things work in your home country.
For example, Germans include personal information on their CV’s that are not typically included on a CV in places like North America. Ensure that you add a professional-looking photo, date of birth, and place of birth to your CV. Add it to the header, along with your name and address information, so it appears at the top of each page. Some people even specify their marital status, but this no longer as common of a practice as it once was in Germany. That said, it’s safe to assume that you can keep your marital status off of your resume.
From a cover letter perspective, be sure that your cover letter is tailored to the job description and company itself. Do not start your cover letter with “To whom it may concern” but address it directly to the contact person listed on the job posting. If someone named Laura Müller is listed, do not start your cover letter with “Dear Laura” but with “Dear Frau Müller.” Likewise, if someone named Hans Müller is listed, begin your letter with “Dear Herr Müller.”
This may seem unnecessarily formal to someone from outside of Germany, but not doing this, may make you appear unprofessional and rude in their eyes. According to the Local.de, fitting in with Germans is the key to finding work.
Brush up on these cultural norms to ensure that both your resume and cover letter are updated to reflect German preferred formats.
Networking is essential if you want to find a job in Berlin. Many job openings are never publicly advertised and your friends can alert you to new job opportunities that you’d have never known about otherwise. Not to mention, a personal referral will give you an edge over other candidates applying for that same job.
So how do you meet people in Berlin? My post about making friends in Berlin highlights just some of the methods I used to meet locals and other expats. Or join our Make Friends in Berlin meetup group and attend one of our monthly events.
Berlin has a terrific tight-knit community of expats who offer support to each other and will often help each other find work. When I first moved to Berlin, I really wanted to meet other people. Through following conversations of local expats on Twitter, I became aware of a fun “Hamburger Tour of Berlin.” As funny as it sounds, this actually happened and a bunch of people came together to try out different hamburger joints around the city. It was at one of these events that I met someone who eventually hired me as a project manager and agile coach (on two different occasions).
Another option is to contact head hunters (see a full list of executive search companies) or attend job fairs.
12) Be There
It’s as simple as being there. A company might not take you too seriously if they see that you live abroad. Your chances at scoring a job are far better if you show a local address and phone number on your resume, and can be available for in-person interviews.
That being said, don’t feel discouraged from applying for jobs even though you’re not in Berlin yet. Be sure to indicate how serious you are about living and working in Berlin in your cover letter and demonstrate your commitment by learning German. If you’re an attractive candidate, many companies will be willing to do interviews via Google Hangout, Skype, or phone despite your geographical distance. Some companies will even fly you in for an interview or trial day.
If you have further suggestions or questions in general, please leave a comment below. Now that I’m living back in Berlin, feel free to send me an email.
How about getting help from local experts? Expath specializes in helping expats settle into Berlin. They offer workshops about how to find jobs and apartments in Berlin, provide personal coaching sessions and even hold language classes. Check them out at http://www.expath.de/.
* Disclosure – This post was done in partnership with Expath.
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