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EXPLAINED: How to boost your career chances in Germany

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.

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

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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For members


EXPLAINED: The German industries ‘most affected’ by skilled worker shortage

Germany's shortage of skilled workers has reached a new high with almost half of firms struggling with staff shortages, according to a survey.

EXPLAINED: The German industries 'most affected' by skilled worker shortage

In July, 49.7 percent of companies surveyed by the Munich-based Ifo Institute said they were affected by the lack of skilled workers. 

This is the highest figure since researchers launched their quarterly survey in 2009. The previous record was 43.6 percent in April.

“More and more companies are having to cut back on business because they simply can’t find enough staff,” said Stefan Sauer, a labour market expert at the ifo Institute.

“In the medium and long term, this problem is likely to become more severe.”


Since the survey started, the problem has increased significantly. At the beginning, around 10 percent of businesses reported being affected by worker shortages. But by 2019 this had climbed into the range of around 30 percent. 

The Covid crisis caused a temporary slump, but since the beginning of 2021, numbers have been rising significantly.

Service providers most affected

The service sector is the most affected with 54.2 percent of companies saying they are struggling to fill vacancies, up from 47.7 percent in April. Within this group, accommodation and event industries came in above this sector average at around 64 percent. In warehousing and storage, 62.4 percent of firms were affected. 

The service sector is followed by manufacturing, with 44.5 percent of companies saying they can’t find staff. Within that group, 58.1 percent of food manufacturers said they faced problems caused by staff shortages. Around 57 percent of manufacturers of data processing equipment and of metal products are also having difficulty finding qualified staff.

In the retail sector, 41.9 percent of companies say they have problems with a lack of staff. In construction that figure is 39.3 percent and in wholesale, it’s 36.3 percent.

The pharmaceutical and chemical industries report the lowest shortage of skilled workers, with 17.2 and 24.1 percent of companies respectively reporting that they are affected by staff shortages.

The automotive industry is also below average with 30.5 percent of firms reporting issues with staffing, as is mechanical engineering, with 43 percent.

Germany’s labour shortage is causing major concerns. A report by the IAB Institute for Employment Research from earlier this year found 1.74 million vacant positions across the country. 

The president of the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts and Small Businesses, Hans Peter Wollseifer, recently spoke out about the issues. According to Wollseifer, the skilled crafts sector in Germany alone lacks at least a quarter of a million qualified employees.

Meanwhile, between 15,000 and 20,000 apprenticeship places remain unfilled every year, signalling problems for the future. 

As The Local has been reporting, the government is pushing ahead with plans to reform immigration law in a bid to attract talent from abroad to fill jobs.

“We want to make it easier and faster for foreign skilled workers to find their way to Germany,” said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser and Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (both SPD) recently.

The plans for a reform of immigration law could be presented as early as autumn.



Skilled workers – (die) Fachkräfte

Labour market – (der) Arbeitsmarkt

High/peak – (der) Höchststand

Service providers – (die) Dienstleister

Temporary employment – (die) Zeitarbeit 

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.