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Working in Germany: It’s a myth you need to speak German to land a job

German career Coach Chris Pyak sheds light on the number one worry he sees among his job seeking clients - and explains why it's easy to overcome.

Working in Germany: It's a myth you need to speak German to land a job
A woman at a job interview. Photo: Depositphotos/eggeeggjiew

Since 2013 I have helped international professionals to get English jobs in Germany. Over the years I guided hundreds of internationals in their job hunt in Germany. Thousands participated in my yearly Expats Career Survey.

Here's the number one piece of feedback which I receive: “They say I need to speak German to get a job.”

But is language really what keeps you from being successful? In my analysis of the German job market I realized that the majority of all job openings do not require German language skills.

READ ALSO: Find English-language jobs in Germany

Only a few exceptions

Sure, there are jobs like medical doctors and nurses where the German language is a legal requirement. A lawyer or an accountant won’t get anywhere without reading German law – which is confusing enough for native speakers, let alone foreigners.

But these jobs make up a very small percentage of the available job offers. The majority of all jobs that demand a university degree are software developer, consultants, analysts, sales people, project manager, engineers and manager.

A recruiter looks at an applicant's CV. Photo: Despositphotos/alexraths

I regularly interview companies that hire professionals for all these positions – and they do a great job in English. The challenge: Only 1% of German companies are so forward thinking that they hire in English. 

Most HR departments still insist on fluent German language skills. 

Over the years, I have easily talked to over 800 HR managers. There are the extreme cases where an HR manager insists on “fluent German” – for a sales position that focuses on cold calling corporate clients in France.

'German required'?

And there's also the not so seldom case when international candidates were told “German required” by HR – just to discover that the whole department works in English after they talked directly to the manager with my help.

This is what makes me really sad: I have analyzed the German job market for six years already. I speak to hundreds of HR managers and department heads. Thousands of expatriates share their story with me – and I don’t see progress.

Here is the thing: In way to many cases it is not “German language”, that holds you back. It’s discrimination. 

The German “Institut für die Zukunft der Arbeit” (Institute for the Future of Work) is a government agency. It tested how many job applications the average candidate needs to send in order to secure one job interview.

Here are the results of the survey – and my advice on how to deal with this situation.

ABOUT CHRIS PYAK

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.

Member comments

  1. This article does not make much sense at all to me. I would imagine that anybody who moves to a new and foreign land, and wants to call it home, would want to learn the their host’s customs, language and integrate as fast as possible. I think the author here expects the whole world to became anglised and speak english. For example, if I wanted to live and work in Turkey, I certainly would not expect my perspective boss to speak English, just to facilitate me. I would expect him to speak his native language. I am sure, his native language, and customs etc are very important to him, because that is how he is, his identity. If I wanted to have a successful life, career in Turkey, I would naturally immerse myself in Turkish culture. Become ‘More Turkish, than the Turks themselves’. It’s basic common sense really.
    And headscarves? I thought the article was about lack of basic, functional language skills in the German labour market.
    This article is absolute rubbish, and the author’s insinuations at the end of the article are particularly annoying and irksome.

  2. However the author makes a good point: why are HR departments requiring German skills for a job where you don’t really speak German but English. That sounds like discrimination to me.

  3. I do think discrimination exists but not in this sense. Discrimination is when you speak German and they still dont choose you. You are in Germany, if they can find someone know the language with good skill, why would they choose you? Being hamonized with the company culture and the colleagues is important. It doesnt make any sense when everyone have to speak English while they are local because only 1 staffs speak English. You can finish your job but you will always feel you are out of the group and will end up think they discriminate you. I am Vietnamese and I am not yet good in German. Dont make excuse!

  4. @Dame Good:

    What you said is hypocritical. You go to Turkey and you must integrate because your boss’s identity and culture are important to him. But what about yourself? Isn’t your identity important? Why should you change just because you’re working abroad? English is an established international form of communication, it doesn’t hurt your identity.

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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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