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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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How German companies are getting creative in the search for skilled workers

From 'speed dating' to spontaneous careers counselling, companies are starting to think outside the box to find the workers they need amid Germany's worsening labour shortage. Here are some of the creative hiring practices going on.

How German companies are getting creative in the search for skilled workers

As trains arrive and depart from Frankfurt’s main station, anyone curious about a change of career can find out all about the positions at Deutsche Bahn without even leaving the platform. Elsewhere in Germany, recruiters are turning to a new interview format where hopeful applicants get to know companies in the space of just five minutes. 

To find new employees despite the tight labor market, more and more companies are using creative approaches to recruiting staff.

At DB, the company is eschewing the impersonal online world for an in-person drop-in centre conveniently located in stations in both Frankfurt and Leipzig. 

“In the DB Job World, interested parties can simply drop by without an appointment and inform themselves about the more than 500 professions at DB in a relaxed atmosphere,” Annamaria Dahlmann, head of recruitment at the company for Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland told DPA. 

Originally, the location in Frankfurt’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) – which was formerly home to a travel agency – was opened as a careers counselling service for Ukrainian refugees, in cooperation with Germany’s Employment Agency. 

Within six months of opening in April 2022, the site had become exclusively dedicated to jobs at Germany’s national rail operator – for all nationalities. However, one of the original visitors from Ukraine now works there as a counsellor, giving multilingual advice on weekdays about opportunities to join DB.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The German industries most desperate for skilled workers

The DB careers drop-in centre in Frankfurt am Main

The DB careers drop-in centre in Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

“We conduct 100 to 150 consultations here a month,” said Dahlmann. “About five to ten of them are hired every month.”

From managers to homeless people, apprenticeship seekers to career changers, the people who come to the centre have a range of backgrounds, explained Florian Brech, a project manager at Job World.

The spontaneous contact points in Frankfurt and Leipzig are among the many small building blocks the rail firm is using to recruit personnel. DB is hoping to hire around 5,000 new employees in Hesse each year, and more than 25,000 across Germany.

“As a company, we are also applying to people to some extent with the offer and approaching them with it,” Dahlmann said.

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: How to get an English-speaking job in Germany

Skilled worker shortage

The state-owned rail operator is far from the only company trying to find new ways to source the workers it needs in Germany. 

According to the Federal Ministry of Economics, there are around 630,000 vacancies in Germany that can’t be filled with skilled workers due to severe labour shortages in the country.

This is largely to do with changing demographics: while swathes of workers from the baby boomer generation are entering retirement, fewer and fewer young people are joining the workforce, and those that do may not have the skills they need for the jobs available.

The ministry estimates that by 2060, one in three positions will go unfilled – but only if Germany doesn’t attract enough workers from abroad. 

This is the thinking behind the government’s new skilled worker immigration law, which is designed to encourage young people with skills or qualifications to move to Germany long-term. In the meantime, however, recruitment experts say that companies will need to be far more proactive in reaching out to potential job applicants.  


One example is the Stell Mich Ein (Hire Me) platform, which has been organising speed recruiting events in the communications industry throughout Germany since 2012. The events are based on the speed dating format and generally take place in major cities like Frankfurt, Hamburg and Berlin as well as online, giving recruiters from design, PR and marketing agencies a chance to meet numerous candidates face-to-face.

A hiring manager and applicant shake hands at a job interview.

A hiring manager and applicant shake hands at a job interview. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

“Today, companies have to be active in their search for applicants,” project manager Steven Hille told DPA.

At the Stell Mich Ein events, 30 career starters and young professionals can get to know up to ten agencies in the space of one evening. They provide one application and take part in up to ten snappy interviews at different companies – generally lasting no more than five minutes. Once the rapid-fire interview is over, applicants change tables just like they would at a speed dating night. 

While companies pay €1,500 to take part in the event, entrance is free for applicants – though the process is selective.

The organisers select from more than 100 applicants on the basis of their online applications, references and career goals. 

“Companies hire an average of 1.25 people per event,” explained Hille. “Every third applicant finds a job after participating.” 

READ ALSO: Which sectors are looking to hire in Germany?

Of course, it’s normally not as simple as signing a contract after just five minutes: the mini interviews are usually followed by more formal interviews and potentially a concrete job offer at a later date. 

Nevertheless, the format has been so successful that other industries have started to adopt it as well. Most recently, Stell Mich Ein worked with the tourism and travel sector to launch a new platform called Easyboarding, which uses the same speed-dating interview process.

“Especially in tourism, the Covid pandemic has opened up large gaps in personnel,” said Hille. “Speed recruiting at events is intended to help overcome the shortage of skilled workers.”