The Reality Of Finding Work In Berlin In 2021 – It’s hard to believe that in early 2020, I hosted a workshop about how to find a job in Berlin, inspired by one of my blog post on that very topic. At the time, I shared a slide that read “Finding a job in Berlin, is almost a job in itself.” and advised that while it was possible to find a job in Berlin, that it was easier for some than it was for others. As the workshop unfolded and people shared their personal stories with one another, we collectively realized that this is an undeniable truth.
In this article, we’ll explore just why it’s easier for some than others and highlight realities you need to know about when looking for work in Berlin. We’ll also address the effects of the pandemic, which include slowed migration levels, a recession, and higher than normal unemployment rates. So while finding work is not impossible, it’s unfortunately, more difficult than ever.
The Real Deal About Finding Work In Berlin In 2020
We believe it’s important to learn about the reality of working in Berlin long before you pack your bags and move here. If you know about potential obstacles you may face, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to overcome them, like learning German for example. We’ll point you to plenty plenty of resources to help you navigate the experience of looking for work in Berlin, like Make It In Germany’s quick check to find out about your chances at finding work here.
Why Is It So Hard To Find Work In Berlin?
It depends on a number of factors, including what you do for a living, which languages you speak, whether or not you need a work permit, your level of education, where you live, and much more:
1) Finding a job in Berlin is easier if your job is in demand
If you work in a field that’s in demand, it’s definitely going to be easier for you to find a job in Berlin. Professions where Germany needs people include:
- Software developers, architects, programmers
- Electronics engineers, electricians, electrical fitters
- IT consultants, IT analysts
- Economists, business management experts
- Customer advisors, account managers
- Production assistants
- Sales representatives/assistants
- Sales managers, product managers
- Architects, civil engineers
People in these fields are exceptionally privileged when it comes to finding work in Germany, as this group is not representative of everyone but a lucky few. If you fall into this area, some companies will go above and beyond to bring you here. While people who in these fields entertain multiple job offers with high salaries, there is a larger group of people who are not as fortunate.
Check out this article where we examine Germany’s in demand professions and discuss steps you need to follow to move to Berlin and find work.
2) Finding work in Berlin is hard if you lack the essential language skills
Even among the people who work in these high demand professions, it’s still murky. For example, if you’re a software engineer from the US with zero knowledge of the German language, you may find a company willing to hire you, help you relocate, and assist you in getting the appropriate work permit. Yet if you’re a nurse from the US with zero knowledge of the German language, you won’t be permitted to work in Germany at all. Being fluent is a requirement for this profession, so you can speak with patients and colleagues, read paperwork, and more.
Additionally, some professions require that you take additional schooling to level up to German standards before you can get permission to start work. Many of the educational programs are offered only in German, so again, the grasp of language becomes a critical success factor for finding work in Berlin.
Read our take about the situation with English speaking jobs in Berlin.
While it’s possible to find a job where you work only in English (read about why more and more German companies are switching to English as their spoken language in the workplace), it’s not as common as you may think.
So bottomline, not speaking German can be a major blocker that prevents you from finding work.
3) Most German employment visas require a university degree or vocational training
Most visas require that you possess a university degree or have taken vocational training. Someone without a degree may have loads of experience and be better qualified than another candidate with a degree who’s applying for the same position, but the government will always hand the visa to the person with the degree.
In some cases, employers who really want you can appeal your case by providing appropriate justifications. These appeals require a high level of commitment and investment from your employer and actually, usually quite successful. Sadly, many companies won’t take this route, as it’s timely, resource consuming, and expensive. German companies usually hire a person with a degree so they can avoid all of the hassle.
4) Not all German companies want to sponsor your work permit
Taking it even further, employers often don’t want to hire someone who requires a visa due to the time, money, and resources involved. Quite often, they can find equally qualified people, either Germans, or others from the EU who don’t require a visa. The choice is then easy and obvious, as they’ll hire the candidate who doesn’t require a work permit.
Obviously employers should hire you regardless and while we don’t agree with them not hiring you because you lack the education or require a visa, it’s simply how things in some companies, especially right now when many companies are short on cash due to the pandemic.
While the country has done much to make the barrier of entry for working in Germany easier, old practices remain and finances still guide businesses in making their decisions.
5) There are undeniable biases in the recruiting process
A sensitive issue that many people fail to mention in their content about finding work in Berlin and something that could adversely affect your ability to do so is bias! This bias can come in many forms, including racism, gender, age, sexual preference, marital status, spoken languages, where a person lives, and more.
It’s essential to understand that these biases cannot be underestimated or discounted.
If you have a German name, you’re more likely to find work than someone with a “foreign” sounding name. If you’re caucasian, you’re more likely to find work than a person of colour. If you’re young, even without that much experience, you’re more likely to find work than a 50+ seasoned career professional. If you’re a man, you’re more likely to find work than a woman who’s married and at a “child bearing” age. I could go on and on with different examples.
Many people carelessly dole out advice about you needing to inject an excessive amount of information on to your CV – a photo, your date or birth, your marital status, and even the number of children you have. “It’s just standard practice in Germany.” they say, as if it makes it right. Yes, many Germans put this information on their CV, but don’t feel pressured to do so.
Use your own judgement and do what you feel is appropriate. Just be aware that all of this information, such as how you look or how old you are, could lend to bias (either purposeful or unconscious) that affects whether or not you’ll be considered for a job.
Good news is that the Berlin state recently passed an anti-discrimination law prohibiting discrimination and enabling victims of discrimination the ability to hold guilty parties accountable for their actions.
There’s do much power in being aware of possible biases, as you can then more easily overcome them, seek local support, and call it out when it happens.
6) Many people apply for countless jobs and still don’t find one
Loads of people apply for jobs in Berlin. While there are success stories – some people find jobs within days or weeks, even fielding multiple offers. For others, as mentioned above, it’s not so easy. Some apply for countless jobs for which they are qualified and still get no interviews. Some score loads of interviews but somehow still don’t land a job. Some never find a job at all and aren’t able to stay in Berlin, as time and money runs out and they’re forced to return home.
Check out our cost of living in Berlin post to help you plan a monthly budget for your Berlin life.
The fortunate ones getting job offers may still come into bad fortune. While visa applications are processed much faster than they used to be, it can still be a lengthy and complicated undertaking. Due to the pandemic, the visa applications are taking longer than ever as there’s a backlog that they haven’t managed to get under control yet (even over a year in).
I’ve seen colleagues have theirs approved in less than two weeks and known others where it took more than three months. Some employers can’t or won’t be willing to wait that long and may cancel your contract during the processing period. Even worse, there’s also the chance that the foreigner’s office could turn down your visa and deny any of your employer’s appeals.
Even worse, I’ve known people who received their visa, showed up to work, and were laid off on their first day! Yes, their very first day! Some companies play a dirty game and don’t look out for their potential employees. When this happens, you’ll be given two weeks pay and sent on your way. If you haven’t been in Germany before this or for that long (you usually need to have financially contributed into the country’s coffers for more than a year through wage deductions), you won’t qualify for any state assistance. You’ll need to handle all of your expenses on your own, including health insurance. If your visa is tied to your job, time will start ticking for you to find a new job before you’ll no longer be permitted to stay in the country.
7) A lot of people rely on bad sources of information
Another point to consider when searching for a job in Berlin, or all of Germany for that matter, is to consider your sources. You’ll see lots of click baiting headlines for newspaper articles, expat blogs, and Youtube videos. They’ll tell you how easy it is to find a job here, even when you don’t know German, or have the required education, skills, and/or experience. The content tends to be overly positive, lacking research, and highly superficial.
Reading those articles or watching those Youtube videos isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but consider the source. Are they knowledgeable? What are their sources of information? What are their qualifications? What are their motivations?
To be frank, you’ll also find that some of these content creators are Caucasian who live fairly affluent lifestyles. Many of them don’t have insight, or empathy for that matter, into what people from different backgrounds experience. They’re convinced that if they found a job in Berlin, that everyone else can too, even though that logic is inherently flawed.
So while anecdotal information can be helpful, do yourself a favour and get information for valid sources like your employer’s human resource department, official government websites, immigration lawyers, and/or professional companies offering relocation services.
8) COVID-19 has severely affected the job market in Berlin
This brings me to my very last point,and that’s COVID-19. So much has changed in our world since I delivered that workshop. Borders closed, companies went bankrupt overnight, millions of people lost their jobs while the more fortunate are only surviving due to good luck, solid financial planning, and/or government assistance.
Germany didn’t escape COVID-19 unscathed and even though the country has faired pretty well compared to others, the effects of the Coronavirus are still being felt and will be for a long time to come. We’re in a recession, there are many unemployed, lots of people are on government assistance (both the employed and unemployed), and jobs openings are few. The jobs that are there have way more applicants than ever before and the competition is fierce to say in the least.
While things are still rough job wise for many people in Germany, there are still jobs out there. See our growing list of companies hiring in Berlin right now.
While German unemployment numbers seem low when looking at other nations, one needs to consider how many companies are taking part the nation’s short term work program, Kurzarbeit. We’re now going into the second year of the program being offered to German companies and just in Berlin and Brandenburg alone, tens of thousands of companies are still relying on this assistance.
The program provides financial to companies to get through tough periods such as the one we’re in right now. Employees hours and salaries are reduced with the company footing some of the bill, and the state topping it up to a degree. Benefits vary depending on whether you have children, your salary level, and whether you live in the former East or West Germany. The government even increased basic contributions in the fall of 2020. While you receive a reduced salary, your job is guaranteed with the hopes the company will emerge financially victorious on the other side of the crisis.
While the temporary relief of the Kurzarbeit helped usher many German companies through the economic crisis of 2008, this round is showing record numbers of companies signing up to take part of the program. These benefits are not intended to last forever and at some point the government will close down the program (the benefits are slated to last until December 2021). We can expect that many companies won’t make it through and will close their doors or reduce their workforce, resulting in many more people losing their jobs.
This has been especially prevalent in the hospitality sector, as people like restaurant and hotel lost their jobs due to the ongoing lockdown measures. The sector has seen staggering revenue losses of more than 75%. While business picked up again this summer, their numbers are low. We now have to wait and see what will happen as the Delta variant continues to spread, the fall and winter season arrive, and vaccine skeptics hold out on getting their jabs. It’s reasonable to expect restrictions and possibly lockdowns on the horizon.
This is why the current unemployment statistics are hugely skewed. Those on Kurzarbeit are counted as still having jobs and as the program continues or ends, we’ll naturally see the numbers go up.
As such, it’s still true to say that people wanting to come here from somewhere outside the EU will have a seriously hard chance of finding a job. Why would employers recruit internally when the position can be filled by someone already here, especially when the country is plagued with record employment and a high number of people on social assistance (at levels not seen since German reunification)? Although people already living within the EU can easily relocate to Berlin, their job search will still likely not be an easy one.
Despite everything we outlined above (we know this is a heavy topic!), it’s not all doom and gloom and it’s still possible to find work in Berlin.
What Does This Mean For People Who Want To Come To Berlin For Work?
So what does that mean for people who want to move to Berlin and find work? It means that while it’s possible to find work in Berlin, that for some it will be easy and for others, it will be very difficult. We’d be incredibly remiss to say otherwise.
With time (maybe not even that much time?) the situation will surely change as the economy starts gaining traction once more. It’s said by some like media outlet DW that Germany is poised to recover faster than most countries, seconded also by the New York Times, and just as before Coronavirus, they’ll require skilled workers more than ever.
How Can We Overcome These Hurdles And Find Work In Berlin?
What can you do to find work in Berlin during these hard times? How can you overcome the obstacles of finding work here? Here’s some of our top tips:
1) Learn German and if you can, to the point of fluency! 96% of all jobs on the German market require German language skills, so widen your pool of potential job opportunities and increase your chance of finding work in Berlin. Not only that, German language skills will help immensely when you’re searching for an apartment or dealing with the country’s infamous levels of bureaucracy.
2) Reference authoritative websites, such as official government ones or newspapers like The Local, that offer accurate and up to date information on visas and the current labour market.
3) Find your community and start building a professional network. You can join our Facebook group with more than 8000 other job seekers, or add yourself to our LinkedIn connect and exchange list. Attend related professional meetups – you’ll find tons of them on Meetup. Berlin Boss Babes is fabulous and supportive community, as is Black Brown Berlin, Unicorns In Tech, and Black In Tech. Start following locals on Instagram, Twitter, and more. Not companies, but real people who are genuinely happy to connect and support you, while not charging you money. Find people who can connect you to others, give you advice on how things are in Germany, and can be your biggest cheerleaders when you’re searching for a job.
4) Put together a compelling job application package (CV, cover letter, etc.) that follows German standards and will get you noticed by Germany employers. We have tons of guides on these very topics in our Working In Berlin section, where we provide tips on creating a German CV, as well as a cover letter. We offer tips on how to reduce bias, like not including a photo on your CV or if it makes sense to write your CV in German.
5) Take advantage of free resources to help move here and find work without breaking the bank. Visit websites like ours, or All About Berlin and Settle In Berlin. All of these websites offer free and high quality content. If you’re unemployed in Berlin and registered with the job center, you can usually get career coaching services without having to pay (check our list of professional career coaches, some of whom offer free or discounted services). If you’re confused about your visa or have general questions about the German job market, get in touch with Because Berlin.
6) Hire a relocation company or consult with a coach. They can really help you figure things out, alleviate a lot of stress, provide you with relevant resources, and more.
Our hot tip? If you’re going to pay someone to help you move here, either an individual or company, do your research before parting with your hard earned money. If someone is offering coaching services, look into their credentials and qualifications. Anyone can call themselves a “coach” these days, and website testimonials/reviews can easily be faked, so look deeper. Have they been formally trained or educated as a coach and possess any degrees or certifications? Do they have relevant work experience? Do they offer a complimentary meeting where you can learn more about each other first, before you have to pay for their services. Experience, qualifications, and a free call are all positive signs that you’ve found yourself a good coach. There’s nothing wrong with paying for content or services, if you genuinely get what you pay for, but do your due diligence.
Now you know about some of the realties you may face when looking for work in Berlin and some of the things you can do to overcome them, you can take concrete action about what to do next to make moving to Berlin and starting work a reality.