“Sorry, we cannot evaluate the Bachelor’s degree of the candidate. That’s why we decided to go with another option”. This was one of the more frustrating experiences in my work as a recruiter in Germany.
My candidate had a Bachelor’s degree from Africa and a Master’s degree from the UK. The HR department felt unsure about the unfamiliar African university and decided to play it safe. What she ignored was the Master’s degree came from the University of Cambridge.
How can it be that human resources in a medium size company declined a candidate from one of the best universities in the world?
How come the life experience and professional achievements of international professionals can often find so little appreciation in the German job market?
In a normal week I speak to the HR departments of about 50 companies. I also coach an endless stream of international professionals and have worked myself in five different countries before returning to Germany after ten years abroad.
And I’ll let you into a secret - the reasons why expats don’t find jobs are different from the reasons that we like to tell ourselves.
Three misconceptions hinder the success of international professionals in German businesses.
1. ‘HR want the best candidate’
Chances are that you are well educated, highly motivated and you possess a proven track record of achievements in your previous jobs. Naturally, your presentation and CV is focusing on these strengths.
Unfortunately this is lost on most HR people because you don’t address the one thing that HR really care about. They do not want the best candidate. HR want to not be blamed for mistakes.
Consider who chooses a profession in human resources (at least in Germany). HR people seldom become members of boards. The departments attract a high percentage of people who want to play it safe.
Therefore, if you are the best candidate for the job, but you also have a lot of question marks, they will reject you. “Better safe than sorry” is the HR motto.
To people with this “safe” mind-set everything unfamiliar equals “dangerous”.
First tip: reduce the number of “question marks” in your application as much as possible before you talk about your contribution to the company.
Work experience in Germany, good German language skills, recommendation by mutual contacts, offering a free internship as a chance to get to know each other - all of this helps reduce the perceived “risk”.
Try also to circumvent HR and talk directly to the head of the department you would like to work in.
Build a strong network with German people as well. They will know about job opportunities long before you do and could reduce the perceived risk if they introduce you.
2. ‘Work for an English speaking company’
You are in a great market; for every three employees who retire in Germany only two young people start their career.
For 40 years our birth rate has been way to low and as a result the replacement rate will soon be only 1:2. Many companies have to search for months for new talent and still cannot fill positions.
But are you profiting from this?
One of my clients is the travel website trivago. The business language at trivago is English. Employees from 60 different countries work in the company’s headquarters in Düsseldorf. Trivago gets hundreds of applications, while many German companies can’t find talent anywhere.
It is a great place to work for English speakers, no doubt. So, they all apply there. And suddenly you go from a market where you are unique and precious to a market where you are one of way too many.
Where will you get a better job, better pay and a great career? In a job market where you are one out of thousands of candidates? Or in a market where you are one in a market of two, three applicants?
All you need to benefit from the second scenario is to learn the German language. Then you can apply where your contribution is much needed - in the German speaking companies in our country.
3. ‘I’m not a sales person’
My recruiting company receives about 100 CVs per week. Many are from great candidates. What still surprises me though is how many of them do not really try to make a connection between themselves and the vacancy.
Sometimes we receive applications which don’t have cover letters or don’t even mention the position for which the candidate is applying.
When you apply for a job, sell yourself. Selling means correctly identifying a need and offering a solution.
Do not send out hundreds of standard applications. Pick those companies that you would really love to work for. Formulate why working for them would be great. Learn about their real needs and talk about how you can contribute to their goals.
It sounds obvious, but it is frequently ignored.
Our culture and work habits in Germany are different from your home country. Not better or worse – just different. How successful you are will depend on how well you adapt.
Chris Pyak is a business writer and recruiter. His company Immigrant Spirit recruits and retains international talent for companies in Germany.
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