THE REALITY OF FINDING WORK IN BERLIN IN 2023

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 posts 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, we collectively realized this was (and is!) an undeniable truth.

In this article, we’ll explore just why it’s easier for some than others and highlight certain realities you need to know about when looking for work in Berlin – or all of Germany for that matter. We’ll also address the ongoing effects of the pandemic, as well as the war in Ukraine, all of which have contributed to an alarming rise in inflation, massive layouts, a likely recession, and an energy crisis. So while finding work isn’t impossible, it’s unfortunately, more difficult than it’s ever been.

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THE REAL DEAL ABOUT FINDING WORK IN BERLIN

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 also point you to 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 of finding work here.

Why It Can Be Hard To Find Work In Berlin

It depends on a number of factors, like 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 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
  • Nurses
  • 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 work in one of these professions, some companies will go above and beyond to bring you here. While people in these fields may entertain multiple job offers with high salaries, there is a larger group of people who sadly aren’t as fortunate.

Check out this article where we more closely examine Germany’s in-demand professions and provide 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 until you learn the language. Being fluent is a requirement for nursing, so you can speak with patients and colleagues, read the 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 (not all) educational programs are offered only in German, so again, the grasp of the language becomes a critical success factor for finding work in Berlin.

Read our take on the situation with English-speaking jobs in Germany and why it’s so important to learn German.

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 bottom line, 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 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 almost always hand the visa to the person with the degree.

In cases where employers really want to hire, they can appeal your case by providing appropriate justifications. These appeals require a high level of commitment and investment from your employer and are usually quite successful.

Sadly, many companies won’t take this route, as it is timely, resource-consuming, and expensive. Typically, German companies will usually 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. 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 a 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, many companies are short on cash and don’t have so many options.

While the country has done much to make the barrier of entry for working in Germany easier, old practices remain, and sadly, finances still guide businesses in making their decisions. 

5) There are incredible 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 in the recruiting process. 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 color. 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 “childbearing” age. I could go on and on with different examples.

Many people carelessly dole out advice about your needing to inject an excessive amount of information into your CV – a photo, your date of 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.

Read this guide about whether or not you should add a photo to your German CV.

Use your own judgment 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. The good news is that the Berlin state passed an anti-discrimination law prohibiting discrimination and enabling victims of discrimination the ability to hold guilty parties accountable for their actions.

There’s so much power in being aware of potential 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 isn’t so easy. Some apply for countless jobs for which they are very 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. Or read our guide about how much it costs to move to Germany.

The fortunate ones getting job offers may still come into a bad fortune. While visa applications are processed much faster than they used to be, it can still be a lengthy and complicated undertaking. 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 visas, 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 for that long (you need to have financially contributed to the country’s coffers for 12 consecutive months 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, local blogs, and Youtube channels. 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 living 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 favor and get information from valid sources like your employer’s human resource department, official government websites, immigration lawyers, and/or professional companies offering relocation services.

We especially loveBecause Berlin, as they provide visa and other information about finding work – for free and in English!

8) Global issues have severely affected the job market in Berlin (and Germany)

Soooo much has changed in our world since I delivered that workshop.

We saw what COVID-19 did to the world and Germany wasn’t isolated from its impact. Borders closed, companies went bankrupt overnight, and people lost their jobs, with the more fortunate only surviving due to good luck, solid financial planning, and/or government assistance. While Germany fared the pandemic pretty well compared to others, the effects are still being felt. Not all businesses recovered, unemployment continues to be higher than before the pandemic, and the short-term work program (Kurzarbeit) continues due to our poor economic outlook.

It was predicted that 2022 would be a better year but then it got complicated. China’s strict zero Covid policy exacerbated already strained global supply chains. All the while, inflation continued to rise. Many industries continued to suffer from a shortage of workers. Worst of all, Russia invaded Ukraine resulting in a devastating war. The combination of all of these things is putting many countries in a precarious economic position.

Read our guide about how to help Ukrainians in Berlin.

All of these things have a massive impact on Europe, and Germany is no exception. The sanctions imposed on Russia come at a cost (well worth bearing of course!), rising prices at the supermarket are putting the poor in Germany at risk, the cost of gas at the pump has many people leaving their cars at home, and energy costs are doubling, even tripling, leaving many fearful at being able to pay their utility bills.

Our reliance on Russian gas and oil left Germany exposed after the war broke out. Since Russia turned off gas to Germany in August 2022 and both the Nordstream 1 and 2 pipelines were blown up not long after, dependence on gas from Russia is finally finished. While these events drove up energy prices, gas storage tanks are almost full for the winter and we even have an excess supply. While it will take some time still, some finance experts are predicting an eventual end to the energy crisis sometime in 2023 or at the latest, 2024.

Read our guide about How To Save Energy In Germany This Winter

To prepare for this winter, the European Union has asked all countries to reduce their energy use by 15%. The government is turning off the lights of public landmarks in Berlin, rental companies are capping how high tenants can turn up their heat, companies are being asked to keep their heat down, people are taking shorter showers and cooking less, and landlords increasing warm rents (I received notice of an increase in Aug 2022). The government has already been actively helping out the population date, with the monthly €9 nationwide transit ticket over the summer, a one-time cash offering of €300 in September and other tax relief measures, and scrapping plans to levy excess energy costs on customers. There are plans to cap energy prices, pay our December energy bills, and a €49 monthly ticket follow-up.

Read our guide about the3,000 inflation bonus in Germany. If you’re living and working in Germany, you might be able to get this tax-free bonus.

Regardless of these measures, the overall economic situation isn’t expected to ease anytime soon and regular folks are going to feel it financially. As of October 2022, a recession is still being predicted for Germany. There’s no denying that things are tough for the moment and the future isn’t looking bright. However, there are still things to remain positive about and while we should remain extremely vigilant like working to save money and conserve our, there’s no reason to panic yet. All of the measures above are helping, the labor market remains strong and companies are still hiring.

See our growing list of companies hiring in Berlin right now.

What Does This Mean For People Who Want To Come To Berlin

With all this uncertainty in the air, companies are already taking measures to prepare themselves for a long lean period. In June alone, more than five Berlin-based companies laid off hundreds of employees and it’s expected that this trend will only continue. Many organizations have put various cost-cutting measures in place, like hiring freezes or only hiring locally for example.

While some companies may not fare the weeks, months, and years ahead, other companies will survive and some will even thrive. And lucky for anyone looking to relocate to Germany, the country is still desperate for skilled workers – a need that will only increase as the population ages. Even better, Olaf Scholz’s new government plans to make integration way easier for newcomers to Germany.

How Can You Overcome These Hurdles 

What can you do to find work in Berlin during these hard times? How can you overcome the obstacles of finding work here? Here are 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 labor 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 a 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 German 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 cover letters. 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 paying 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.

7) Look for companies that are more established and have proven financial resilience and look for other companies that might be new or have a bright future ahead. Be cautious and think seriously before taking work at a start-up. Be wary of tumultuous industries, like the on-demand grocery and food delivery one where layoffs have been especially prevalent recently. Really research the companies you want to work for and whatever you do, arrive with a minimum of three months of savings that will cover all of your living expenses.

Now you know about some of the realities 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.

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About Our Author

  • Cheryl Howard

    A Canadian in Berlin for 10+ years, I have the unique experience of moving to Berlin - not once, but twice. I’ve had five different visas and worked as both a freelancer and a permanent employee. As a longtime Berliner, career coach, and hiring manager, I write guides about living and working in Berlin, offer coaching sessions, and provide ways to get connected to a wider community. The combination of my personal and professional experience means I know exactly what it takes to move to Berlin and find work.

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