How to get hired at a Berlin startup
Published on: 13 Oct 2014 16:13 CET
First, the good news: now is the "perfect time" to be looking for a job in a technology startup in Germany.
That's the message from Simon Schaefer, founder of Factory Berlin, a space which hosts a concentration of some of the capital's most cutting-edge businesses.
He told The Local that the mood is buoyant and “the war for talent is on.”
Eleonore van Boven, global recruiting director at audio sharing site SoundCloud, agrees.
“There's a huge uptick, especially in Berlin. The tech scene is really booming, there's a lot of recruitment going on,” she says.
“In technical areas, it's a very tight market. If they come across a talented person, companies are very willing to hire them, even if there's not an active vacancy at the moment.”
How do I get noticed?
According to Schaefer, the most important thing that job-hunters can do is make themselves known in what is ultimately quite a small community.
“You need to get to know the people and actually mingle and be where they are,” Schaefer says. “That significantly increases your chances.
“Come visit, get to know the place and get involved in the events around startup culture and be a part of the motivation of startup people to mingle and discuss. You will find a way in if you try hard enough.”
“You need to have the right mindset to come and work for a startup,” agrees journalist David Knight, editor of the Berlin tech site Silicon Allee.
“Some of the most successful newcomers that I've met have spent time going to events and meeting people, volunteering to help out, running the stage or whatever.
“When they decide what they want to do, they have the network.”
Businesses are also actively working to seduce people into their fold, says van Boven, especially highly talented programmers.
“Companies put a lot of effort into broadcasting the content and the technical complexity of the challenges that they have internally,” she says. “They will put in a lot of effort to come to you.”
There are all kinds of meetups publicized online for specialists in arcane corners of programming, design, and other fields. A good place to start is meetup.com, which is especially popular with the tech scene.
Should I apply from abroad?
With so much emphasis on face-to-face networking and personal contacts, it might seem daunting to shoot for a job in Germany when living abroad – especially if you don't have the all-important EU passport.
However, van Boven says it's easier than it seems.
“Germany is absolutely open for highly talented people from outside, especially for difficult-to-find skills. It should definitely not be a show-stopper whether you are in Germany or not to apply for these roles.”
Knight confirms that for the right candidate, businesses can be willing to go the extra mile.
“I know of a startup that interviewed someone in Spain on Skype in the afternoon, put him on a plane the same evening and he was at work the next morning,” he says.
"The labour market is getting more and more international," van Boven points out.
"Companies don't limit their search only to the local labour market, and the same thing goes for applicants."
What if I'm not a techie?
Don't count yourself out of working for a startup if you haven't been tinkering with the guts of your computer's operating system since before you could walk.
“Anyone who can program an Xbox and use Facebook should have the mental capacity to be working as a marketing intern in a startup,” Schaefer jokes.
Higher up the chain, van Boven points out that the advice about investing time into networking pays off no matter what field you're interested in.
She also recommends that “for the more commercial roles, marketing, corporate functions, make sure you have an active and up-to-date LinkedIn profile. Referrals are used a lot.
“You can also directly search and follow companies that you're interested in – make sure that you follow all of them on social media,” she says.
Do I need German?
If the thought of wrestling with the case system and adjective endings gives you night terrors, you can relax, says Knight. “It's not a requirement like it would have been five years ago.”
“If you apply for a job as a technologist in a Berlin startup, not at all,” Schaefer confirms.
“If you work in an established company that is more German-market-focused, then it becomes more relevant.”
Do startups only exist in Berlin?
Absolutely not, Schaefer says.
“There's a lot of things going on in Frankfurt, in Hamburg, in Munich.
“Munich specifically is the old-school tax base of Germany, that's where all the larger companies are.”
However, the capital is “probably the epicentre for new companies - if you're looking for the most fun, Berlin is where you should be based.”
Knight agrees that there's something special about the capital, saying that “Berlin is more of a culture beyond just a working lifestyle.
“Part of the reason why startups have been so successful [here] is because the lifestyle and the culture of Berlin combines very well with the sort of people who want to work in those companies.”