How embracing Germany’s naysayers could help you get a job

Having a career culture shock in Germany? Our jobs coach Chris Pyak lays out how learning to embrace the differences, frustrating as they might be, can help you snag that dream position.

How embracing Germany's naysayers could help you get a job
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Life has been the same for a very long time. Nine months went by, one day just like the other. Yet last night at 00:40 CET that changed. I took my wife to the hospital. The contractions were strong, they came in a short interval. Twelve hours later and we…

…are still waiting. No baby yet.

Why am I telling you this? Well, there are a number of lessons here for your job search in Germany.

First: Just because things have “always been this way” doesn't mean that they won't change – and change both drastically and instantly. 

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

Think about the last three big opportunities that worked out for you.

How much did they depend on someone having trust in you – without actually knowing you first hand? How much did they depend on a recommendation by a friend? How much did they depend on the reputation of your university or your previous employer?

These are all shortcuts for decision making: Someone trusts in something that they know. This something or someone is connected to you – therefore they trust you.

SEE ALSO: How to be seen as the best candidate for that job in Germany

Once you start searching for a job in a foreign country, this shortcut doesn't work anymore. Chances are, nobody has ever heard of your university in Germany. You have nobody here who could vouch for you. This means you start with zero social capital – but you also get a fresh start.

The lesson here: Embrace change, even if it's scary!

A success story

Realize that you need to change a lot in your life if you want to be successful in this new environment. Even more important: If your refuse change yourself, then how will you convince a German employer to embrace change?

Human resources in Germany, for example, is known for being a notoriously tough department which applicants have to go through before their CVs can even be glanced at by managers in the company. They may be quick to turn down applicants before giving their documents a proper read.

But remember: as the name connotes, they are also just people, and hence could be willing to give you a second chance if provided with additional supporting documentation or if you write a convincing enough argument on why it's worth giving you a shot.

One former job seeker we spoke to was rejected by the HR department of a large German company because he lacked one of the technology skills the firm had listed under their criteria.

In his home country, his university had provided a different type of training. Yet he wrote to the HR representative, pointing out the similar skills he possessed, and how he was currently enrolled in an online course in Germany to bring him up to speed with the company's standards.

The HR representative gave him a second glance, and he snagged the job, where he's now happily been working for the past three years.

Germany is full of people who will find a problem for every solution. “Bedenkenträger” is what we call these people. “Concern carriers”, otherwise known as naysayers.

Professionals who can provide a fresh point of view, who are willing to take a calculated risk are rare and valuable. Make “Change” with a capital C your value proposition..

Because hiring you means to do something differently.You are “not what we are used to”. Your university name means nothing to us. Your references are sounds without meaning. You need us to take a risk and embrace change. You can only do this if you embrace change yourself.

SEE ALSO: Eight things Germany has to do to attract (and keep) international talent

That's the next lesson: change is what make you valuable to us.

I discovered this a long time ago: Whenever my coaching clients find companies that are changing – they have better than usual job opportunities. May it be that it is a brand new startup, a new division in an established company or simply a new boss: Whenever something is changing, the chances of “different” candidates are better than usual.

Moving to Germany can lead you to a new and better career. It also gives you the opportunity to start with a clean sheet – like a new born baby. Embrace the change.


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.

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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.