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Three obstacles for foreigners in Germany

What holds back talented foreigners in Germany's job market? Recruitment expert Chris Pyak looks at three misconceptions which may be hindering your success when applying for jobs.

Three obstacles for foreigners in Germany
Photo: DPA

“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.

Search hundreds of job vacancies here

 

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. 

SEE ALSO: Migrants held back in German job market

 

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WORKING IN GERMANY

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

Taking the decision to go it alone and freelance in Germany can be a daunting prospect. But, if you do it right, it can be an exciting and liberating path. Here are some of our top tips on how to survive.

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

1. Get a tax advisor

The German tax system is complicated, even for Germans. All the associated paperwork uses the Amtsprache (authority language) which is more like legalese than ‘normal’ German, and mistakes when filling out tax forms can cause you, at best, a massive headache and, at worst, a costly fine. So it’s best that you employ someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.

That person is called a Steuerberater (tax advisor) in Germany. They will help you register with the tax office, correspond with them and submit your tax declarations.

Be aware that, in Germany, different deadlines apply for tax returns depending on whether you employ an official tax advisor or not. If you are doing the tax return on your own, the deadline for submitting your annual tax return is earlier than if you use a tax advisor’s services. 

READ ALSO: What NOT to do when you’re freelancing in Germany

When looking for a tax advisor, a top tip is to use your network to get recommendations. Ideally, you want someone who will do more than just fill in the forms for you, but who will actually advise you on how best to manage your business finances so that you can make tax savings.

2. Keep your accounting in order

The better you keep your own accounts in order, the easier it will be for your tax advisor to compile your tax declarations and therefore the cheaper their services will be.

As a freelancer, there are a lot of costs you can deduct from your taxes – from train tickets, working materials, to meals out – so it’s best to keep hold of all your receipts and to keep them in good order.

2 euros and 50 cents lie on a receipt in a beer garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In Germany, you’re obliged to keep hold of receipts for two years, in case of a tax inspection, so it’s a good idea to photocopy the type of machine-printed receipts you get from restaurants so that they stay legible for a long time.

There are also a few things to be aware of when writing your own invoices. Firstly, make sure that you include your tax number. This isn’t the 11-digit Steueridentifikationsnummer that everyone gets when registering in Germany, but the 10-digit Steuernummer you get from the Finanzamt after registering yourself as a freelancer. 

Most companies won’t pay you if you don’t have this on your invoices so make sure you include it.

You should also make sure that you number your invoices properly – ideally in ascending order so that you can easily keep track of them. You are not allowed to issue two invoices with the same number and if you do so and the finance office notices, you could face an inspection of your whole accounting system.

There are numerous great accounting software programmes you can use to help you, such as Lexoffice and Sevdesk and, even if you have to pay for them, the costs will be tax deductible!

3. Find out if you’re eligible for financial support

In Germany, there are several opportunities for freelancers to gain financial support and to cut their outgoings, and its worth finding out if you’re eligible for them.

If you’re claiming unemployment benefits under ALG 1 and are thinking about becoming a freelancer, the employment office offers a special type of financial support to help you to get your freelance business off the ground.

Called the Grundungszuschuss (“foundation grant”) the payment is a six-month grant equalling your monthly entitlement under ALG 1 plus €300 towards your insurance costs can be applied for those in receipt of this unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

If you are engaged in some form of artistic profession in Germany – which can include journalism to pottery – you may be entitled to membership to the Kunstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance).

Being a member of the KSK means you only have to pay half of your health insurance and pension contributions, and the KSK will pay the rest.

4. Work out how much you think you will earn

As with starting any business, you need to have some idea of your expected earnings from the outset.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or have some freelance gigs on the side of an employment position, then it might be worth considering registering yourself as a Kleinunternehmer (“small business”).

As a Kleinunternehmer, you can currently earn up to €22.000 per year without having to charge VAT and having to submit only yearly tax declarations. 

An income tax declaration form lies on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hans-Jürgen Wiedl

Be aware that if you are registered as this kind of freelancer, you must include the following sentence in your invoices: ‘Gemäß § 19 UStG wird keine Umsatzsteuer berechnet’ which means ‘In accordance with Paragrah19 of the German VAT law, no VAT has been added to this invoice.’

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

If you think you will earn more than €22.000 per year, you will need to pay Umsatzsteuer (VAT) and will have to submit tax declarations in advance and more often. Depending on how much you earn, this could be every month or every quarter. 

5. Get your insurance in order

In Germany, it’s a legal requirement to have health insurance.

If you’ve just made the move from employment to being a freelancer and want to keep the same health insurer, you should get in contact with your health insurance provider straight away to tell them about your change of circumstances. They will ask you to re-register and to tell them your projected freelance earnings for the year, so they can amend your monthly fees.

If you don’t keep your health insurer provider updated, you could continue to be charged the higher rate that you had from your previous salary.

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

It’s not just health insurance you need to think about as a freelancer. It’s also wise to think about protecting yourself from any sort of claims that could arise as a result of any working mishaps. 

If, for example, you lose your laptop which contains confidential client information, you need to be protected against claims.

That’s why it’s good to have both Betriebshaftversicherung (business liability insurance) and Rechtschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance).

6. Plan your time wisely

All of these bureaucratic obligations take time. So it’s really important that you take account of that when planning your time. For example, planning half a day a week to deal with your invoices, filing, emails to clients, and conversations with authorities can be really beneficial when scheduling your working time. 

7. Grow your network

As a freelancer, networking is absolutely crucial to success. 

Keep an up-to-date profile on websites like LinkedIn and German equivalent XING and keep in contact with anyone you’ve ever worked with, no matter how brief the contact was. 

Having a network is not only about getting more clients, but also about building a support network in your field to exchange advice, tips and generally for your own enrichment. 

Participating in workshops related to your field, going to seminars, and meet-ups, can be great ways of broadening your network. 

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