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EXPLAINED: How to boost your career chances in Germany

Two women and a man walk side by side in Frankfurt am Main.
Two women and a man walk side by side in Frankfurt am Main. Photo: picture alliance / Arne Dedert/dpa | Arne Dedert
Often seen as one of the world’s most productive economies, Germany is a magnet for international workers. But once you’ve got a job in Germany, how do you keep moving upwards? Sarah Magill lays out some tips and useful German words.

Upgrade your language skills

There’s no getting around it – if you want to advance your professional career in Germany, you need to speak the language.

As a general rule, the B1 or B2 level of the Common European Framework of Reference is required to get a job in most German speaking companies. In some professions, the German language is legally required: doctors and teachers, for example, are obliged to have a particularly high language level.

In many other professions, it is up to the employer to decide what level of German language skill is required.

Of course, many people come to work for international companies in the big German cities where English is the spoken language and manage to get by with little to no German.

But if you’re serious about moving upwards in Germany,  you’ll need to broaden your network and skills, for which speaking the language is a must.

READ ALSO:  Do you need to speak German to get a job in Germany?

Do your qualifications need to be recognised?

In Germany, Ausbildung (training) is everything. On many career paths, you won’t be able to progress beyond a certain point unless you have a specific qualification.

Copies of foreign certificates in an office of the “Law and Fair Play” department of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Ulrich Perrey

Depending on the job you are doing, it may be necessary to have your qualifications officially recognised.

In Germany, there are so-called regulated professions whose admission or practice is bound by legal and administrative regulations to certain professional qualifications. These include, for example, doctors, psychotherapists, nurses, lawyers, teachers and engineers. For these regulated professions, official recognition of your qualification is a must.

This means that the competent professional body will check whether your foreign qualification is equivalent to the corresponding German qualification or whether there are significant differences that you can compensate for by obtaining a further qualification or taking an exam. 

Get on board with German business culture

Different countries have different customs and the German workplace is no exception. While in other cultures the personal relationship may play an important role in a business context, in the German working world the focus is absolutely on the matter at hand.

Generally, personal and professional life are kept very much separate, so don’t start off your new job by showing your boss photos of your kids.

READ ALSO: Working in Germany: The three tricks to impress managers

Another thing to get used to quickly is the direct style of communication. Germans tend to communicate very directly and explicitly – including criticism – so learn to take things on the chin and convert criticism into improvement.

Consistency and reliability are also seen as especially important traits in the German world of work. There are usually binding rules and structures in place to foster certainty in dealings with each other.

And of course, as with every other aspect of German life, a high standard of punctuality is expected in the German workplace. You won’t get far with your career in Germany if you turn up late to meetings – even by two minutes.

The home page of the online professional network LinkedIn is seen on a computer monitor. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jens Büttner

Networking and self-promotion

As in most other countries, networking and self-promotion is very important in Germany. Don’t kid yourself that being good is enough – you need to put put yourself in the spotlight sometimes, and be seen too.

A lot of professional networking now goes on online, so make sure that you are present on sites such as LinkedIn and the German equivalent XING, with up-to-date career information and a professional photo. Keep your network updated on these sites by adding people you encounter in business circles. 

READ ALSO: How to reach out to German employers on LinkedIn or Xing

Be friendly 

Although you should strive to keep your personal and private life separate, being polite and friendly with your colleagues and external contacts goes a very long way in Germany. 

It can be simple as starting every email with a nice, personal introduction and exit, remembering your colleagues’ birthdays, having lunch with your team or getting an occasional round of sweet treats in from the local bakery. 

Also stick to the polite Sie form of German, at least until you get the green light to use du. Although with senior colleagues, you may always use the Sie form.

Useful vocabulary

Karriereleiter erklimmen = to climb the career ladder

Die Abschätzung = appraisal 

Der Aufstieg = promotion

For friendly emails

Ich möchte Sie fragen, ob…

I’d like to ask you if…

Würden Sie mir freundlicherweise … zusenden…

Would you be so kind as to send me…

Ich wäre Ihnen sehr dankbar, wenn Sie … könnten..

I would be very grateful, if you could…

Vielen Dank im Voraus

Many thanks in advance 

Ich würde mich freuen, bald von Ihnen zu hören.

I’d be happy to hear from you soon 

READ ALSO: 21 phrases to help you get on in a German office


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