The Reality Of Finding Work In Berlin In 2021 – It’s hard to believe that in early January 2020, I hosted an in person workshop about how to find a job in Berlin, inspired by an old blog post on that very topic. At the time, I advised people that while it was possible to find a job in Berlin, that it was easier for some than it was for others.
There are certain realities you need to know about finding work in Berlin and with the ongoing pandemic, a recession, and higher than normal unemployment rates, finding work is unfortunately, more difficult than ever.
Recommended reading: Use Make It In Germany’s quick check to find out about your chances at finding work. Although this tool was created in the pre-Corona times, it still offers up helpful insights.
The Real Deal About Finding Work In Berlin In 2020
You may think that I’m taking on a negative stance and being unnecessarily discouraging. It’s not about that at all, it’s more about being realistic and properly setting expectations for those wanting to move to Berlin and start a new life.
I’m deliberately assuming this position to help people clearly understand what they’re getting into before they start planning their move. There are far too many local content creators out there who paint a very rosy picture of life in Berlin; one that’s very misleading and often, blatantly untrue.
Here you’ll find my unabashedly honest opinion and accurate information from someone genuinely wanting to help. It comes from me, a person who’s been around the Berlin scene long enough to tell you a war story story or two. I’ve lived in Berlin since 2011 (with a two year break when I moved home to Canada) and I’ve personally been through plenty of job related hardships. Since moving here, I’ve held 5 different visas and worked as a freelance and permanent employee at eight different companies. I even found a new job during the pandemic.
In addition, I’ve listened to and spoken with a lot of people over the years. Those in my friendship circle, job network, my former Make Friends in Berlin meetup group comprised of more than 7,000 people, and in my Facebook support group with more than 5,000. Because of those countless conversations, I’ve come to understand more and more, that there are a number of reasons that finding work in the German capital can be extremely difficult.
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. Professional areas where Germany needs people (source):
- 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 only 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.
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, your chance to find work is dismal at best. While many doctors know English, many other healthcare staff such as nurses or administrators do not. Unless you can speak and read German at a native level, you’d have difficulty finding anyone wanting to hire you.
Additionally, some professions require that you take additional schooling to level up to German standards before you can even start working. 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.
Recommended reading: Our detailed article about the situation with English speaking jobs in Berlin.
While it is 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.
Anyone who tells you that it’s easy to find jobs where German isn’t required doesn’t understand the complexity of the situation. Or they operate within a bubble that hinders them from seeing the perspective of people other than themselves.
Not speaking German can be a major blocker and prevent you from finding work.
3) Most German employment visas require you having a university degree
Most visas require that you possess a university degree. 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 rare 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 are usually successful.
Sadly, many companies won’t take this route, as it’s timely, resource consuming, and expensive. Companies will usually take the easier way out and hire a person with a degree so they can avoid 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 corona.
While the country has done much to make the barrier of entry for working in Germany easier, old practices still remain and finances still (and probably always will) 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.
Anyone who tries to say finding work in Berlin is “easy” is naive, uninformed, and out of touch. Frankly, they are coming from such an entitled position of privilege that their tone-deaf advice makes me really *bleeping* angry.
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.
Know I say these things to be truthful and in no way do I want to damper your hopes of finding work in Berlin. Keep up with your job search in earnest, as good employers (those you’d really want to work for) will hire you regardless.
There’s power in being aware of possible biases, as you can then more easily overcome them 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.
Recommended reading: 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 COVID-19, the visa applications are taking longer than ever as there’s a backlog that they haven’t managed to get under control yet.
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. 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. They paint a picture perfect Berlin lifestyle – living in a trendy area, working for an international startup, going to parties and clubs all of the time, etc. Unfortunately, they tend to gloss over how difficult it can be to find work, an apartment, or make friends.
Reading those articles or watching those Youtube videos isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but consider the source and question, question, question.
Are they knowledgeable and do they know what they’re talking about? What are their qualifications? For example, someone who’s only lived in Berlin and worked at one job isn’t really the best person to tell you how to find work in other parts of Germany. The work situation in the capital is way different than the rest of Germany. If someone is offering coaching calls, do they even have relevant experience or related professional coaching qualifications?
Consider their motivation. Do they stand to make money from you because they are selling a book or other services? Is their information even correct? I’ve personally read a lot of articles full of misinformation.
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, people like immigration lawyers, and/or professional companies offering relocation services.
One such example is Because Berlin, an official service of Berlin Partner and the Senate Department for Economics, Energy, and Public Enterprises. They offer help in English and best of all, help walk you through all that daunting administrative paperwork for FREE! Get in touch to see how they can help you. Because Berlin also offers very reliable and up-to-date information on how the Coronavirus may affect your plans to move here.
Note: Even while I publish a lot of content about life in Berlin, I’d never ask that you solely rely on my website for guidance and help. I urge you to take what I write here with a “grain of salt” and seek out more authoritative sources. For example, my opinions can be wrong, visa processes and laws are subject to frequent changes and I may neglect to update my site quickly enough.
8) COVID-19 has severely affected the job market in Berlin
This brings me to my very last point, the massive elephant in the room, and that’s COVID-19. So much has changed in our world since I delivered that workshop back in January of 2020. 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 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.
Recommended reading: 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 workers have lost their jobs due to the ongoing lockdown measures that have been in place since November 2020. The sector has seen staggering revenue losses of more than 75%. We can expect the lockdown to continue for the first quarter of 2021 and possibly beyond, while we wait for the numbers to go down, winter to pass, and more of the population receives the vaccine.
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. The longer the lockdown and recession continue, the more businesses will close their doors and the more people will lose their job,
So what does that mean for people who want to move to Berlin and find work? At the moment, nothing good and it would be incredibly remiss to say otherwise. I cannot stress enough, please do not believe the rosy content creators out there telling you to come here, that lots of companies are still hiring people from abroad, that Germany is doing well right now.
We’re not doing well. While the borders reopened in the summer of 2020 and the government started processing visa applications, the number of newbies coming to Germany are quite low in comparison to pre-corona times.
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)? People already living within the EU can easily relocate to Berlin, but their job search will still likely not be an easy one.
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.
Be patient, brush up on your German, do your research about Berlin, and that positive development will happen.