Have you newly arrived in Germany with years of substantial professional experience hoping to continue doing what you are good at to find that it’s not so easy to do? Do you feel like there is more than one Mount Everest standing in your way to convert your professional training to a recognized credential here? Perhaps right after learning the German language, finding a job in Germany is one of the top challenges of expat life here.
I took a moment to interview Chris Pyak, Managing Director of Immigrant Spirit, a recruitment firm based in Düsseldorf which specializes in placing job candidates with an international background with employers in Germany. Chris offers his tips on what every job candidate, especially those with a non-German background can do to get hired.
GW: Chris, thanks for taking the time to speak with the German Way Expat Blog about job hunting in Germany for expats. Can you tell us more about the ethos on which you founded your company, Immigrant Spirit?
CP: I had been living abroad for more than ten years. When I returned to Germany I was shocked by how little German HR values international experience. There are so many highly qualified and highly motivated expatriates here, but their international experience is not at all valued. This is unfair against professionals, and it hurts employers and our society. So, I decided to find all those companies that appreciate the diverse life experience of expats – and connect them with international talent.
GW: What are the three pieces of advice you would give a job candidate who is about to commence a job search?
CP: The shortest advice – join those who want you because you are an expat. Not despite.
Develop a strategy for your job hunt. Find companies where you are the only choice. 40% of all English job postings are with only 50 companies. Nearly all the expats apply there, so the companies have their pick. Instead, have a look at the smaller, not so well known companies. There are over 3,000 companies that advertise English job openings. Take a closer look at the #51 – 3,000 companies in the market. Very few professionals apply.
In the long term, there are three things you can do to be successful: Speak German, speak German, and speak German. Every year over a million people retire, but less than 700,000 young people join the workforce. If you speak German you will have a job all your life.
GW: Are there common pitfalls or mistakes that you see expat candidates making over and over?
CP: A lack of appreciation is probably the most common mistake. This shows in badly prepared cover letters and CVs. We provide employer interviews with our clients and tips on how to write the “perfect” job application. And still I get lots of applications where the candidate clearly knows nothing about the employer. Take time to understand – and appreciate – what your potential employer wants to achieve.
In your cover letter, get right to the point. You need to answer three questions: 1. Why do you want to change jobs? 2. How can you contribute to the companies goals? 3. What achievements do you have that prove that you get the results we want?
If you want to set yourself apart, edit your cover letter and CV to the concrete job offer. When it comes to skills, make sure to “tick all the boxes” if you can. Show for each skill where you used it in your former career and what kind of results you got for your employers. This requires that you learn what the company wants to achieve. This individualization is the most important way to set yourself apart.
GW: What is important in the CV?
CP: Big surprise – Germans don’t like uncertainty. Make sure that there are no “holes” in your work history. Be honest about times between jobs. And pay attention to form. Spelling errors, etc. can be reason enough to kick your application out.
The HR department will reward you for your hard work with the 7-12 seconds they spend to consider your application. So again, show very quickly how you can contribute to the company.
GW: What is a common attribute you see in successful applicants?
CP: I make a little test every time I speak to a client. I ask the head of the department to make a list of everyone who he/she experienced in this position. Then I ask her to rank them from best to worst. My last question is always: What did the best do differently from the worst? The answer is never a university degree or even a professional skill. The answer is always about character: “He takes ownership of his projects,” “I always see her with a book in her hand,” or “He looks beyond the obvious and understands the bigger goals that we want to achieve.”
In short when it comes to the actual hiring decision, it is always drive, vigor, stamina and contribution that tip the scale. If you want to set yourself apart, show extraordinary commitment and drive.
GW: Again, the German system forces conformity just to be considered, how do you suggest expat candidates overcome these discrepancies such as not having a Zeugnis (recommendation) from each former employer?
CP: There is a secret obstacle that you have to overcome – most HR professionals in Germany do not want to hire the best candidate. They want to hire the candidate that they cannot be blamed for if something goes wrong. That’s why it is important to eliminate as many question marks as possible from your application. Complete work history, German language, work experience in Germany, etc. etc.
But smart candidates do something else as well. They realize that it will take time to find a job in Germany. So they use this time to build networks with Germans. They dive into the German culture and make as many connections as possible. When it comes to finding a job, they don’t apply via HR. Instead they seek out the head of the department – and talk directly to him or her. Because he/she feels the pain from not having enough staff, he/she is open to your contribution regardless of whether or not you can tick the narrowly defined HR boxes.
GW: In addition to Immigrant Spirit, what other resources do you recommend for the expat candidate? This can be other websites, books, networks, etc.
CP: If you are still abroad, call the German embassy and ask about German Stammtische in your town. These are events where Germans in your city get together for a few drinks. Ask if you can join and make your first networks. I also recommend internations.org for an international crowd. And don’t forget – start speaking German. I wish you success!