Interested in moving to Berlin?
This post is an extract from my book The BreakingOut Guide To Moving To Berlin.
In this post I look at how to find a job in Berlin.
How To Find a Job in Berlin
Finding a job in Berlin can be hard work.
In part this is because although it’s the capital of Germany, Berlin is not the main centre of the German economy in the way that London is for the UK or Paris is for France.
This might seem a little odd if you’re coming to Berlin from the UK, but Berlin is just one of a number of different economic centres in Germany spread out across the country. Economically it is one regional centre amongst many – and Berlin isn’t even the strongest in terms of job creation or opportunities.
Berlin is not a city bursting with high-paying jobs. The capital does not have a vibrant city centre downtown of skyscrapers teeming with thousands of scurrying workers conducting high level international business around the clock.
Berlin has no big financial district – or for that matter any financial district at all. The economy of Berlin’s city centre seems strangely muted after London, Paris and New York.
Other cities such as Munich, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt have many more career jobs available than Berlin has to offer.
For example, Frankfurt is the centre of Germany’s financial industry. The media sector is found more in Hamburg and Cologne, whilst technology and engineering are centred on the Munich and Stuttgart regions.
Dusseldorf is the preferred location for many far Eastern companies, especially Japanese. Whilst Leipzig and Dresden have been successful in attracting hi-tech chip and other hardware manufacturers and services. And so on.
So you can see that in Germany, things are much more spread out than is the case in the UK or France.
The Job Market in Berlin
Where does all that leave Berlin? What does Berlin specialize in?
Well, there’s the Federal German government for one. Though they are unlikely to have big demand for employing newly arrived expats in Berlin.
Then there’s the city council – or Berliner Senat as it’s called. They run two of the biggest corporations in Berlin – the BSR or Berliner Stadtreinigung – which is the refuse collection department, and the BVG – the city transit authority. These two employ large numbers of people in Berlin. But again, expats are not likely to be landing jobs with either of these two departments, or with many of the others either.
Siemens was traditionally a large employer in the capital. It was actually founded in Berlin (in Kreuzberg) and there is even a whole district in Berlin built specially for its workers, called Siemensstadt.
I once did an IT graduate training course at Siemens in Berlin. However Siemens employs fewer people in Berlin than it used to. Nowadays Siemens is concentrated more in Munich than Berlin.
The German national railway or Deutsche Bahn is another big employer in Berlin, and now has it’s headquarters in the capital.
Berlin has been moderately successful in creating a burgeoning Web startup sector over the last ten years or so. It also has a fair number of medium-sized companies.
The new IT startup sector employs many thousands of people in Berlin. Although not all of these jobs are well paid or even necessarily paid at all. Some are unpaid internships. But if you have specialist IT knowledge in programming or system administration then you may be able to find openings in this sector.
The research and education sector also employs a fair number of number of people in Berlin. There are three main universities in the capital, as well as Potsdam University situated just outside the city boundary. I myself worked at Potsdam University for a few years. There are also a large number of other higher education institutions located in the capital.
The health care sector is also a large employer in Berlin – with large numbers of hospitals, clinics, research centres and so on.
The building construction industry also employs a fair number in Berlin. There’s a lot of ongoing renovation and renewal going on throughout the capital and especially in the eastern districts. There are also some major building projects. Not least the new and still not opened Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, which continues to keep many construction workers in employment.
Another important sector for employment in Berlin is the tourist industry. This has been enjoying considerable growth over the last ten years, with the number of tourists visiting Berlin growing every year and surpassing all previous records. Berlin is now the number one most popular city destination in Western Europe.
You can see the result of this in Berlin with new hotels and hostels shooting up all over the city, and lots of new restaurants, cafes and bars. Although of course this also means a lot of lower-paid employment but it does also bring a substantial amount of much needed spending power into the capital.
Yet the attitude of Berliners towards this increase in tourism and the rise in popularity of their city can be strangely ambivalent.
Most other cities would be pleased to discover that their city is number one in the tourist popularity stakes and would do all they could to encourage it and make the most of it.
Yet in Berlin politicians have campaigned against the conversion of apartments into holiday lets or bed and breakfast pensions. There have been billposters put up by people saying things like Tourists Go Home.
There is even hostility to the likes of airBnB with the Berliner Senat passing a law making it illegal to let out residential accommodation to tourists.
DON’T Send Me Your CV!
Let me just make clear at this point that I’m not personally able to find you a job in Berlin. So please DON’T go sending me your CV. I can’t do anything with it.
What I can do here is give you the benefit of my experience and know-how and provide you with practical advice on how to best tackle the problem of finding a job in Berlin.
Bear in mind that if you are not German and do not speak fluent German – and if you are not from the EU, then you are going to be at an immediate disadvantage from the start to native German speakers and people from the EU.
This means that if you really want to live and work in Berlin then you are going to have to muster up all the resources you can find.
Despite the odds, it’s not impossible to find a decent job in Berlin, although I agree it certainly isn’t easy.
But if you follow the tips in this post – and if you have a marketable skill that is of interest to employers – and if you can speak some German, then you have a good chance of finding a decent job in Berlin.
Want To Know The Secret of How To Find a Job in Berlin?
I’m going to reveal to you THE SECRET of finding a job in Berlin. It’s never that easy finding a suitable job in Berlin. But there’s one thing you can do which will substantially increase your changes of finding a good job in the capital.
It’s THE one most important and most effective thing of all that you can do to help you find a decent job in Berlin.
No, it’s not a CV tip, nor a speculative application technique. Nor is it an insider website address. And it’s not even a positive-thinking trick or anything like that.
It’s something much more solid and fundamental. But it’s so important you’d think every person who comes to Berlin to look for a job would pay attention to it.
And yet not everyone does. Which makes it all the more effective for the smart people who DO apply this secret.
It’s one single thing above all else that you can do. It’s not even really a secret, more just a matter of common sense.
Yet it’s the one thing that has a very big impact.
Want to know the secret to finding a job in Berlin?
Here’s the secret:
Learning German is THE KEY to Finding a Good Job in Berlin
A lot of people from abroad turn up in Berlin thinking they can easily walk into jobs – even without speaking fluent German.
There are jobs where it isn’t crucial whether you can speak German or not. For example, some technical jobs, particularly in IT. But even for these positions, you will have a much better chance of being hired if you can speak German.
Berlin is a tough place to find work even for native German speakers. It can take weeks and even months to find a job that matches your professional experience, education and skills. But if you can speak German you will increase your chances of finding employment in one go.
My advice: Get started learning German before you even arrive in Berlin. And keep learning whilst you are here.
One of the best ways to learn German is to subscribe to GermanPod.
This is a self-study MP3 audio-based course which you can download. You can use as much or as little of it as you wish on a month by month basis. This makes it very affordable.
GermanPod also have a free intro offer which enables you to try it out for nothing. In my opinion GermanPod is about the best audio course in German out here.
When you get to Berlin, unless you already have a good level of German by then, I strongly recommend that you take a conventional language class as well as keeping going with GermanPod.
Because it’s being able to speak German which will also put you ahead of those expats who don’t speak German, and will give you an immediate advantage.
My advice: Be sure to check out GermanPod. It will make the process of learning German a whole lot easier. See the end of this post for more info about GermanPod.
Finding a Job in Berlin
Berlin is a big city just like any other. With the difference that it is not that strong economically.
BUT – if you have a professional skill or trade which is in demand, AND you have made the effort to learn German, then there is no reason why you should not eventually have success in finding a decent job in Berlin. It might just take a little longer than elsewhere, that’s all.
Attitudes to Training and Education in Germany
Training and education are important in Germany. In fact, Germans place such value on training that it can actually count for more than experience. This can sometimes be a drawback.
I know Germans who have worked in areas such as marketing for big companies for years, but didn’t study business or marketing. They then became redundant but prospective employers weren’t interested in them because they hadn’t studied business or marketing and didn’t have a diploma in it.
This may be narrow-minded Human Resources thinking or a simple way to weed out applications, but the fact that they hit upon this particular way to do their weeding out shows that the attitude in Germany towards training versus experience is rather different to the UK.
That doesn’t mean your experience counts for nothing, but that you must be careful how you present yourself.
Attitudes to degree subjects also differs. In Britain “any degree discipline” is often accepted for positions with big companies. It’s even seen as positive to have studied something non-practical such as history, literature or philosophy as indication of a well-rounded individual. This is less common in Germany.
In my case I studied economics and politics. Whenever I mentioned to Germans I once worked in Marketing in London after I graduated, they invariably said “how come?”. I never had anyone saying this to me in the UK so I was puzzled by this response.
I later found out humanities degrees in Germany are regarded as only qualifying you to become a teacher, not for working in business.
There are exceptions, but the point is you have to be careful in Germany how you market yourself and your degree when you are applying for jobs, in order not to fall foul of this rigid German attitude to degree subjects and end up getting yourself shut out of potential jobs.
In Germany I’ve learned usually not to mention the politics part of my degree. A German actually advised me not to list the politics bit on my CV at all. Especially not in Berlin as in her view having majored in politics is associated with political radicals and troublemakers.
So for most purposes in Germany my degree is solely in Economics, rather than Econ and Politics.
People with degrees in History, Literature or Sociology as well as those with that Oxford University favourite cocktail PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) must have it especially hard in Germany.
My advice: Play up and emphasize any training courses you have completed – but be careful with how you mention your degree course if it isn’t something hard-headed such as Business Studies or Computer Science.
Working in a Restaurant or Bar in Berlin
Forget about washing dishes. You haven’t come all the way to Berlin just to do that surely?
As for bar work, waiter etc. It IS possible to find jobs in the hospitality sector where the employer may be willing to take on someone part-time who does not speak fluent or semi-fluent German. But in most cases for jobs in hospitality you will need to speak at least semi-fluent German.
What About Finding Shop Work?
In Germany finding work in a shop is not as easy as it is elsewhere.
Unless you are just talking about part time work shelf stacking and the like, generally speaking you need to have completed a retail apprenticeship to work in a shop in Germany.
I’m not kidding. The retail industry is one of the many sectors covered by the German “Dual System” of work and day-release training and college study which people undergo for 2 or 3 years in a chosen career.
The main exception to this is if you know someone who runs a small shop, and who does not insist on employing someone with a standard retail training background. Otherwise it can be hard to find work in the retail sector in Germany.
Practicing a Trade or Profession in Berlin
What about practicing your trade in Berlin? This may be possible – or then again it may not.
Many more trades, professions and occupations are regulated in Germany than is the case in for example the UK. Career training for what in English-speaking countries are traditionally known as “trades” is taken very seriously in Germany.
For things like electrician, plumber, gas fitter, central heating engineer, or car mechanic, you need to have passed the required professional training certifications in your home country. These may or may not be fully or partially valid and recognized in Germany. If you are from an EU country, then in theory at least, your professional career qualifications should be recognized.
Even jobs that you can easily take up in the UK, for example painting and decorating, or office cleaning, you just can’t take up legally in Germany unless you have first passed the training course and qualifications set by the IHK Industrie and Handelskammer (Chamber of Commerce), the Innungen (guilds) or the Handwerkskammer (the Crafts Chamber).
These organizations tightly control the access, training and practice of many occupations.
To set up a decorating business of your own you must have first completed a recognized training course or apprenticeship, and then worked as an employee for a set minimum number of years for a Meister or master tradesman. Only then can you set up yourself as a Meister.
You may decide to risk ignoring this system, but it will be illegal. Your chances of getting away with it are not good in the long-term. At the least you will have to keep your head down and rely on casual word of mouth custom to find clients.
And you will have to be careful the Innung and Handwerkskammer don’t get to hear about it as you can get fined for non-compliance. Delboys and cowboys do not have it easy in Germany!
Bear in mind membership of these institutions tends to be compulsory and the competition are zealous at ensuring people do not try to by-pass the rules and regulations applying in their sector. In practice it’s hard to avoid the tentacles of these organizations and not advisable either because of the fines that can result from non-compliance.
My advice: Practicing your trade or profession in Berlin can be a good idea – but make sure you register with and abide by the respective trade association regulations applying in Germany.
Teaching English in Berlin
There are many private language schools in Berlin, but teaching English is low paid, with minimum security.
But generally speaking I don’t recommend you try going down the path of teaching English (EFL or English as a Foreign Language) in Berlin.
Firstly, there is a great deal of competition for what English teaching jobs are available in Berlin. You are not the only one to have the idea of trying to get a job teaching English in Berlin!
Secondly, terms and conditions of employment are generally poor and payment is poor. The work is unreliable and insecure and you are likely to find yourself on a part-time freelance basis if you do manage to secure anything.
In addition to this, you will have costly compulsory German pension contributions to meet, completely out of your own pocket if you are freelance as many English teachers are in Berlin. These contributions are currently set at 19% of gross earnings.
In short, being an EFL teacher in Berlin often means an existence on the economic margins.
An exception might be if you have experience with top language schools or institutes such as the British Council and can land a position with them.
Otherwise, EFL teachers in Berlin – and in Germany in general, mostly get a very poor deal.
My advice: EFL teaching in Berlin is not really worth it.
Temping in Berlin
You might turn your nose up at the idea of temping, but this can actually be a good way into a decent permanent job. Or not. It’s a bit of a lottery.
But I’d say the chances are at least fair. I found my first permanent job in Berlin in this way.
You can register with temp agencies once you get to Berlin. Temporary work, known in Berlin as “Zeitarbeit”, can serve as a useful stop-gap, but there is a different approach to temping in Germany to that of the UK and US.
In Berlin temping works a bit differently to how it operates in the US or UK. In Germany you become a permanent employee of the “temping” agency. There is some hostility to temping among some Berliners – “Zeitarbeit ist Sklaverei” (“temping is slavery”) as the saying goes in Berlin.
But the fact is you enjoy greater rights as a temporary worker in Germany than temping staff in the UK or US. In Germany, once they have taken you on, the temping agency has to pay you even when it doesn’t have any work for you.
For your part it does mean you have to accept the assignments the agency sends you on. You have no contractual right to turn them down once you are on their books.
There are a large number of temping agencies (known as Zeitarbeitsfirmen or Zeitarbeitsagenturen) in Berlin. Amongst the biggest are Addecco, Manpower and Randstad.
You can find a comprehensive list of temping agencies on the official Berlin Senat website at www.berlin.de/special/jobs-und-ausbildung/adressen/zeitarbeit
My advice: Temping can be a possible way in to a longer term permanent job in Berlin.
The Agentur für Arbeit or Jobcenter in Berlin
The official governmental job agency in Germany is called the Agentur für Arbeit, or Jobcenter as its also known. They provide free job-seeking services to EU and non-EU citizens alike.
Reports of their effectiveness vary, but for the record I have never once found a job in Germany through their services. But again it depends to some extent upon the sector you work in and what kind of work you are seeking.
By UK standards the Agentur für Arbeit service is actually not bad and they are now equipped with the latest web-based search engine and database tools. They also provide free retraining for those who qualify. You have to have paid at least 12 months unemployment insurance contributions first as a precondition of receiving training.
There are twelve Agentur für Arbeit Jobcenters in Berlin, one for each Berlin borough. If you want to use them then you need to register with the one for the borough in which you live.
To find the one for your area see the list of Jobcenters at service.berlin.de/jobcenter
My advice: The Agentur für Arbeit Jobcenters can be useful – but don’t expect to find the pick of the crop amongst their vacancies
Online Job Search Databases
Searching online for a job is probably the most popular and best way to find a job in Berlin these days.
The most important online job databases are Stepstone.de, Monster.de and Indeed.de.
I’ve found them useful in getting contacts and preliminary first interviews fixed up with employers and clients which you can then follow up with second interviews in person when you arrive in Berlin. I’ve included a list of their addresses further below in this post.
Xing is also important in Germany, so make sure you have a profile on Xing. LinkedIn is also important, but comes second place in Germany to Xing.
And don’t forget to try good old Google searches. For example search for “web designer jobs Berlin” and see what you can find.
See the list of addresses at the bottom of this post for a full list of addresses to help you find a job in Berlin.
My advice: Get yourself a profile on both Xing and LinkedIn if you haven’t already done so.
Taking an “Intern” Position in Berlin
Accepting an intern position in Berlin can make sense if you are a recent graduate. But it’s less useful for experienced professionals. Otherwise an internship CAN be a good entry route into a career.
BUT – and it’s a big but: The intern scene in Berlin among startups has developed something of a poor reputation. More often than not it is exploitative, with low or no pay. Also, many of these small startups are not financially stable and there is a fair likelihood that they may not be around a year or two later.
I’ve worked at startups as a contractor (though I was also once an intern myself – but that was in the UK). I’ve experienced a couple of them going into liquidation whilst I was there or shortly afterwards (nothing to do with me!). So internship positions can be risky depending on the financial stability of the startup.
Which brings me to…
Applying for Jobs with Startups in Berlin
Again, as with internships, working for startups can be a double-edged sword.
On the one hand startups tend to be much readier to employ expats than the more traditional German companies. You are also more likely to be working with a young team, and the environment will probably be more casual. They are also more likely to take on someone who does not speak German.
However, there’s also a downside to startup jobs in Berlin. First the very fact that they are a startup means they have tighter financial resources, and so can often only pay below average.
Secondly, there is also a much higher chance of them going under than with an established German medium-sized “Mittelstand” company or a large corporation.
And thirdly, working for a startup in Berlin can be an exploitative situation, with long hours expected which are not the norm in Germany.
My advice: Working for startups in Berlin is a high risk job situation. Startups can be a lively and stimulating environment to work in with plenty of scope and freedom to use your initiative. But they can also go out with a bang!
Where to Find Jobs with Startups in Berlin
If you want to work for a startup in Berlin, then check out VentureVillage, Gründerzone and Jobbatical.
There are also a couple of Facebook pages which focus on startups in Berlin, such as Berlin Start-up Jobs and Berlin Start-ups. For more info see the list of addresses at the end of this post.
Don’t Forget to Network in Berlin
Networking is often a good way to find a job in Berlin. I myself have found positions through this method. Many jobs in Berlin never get advertised and so having contacts in the capital will mean you get to find out about new job opportunities which you wouldn’t have gotten to hear about otherwise.
So how can you start networking in Berlin to find a job?
Find out what is going on in the capital. For example, check out InterNations.org. This is a popular online community that also meets offline for expats in Berlin (and elsewhere in the world).
Take a look at Meetup.com to find groups that meet in the capital. There are usually a number of these meet up groups, large and small, and with various themes. These groups tend to come and go and new ones are always appearing.
Also search on Facebook for current events and groups in Berlin and sign up to them.
My advice: Networking is a must in Berlin if you are looking for a decent job.
Some Addresses to Help You Find a Job in Berlin
So here are some sources to help you track down current job vacancies in Berlin. Apart from the general job databases, this list is rather biased in favour of the IT/Web sector, but this is because that’s the sector that I work in.
The most important general job databases which ones you should know about are:
For the Web startup sector, you can also check out these:
If you’re a graphic designer, then these addresses might be useful:
For e-commerce and IT jobs have a look at the following addresses:
Finally there are also:
For temping agencies in Berlin, see the comprehensive list of Zeitarbeitsagenturen on the official Berlin Senat website at www.berlin.de/special/jobs-und-ausbildung/adressen/zeitarbeit
The official government public employment service is called the Arbeitsagentur or Jobcenter. There are twelve of these in Berlin, one for each Berlin borough. You need to consult the one for the borough in which you live.
See the list of Berlin Jobcenters at service.berlin.de/jobcenter
The Berliner Senat also has a jobs database search engine for Berlin which taps into the official Arbeitsagentur database. You can find it at www.berlin.de/special/jobs-und-ausbildung/stellenangebote
And last but not least, Craigslist in Berlin: berlin.en.craigslist.de
Finally, one other word of advice.
Keep a Positive Attitude Towards Your Job-Hunting in Berlin
With Berlin being a city of high unemployment and limited opportunities, job-hunting isn’t easy. But it’s not impossible either.
If you have a saleable skill – and you make the effort to learn German, and you apply yourself to the job-hunting process diligently and with a positive attitude, then there is no reason why you should not be successful.
Don’t let yourself be discouraged by some of the Germans you may meet who might try to convince you otherwise. Germans can be surprisingly negative about things like job hunting, particularly in Berlin where a strange kind of negative mindset can be found amongst some people.
There are some people in Berlin who seem to like to rub it in about how difficult and impossible it is to find a decent job in the capital. I’ve experienced it myself at times. Sometimes it’s almost as if they derive some kind of solace from focusing more on the downside than the upside.
Be careful not to let this attitude affect yourself. The situation in Berlin is not as bleak as some may try to paint. You can say that in Berlin, just as with job-hunting anywhere, a positive attitude already takes you half of the way there. Jobs are found by people with positive attitudes – not with negative ones. So keep positive and do not become negative.
Good luck with your job search in Berlin!
Give Your Job Chances In Berlin a Big Boost By Learning German
One other thing. About the best thing you can do to make yourself more marketable on the tight Berlin job market is to learn to speak German as soon as you can.
And there’s one German course in particular that stands out way above the rest. It’s called GermanPod.
GermanPod is now one of the world’s most successful digitally based online language courses. It’s not hard to see why.
You can give yourself a head start in learning German by signing up for the self-study MP3 based course offered by GermanPod.
GermanPod – The Best Language Course For Expats in Berlin
GermanPod is THE ideal audio MP3-based German language course for expats in Berlin.
This is because with GermanPod you learn German quickly in your own time, as and when you want – and at your own pace.
What’s more, GermanPod is VERY low cost.
You can use GermanPod on your smartphone and tablet, as well on as your laptop or PC.
So you can be learning German wherever you are – and whenever you’re on the move.
With GermanPod you can make the most of those spare moments of time that you have which otherwise just get wasted. When you’re commuting on the S-Bahn or U-Bahn. When waiting in line, or sitting in a waiting room.
Learning German With GermanPod is Easy, Fast – And Fun
GermanPod teaches you modern, up-to-date German. The kind of German that people speak in everyday life in Berlin.
GermanPod comes with four different learning levels -Absolute Beginner, Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. So you can choose the level which suits you best.
That makes learning German with GermanPod very easy, fast and fun.
I myself learned German using the self-study audio method before I came to Berlin and I found it the fastest and easiest way of learning to speak and understand German.
GermanPod is Affordable
GermanPod is available on a monthly subscription basis. It’s “pay as you go”. Unlike some German courses, you don’t have to part with a large sum of money.
For just $8 a month you can get started with GermanPod.
For longer term advance subscriptions there are discounts of between 11% and up to 60%.
And if you’re a student then you can benefit from an EXTRA 20% DISCOUNT on a 12-month subscription.
This makes it very inexpensive to get started learning German with GermanPod.
And it gives you the flexibility to use as little or as much of GermanPod as you wish, when you wish – and according to your own budget.
In short, GermanPod is probably the best investment you can make to ensure the success of your move to Berlin.
My advice: check out www.germanpod101.com and get a head start right now with learning German
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