A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO NEGOTIATING SALARY IN GERMANY
Recently, I came across some terrible advice about looking for work in Germany that shocked me. The person said that when you‘re given a job offer, you shouldn’t negotiate and simply accept whatever a company provides you because “That’s how it is in Germany and Germans don’t like it when you present a counter offer”.
Aside from the fact that this notion reinforces negative stereotypes about German working culture, this is absolutely not true. Salary negotiation is typically expected in Germany and often, it’s more than welcome.
ALL ABOUT NEGOTIATING SALARY IN GERMANY
People have a lot of questions about negotiating salaries in Germany, especially those of us coming from abroad who have no clue about how to navigate the salary negotiation process.
Some of the common questions are:
- Should you negotiate?
- How much can you negotiate?
- How do you determine a fair number?
- What other perks can you negotiate?
- What things can’t you negotiate?
- Are there times you simply can’t negotiate?
We’re here to answer those questions with our practical guide to negotiating salary in Germany.
Prepare To Talk About Salary At An Early Stage
Something unique about Germany is that employers will ask you to state your salary expectations when you’re applying for a job, well before having an interview. If you don’t share this information in your application, it’s almost guaranteed that it will be asked during the first screening call. German employers ask for this data at the get-go to ensure you’re both aligned on a salary range and if not, allow you to part ways should either party be too far off target.
This can feel weird if you’re from somewhere else where salaries aren’t discussed until you reach the final offer stage. This was always my experience when I worked in Canada (it may have changed since I left), so it was definitely a culture shock when I started my job search in Germany. I found it uncomfortable to state my salary expectations so early on in the process. Not only that, I had no idea where to find salary information and where to place myself on the scale. Would I undersell myself making me look desperate for any job? Or would I quote a salary so high that I’d be rejected immediately with no chance for an interview
I recommend reading our guide about salary ranges in Germany for more information on the topic.
When Do Actual Salary Negotiations Start?
After a company has finished interviewing numerous candidates for a position, they’ll finally settle on who they want to want to hire. At this point, the company will contact you via email or phone to tell you the good news and outline the terms of the offer like compensation, number of holidays, and other perks. Sometimes the offer will be given verbally or sent via email. I’ve been extended offers both ways. This is when the negotiation process starts.
What’s important to understand about job offers is that they are informal and not legally binding. It’s a tool to start a conversation and begin the negotiation. Once negotiations conclude, the company will draw up a legal job contract that needs to be signed by both parties to be considered binding.
Note, it’s possible a company could rescind an offer before a job contract is ever signed. As such, don’t make any major life decisions until you have that signed contract. You in turn can also withdraw from the process after receiving a job offer, without any legal obligations.
Should You Negotiate When You Receive A Job Offer?
Hell, yes. Even if you’re happy with the offer, why not explore your options and see how open they are to better the offer? While good companies will often exceed your expectations, bad companies (which is unfortunately a lot of companies) will lowball you. That first offer could be them seeing if they can get away with paying you less than what you deserve.
I keep going back to all the times throughout my career when I didn’t advocate for myself and later found out I made significantly less than my peers with equal skills, experience, and education. As a result of these situations, I now always start a dialogue and explore how open the company is to negotiate.
Working as a hiring manager in Germany, I’ve been on the other side as well. My company’s recruiting team always expected a certain level of negotiation. How far you can stretch that negotiation is another matter, but negotiation is perfectly acceptable.
My main point here is that it’s commonplace to negotiate when you receive a job offer in Germany. You’re not going to surprise or offend anyone. This is why I found it surprising to see content creators telling people to people to take whatever gets offered to them. The general is actually quite contrary – never accept the first job offer. Consider it a starting point where you begin a process that will hopefully yield a better offer, whether it’s a higher salary or something else.
Our Tips For Negotiating Salary In Germany
Follow these tips to ensure you receive fair compensation and maintain a positive dynamic with your potential new employer during the salary negotiation process:
1) Do extensive research ahead of time, know your worth, and be prepared to back it up with data. Don’t rely on the employer to tell you, as they might not always be truthful about salary ranges. Being informed ensures they can’t take advantage of you, something that unfortunately happens to foreigners in Germany all too often.
You can find out salary ranges for your profession in numerous ways:
- Sites like GEHALT.de, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and kununu. You can also check the German Federal Employment Agency website.
- Berliners can check out this homegrown spreadsheet where locals have been entering their salary data for quite some time. Note, we’re not sure how accurate the data is, but it can lend another perspective to your research.
- A Google search can help too and lead you to other specialized sites not listed here. Search for “<profession> salaries <location>” and see what comes up.
When researching salaries in Germany, consider the other factors that impact where you land on a salary scale. There are personal factors like your education, experience (not just the number of years you’ve worked but where you’ve worked as well), skills, and the overall match to the job description. Other things that influence salaries are the size of the company, its financials, and the location of the company. Bigger and established companies tend to pay more than start-ups. Companies might be suffering due to global circumstances – there are tons of layoffs happening right now in tech. You can usually earn more in Munich or Frankfurt than in Berlin.
If you know anyone in Germany working in a similar profession, don’t hesitate to chat them up about salary ranges. They can give you more specific and concrete insight than you’d ever get from a public website.
I’d also recommend asking around on social media – you can even join our Facebook group filled with other Berlin-based job seekers and ask an anonymous question there.
2) The next step is to make sure that your net salary is something you and/or your family can live comfortably in the context of the cost of living. Use this salary calculator to determine your net salary and this website to find out the cost of living for your city in Germany. You can also read my guide to the cost of living in Berlin for further insight.
Know that your net salary is influenced by a number of factors including the state where you live, age, marital status, and religious affiliation. Hot tip for later on? When you start your new job and fill out all of the paperwork for payroll purposes, be sure to state that you’re not religious so you can get out of paying church tax.
3) If you’re trying to negotiate compensation, don’t stray too far from your previously stated salary expectations. Say that communicated that you were looking for an annual salary of €50 – €55k and you suddenly ask for €65k. You may find that your potential employer rescinds the offer for you acting in bad faith and/or appearing overly demanding.
Whatever you do, make sure what you’re asking for is reasonable and you can confidently justify your request based on the research you conducted and the value you bring to the table in terms of your experience, skills, and education.
4) If a company asks you what you’re making in your current role, you’re not obligated to tell them and it’s not something that should factor into your current negotiations. If they ask you, you can politely tell them you don’t feel comfortable sharing that information. Doing so could put you at a disadvantage in the negotiation process.
4) In an effort to combat pay disparity between genders, Germany actually passed a law where you can request your company to disclose anonymized salary information for others in a similar position. There are some conditions around this (the company has to have more than a certain number of employees, but it’s something that could be worth looking into more deeply.
5) Make sure you provide a salary range you’re comfortable with at the start of the recruiting process, so you land at an offer that’s fairly close to your initial expectations. My rule of thumb is keep the low end of your quoted range to be something you’re comfortable with, your middle range what you really want to make, and the high end, more aspirational.
When You Can’t Negotiate Salary In Germany
If a company has a union (Gewerkschaft) with a collective agreement, like nurses or transit workers, salaries are usually fixed and well know to all employees. In these cases, there won’t be an opportunity to negotiate on the established amounts.
Other Things You Can Negotiate Apart From Salary
When preparing a counter offer there are other things you can negotiate, in addition to your basic compensation:
1) You can ask to have it written into your employment contract that you’ll get a raise after a certain period of time, based on performance and reaching set goals you’ve both agreed to.
2) You can ask to have it written into your employment contract that you’ll get a promotion and/or additional responsibilities after a certain period of time, based on performance and achieving mutually agreed-upon goals.
3) You can request an annual budget for training and development.
4) If you’re an influencer of some kind, you can ask for time off to speak at conferences on company time (while not having to use up precious vacation days). You might even be able to get them to pay for your travel-related expenses as well.
5) You can request to work reduced hours, with most German employers being open to this. You can ask to work 80% of a 40-hour work week for example – something which is great for people who want to have shorter days or days off to do other things. Just note that your salary will be reduced accordingly.
6) You can ask for relocation costs to be covered. When I relocated to Germany in 2014, my company paid for my flight, first month’s rent, and shipping costs to bring my belongings from Toronto to Berlin.
Some Things Matter Just As Much As Salary
There are several other things to keep in mind when negotiating a job offer in Germany other than salary and companies might offer other perks that make up for not getting the exact salary you desire:
1) Some German companies offer pension plans where the employer match your contributions up to a certain point. Contributing to a pension plan ensures you’ll have a stream of money coming to you during retirement, in addition to whatever the state provides (which isn’t that much).
I just started putting money into a pension in January of 2023 and I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner. I’m not sure how it all works, but I put in €150, the company puts in their contributions, and each month I’m now putting away about €340 toward my Golden Girls years. Awesome is that after taxes and other social security deductions, my monthly net salary only decreased by a small amount. When you leave your job, you can transfer the funds to your new company’s pension plan or work directly with a pension consultant on your own. As you can see, pension plans are a seriously good perk that shouldn’t be discounted.
Other perks might include subsidized lunches, transit passes, and gym memberships. Some companies offer German classes, have a daycare onsite, and even employ their own doctors. My current company has a doctor who visits our office to do flu shots each year and we also bring in another doctor to provide eye exams. As it was found I needed computer glasses, I was even able to get my employer to cover part of the purchase for my new frames.
2) Aside from base compensation, your offer could include shares in the company that vest over time, as well as annual bonuses based on company and/or individual performance.
3) Then there’s a plethora of other circumstances that can influence your decision to take a job. A company at an early growth stage with a promising future may have you wanting to be part of the journey, despite them not being profitable yet. The company may be a place you’ve always dreamed of working and it would be brilliant to have them on your CV – think Google, Netflix, Meta, Spotify levels. You might get to work alongside an industry leader who you could learn a lot from. The office could be close to your home and not involve a long commute. Make sure you don’t forget to take these things into consideration as well.
“Perks” That Aren’t Really Perks
Some companies like to brag about their so-called perks when they’re really just standard offerings:
1) Giving you a computer to do your work and getting to choose a PC or a Mac is not a perk. It’s a basic piece of equipment you need to do your job.
2) Remote work is something else that’s passed off as a perk. I might be wrong about my stance on this and acknowledge that many jobs still require an onsite presence, but the pandemic normalized working from home and showed that organizations can still be productive. As such, I find it bizarre that companies try to claim this is a unique offering.
3) Company or team events are another classically claimed perk. These events are fun but again, aren’t something I’d consider a perk of my job.
4) Free beer, coffee, and ping pong tables are often advertised as a perk too. Yes, these things are great, but not a factor I’d take into account when applying for a job.
What You Probably Can’t Negotiate
Here are some of the things that most companies won’t be open to negotiating:
1) As annual leave is pretty generous in Germany (normally four to six weeks of vacation per year), most companies won’t offer more. German companies tend to value fairness and won’t want to create an environment that sees some employees having more leave than others simply because they negotiated it at some point.
2) Some people ask to have their probation period reduced. When you’re hired into a German company, you’re typically subjected to six months of probation. During this time, you can leave with only two weeks’ notice and the employer can dismiss you with two weeks’ notice without any further obligations from either side. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement that gives both parties time to evaluate if it’s a good fit. After you’ve passed probation, you’re held to a much longer notice period, usually two to three months in length. That’s why passing probation in Germany is such a huge deal, as there’s so much job and final security attached. As the 6-month notice period is fairly standard, you won’t find too many companies willing to reduce this.
Read our guide to notice periods in Germany to learn more.
When You Have Multiple Job Offers
Other things to think about when it comes to negotiating salary in Germany? When you have the pleasure of receiving multiple job offers and knowing how to go about making a decision and communicating with your potential employers.
How do you choose which company to go with? Consider all the things we’ve mentioned here, do a pros and cons list, and see where you land. Aside from taking an analytical look at the situation, trust your gut and go with the company that gives you the best feeling, even if it doesn’t offer the highest compensation.
From a communication side, be honest with the employers that you’re considering other offers, but don’t use it to pressure them into a quick decision. Just tell them the situation and have a discussion with them about what’s possible.
What If You Don’t Want To Negotiate Your Job Offer?
If a job offer meets your expectations or better yet, exceeds them – you should definitely accept without hesitation. In the end, it’s all about what makes you happy.
What Happens When The Company Refuses To Negotiate?
Worse come to worse, the company may not be open to negotiating salary or be flexible on other parts of their offer. At least you’ll know you tried and from there, either take the job or turn them down.
When You Reject The Offer
If you find the company is unwilling to negotiate a favorable job offer, you got a better job offer elsewhere, or you simply changed your mind, let the company know as soon as possible so you don’t waste their time. They probably have a second-choice candidate who’s also waiting to hear back.
Part on a positive note to keep future job opportunities a possibility and be sure to send them a thank you note.
My Personal Experiences Negotiating Salary In Germany
As you may know from some of my other posts, I’ve changed jobs a lot for various reasons. Because of these experiences, I’ve had the opportunity to negotiate salaries several times over the years.
Here are some of my personal experiences:
1) I tried to negotiate and failed
I once attempted to negotiate a better salary for a job with an exciting Berlin startup and was told that it wasn’t possible at that time but would be after one year. While their response was a big let-down, I still took the job and ended up getting that promised raise one year later.
2) I was asked to negotiate and I chose not to
When I received an offer from another company, my soon-to-be boss called me up on the phone. After giving me the news that I’d gotten the job, he went through what the offer included, mentioning things like salary, holidays, and other benefits. When he got to the salary part, he advised that we could talk more about the number if I wasn’t happy with it, as well as other things they could do. The offer was fantastic and I happily accepted it without any changes, but his openness to having the discussion was reassuring.
3) I negotiated and succeeded
I’ve also negotiated for a better salary, even though I’m not very experienced, or even comfortable, negotiating. Shortly before the pandemic, I was offered a Head Coach role at a Berlin-based company. Considering what the role demanded, their salary was almost the same as what I was already making (in a position where I wasn’t leading a team). So obviously I countered and while they resisted at first, I was able to secure a higher level of compensation and guarantee another raise once I passed probation. While I ultimately turned them down, I feel proud of being able to get out of my comfort zone and ask for a reasonable increase through negotiation.
Follow our tips on negotiating a salary in Germany to score a more attractive job offer and come to an informed and thoughtful decision about whether or not to accept that offer.
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