Why it's a myth you need to know German to get a job

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Chris Pyak - [email protected]
Why it's a myth you need to know German to get a job
A recruiter looks at an applicant's CV. Photo: Despositphotos/alexraths

Many job ads in Germany list - not surprisingly - speaking German as a requirement for the job. But this shouldn't scare you away from applying, argues career coach Chris Pyak in the first career column in a new series.


Valentina sat in her little apartment in Bogota and decided to move to Germany. She sent a single job application and immediately got the job. Her employer let her start in English and learn German “on the job”.

True story.

Unfortunately, for most international professionals who move to Germany, the reality looks quite different. You have an excellent education and an impressive list of achievements. But many employers don’t even bother to send you a rejection letter when you apply. Somehow, we Germans don’t seem to care about your contribution to our economy.

I do.

This is why I was happy, when The Local invited me to start a bi-weekly column about the job hunt in Germany. Because most of what people are telling you about it is complete nonsense.

For example, this argument:

“You need to speak German.”

I don’t know how often I heard it from German HR, employers and thousands of international professionals who shared feedback from their job applications with me.

But is this actually true?

What about this job for example? Head of HR insisted that fluent German is an absolute “must” for the position. She hadn’t received a single job application in six months, but no argument would convince her otherwise. The job was: To cold call companies in France and sell them tires.

Or take Naveen’s example. He had already been rejected by HR. “You need to speak German”. But Naveen, who is a software developer, disagreed. After consulting with me, he reached out to the department head directly. After a short conversation it became clear: The whole department spoke English at work. Everyone there was a foreigner. Naveen got the job.

The truth is: “You need to speak German” is in most cases a purely emotional response. Not a careful analysis of the challenges and desired outcomes of a position. Rather than trying something new, German employers invest their energy in finding artificial obstacles to hiring you in English. (“We speak English, but our clients are all Mittelstand and they won’t agree to talk English with you” is a favourite among consultancy companies.)

FIND A JOB: Browse thousands of English-language jobs in Germany

Exclusive: Don't miss Chris Pyak's Expat Career webinar, in partnership with The Local. More details at the end of the article.  

These apprehensive applicants can still qualify for a job in Germany without speaking German. Photo: Depositphotos/baranq

I’ve been analyzing the complete German job market since 2013. The overwhelming number of jobs for professionals with a university degree can be done in English. Software engineers, data analysts and business developers don’t need German.

Companies like Trivago, Rocket Internet and Zalando all prove that it is possible to run the whole organization in English. And these companies reap the benefits of offering the few English jobs in Germany: Trivago gets about 40,000 job applications a month. Zalando told me in my podcast that they get over 100,000 job applications per year.

At the same time more than half of all German companies say that they have to reject orders, because they lack skilled employees to fulfill them. But still: “You need to speak German”.

You can do a good job in English and learn German “on the job”. Many large companies even pay for their employees to take courses. Employers already lose business, because they don’t have enough professionals. Why do they not hire you?

Because your real obstacle to a job in Germany is not “the language” – it’s prejudice.

“Was der Bauer nicht kennt, das frisst er nicht“ is a saying in Germany. "The farmer won’t eat, what he doesn’t know.“

And you are an unknown fruit.

Chris Pyak holding up a copy of his book 'How to Win Jobs and Influence Germans'. Photo courtesy of the author.

In this column I will share tips on how you win the farmer's trust, so that he will finally have a bite. Because that’s good for you and for the farmer as well.

If you are a member of The Local and you have a question about the job hunt in Germany: Feel free to drop me a line here. I will pick a question and give an answer every week.

Chris Pyak is the author of “How To Win Jobs & Influence Germans“. The managing director of Immigrant Spirit GmbH has worked in four different cultures and lived in five different countries.

Chris returned to Germany in 2011. His mission: Bring the Immigrant Spirit to his home country. Chris introduces international professionals to employers in Germany

He offers a range of courses to help internationals break into the German job market. On June 25th he will host a free webinar exclusively for The Local's readers. Find out how to sign up by clicking the banner below. 


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Anonymous 2020/03/10 19:55
Just a small point, “You need to speak German.”isn't an argument, it's a statement ??

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