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

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.

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

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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Reader question: Is it ever legally too hot to work from home in Germany?

Germany has regulations on working during a heatwave - but does that also apply to people who work remotely? We take a look.

Reader question: Is it ever legally too hot to work from home in Germany?

The number of people working from home shot up during the Covid pandemic, and though employees no longer have the right to work remotely by law, many have chosen to stick with more flexible arrangements and set up a home office at least part of the week.

This is great news for people who enjoy a lie-in more than a long commute, but there are some downsides. One major issue is that it’s not always clear how Germany’s strict employee protection rules actually apply in a home setting. The rules for working during a heatwave are a good example of this.

How does Germany regulate working in extreme heat? 

By law in Germany, employers are responsible for creating a safe environment for their workers. This means that they should try and keep the temperature below 26C at all times and are legally obliged to take action if the temperature goes above 30C. 

That could include putting blinds on the windows to prevent the glare of the sun, installing air conditioning systems or purchasing fans. In some cases – such as outdoor manual labour – it could also involve starting and finishing earlier in the day. 

And in really high temperatures, employers may simply decide to call the whole thing off and give their employees a ‘hitzefrei’ day – basically a heat-induced day off – to go and cool down in a lake. However, business owners are generally given free rein to decide how hot is too hot in this instance (except in the case of vulnerable workers). 

READ ALSO: Hitzefrei: Is it ever legally too hot to go to work or school in Germany?

Do the heat rules apply to ‘home office?’

Unfortunately not. In most cases in Germany, the company isn’t directly involved in setting up the workspace for an employee that works from home, aside from possibly providing a laptop or phone for remote use. 

“The occupational health and safety regulations regarding room temperature do not apply in this case,” labour law expert Meike Brecklinghaus told German business publication T3N. “This is because the employer does not have direct access to the employee’s workplace and in this respect cannot take remedial action.”

That means that on hot days, it’s the employee’s own responsibility to make sure the environment is suitable for working in. 

woman works from home in Germany

A woman works in her living room at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Naupold

One duty employers do have, however, is to instruct their workers about the best way to set up a healthy work environment at home, for example by giving guidance on how to regulate the temperature. 

“In the end, it is the employee’s responsibility to maintain his or her workplace in a condition in which he or she can perform his or her work without the threat of health impairments,” Brecklinghaus explained.

What can home office workers do in hot weather?

There are plenty of ways to keep flats cooler in the summer months, including purchasing your own fan, keeping curtains or blinds drawn and ventilating the rooms in the evening or early morning when the weather is cooler.

However, if heat is really becoming a problem, it’s a good idea to communicate this to your employer. This is especially important if you have a health condition that makes it more dangerous to work in hot weather. 

In some cases, you might be able to negotiate for the employer to pay for the purchase of a fan or mobile air conditioner as goodwill gesture. If possible, you could also arrange to travel to the office where the temperature should be better regulated.

Another option for early birds or night owls is to arrange more flexible working hours so you can avoid sweltering at your desk in the midday sun, although this of course depends on operational factors. 

READ ASO: Jobs in Germany: Should foreign workers join a union?