Crash Course in Berlin Job Hunting – First Careers Evening at ECLA of Bard

Although one of the cheapest cities in Germany, Berlin of course, like everywhere else, requires financial resources from those who want to fully experience the city in its dazzling diversity. No wonder that from the very first months at ECLA of Bard many students start trying to find part-time jobs for English speakers in Berlin, browsing career websites and exchanging useful links via Facebook. Apart from campus jobs, some of us have already had experience in babysitting, bartending, cleaning, promoting, or doing paid and unpaid art internships – depending on the level of German and connections available. As spring is the perfect time to start the application and interview process for specialty full-time jobs in your areas of interest, ECLA of Bard introduced the Careers evenings for students already considering options for full time employment following graduation.

Recruitment Coordinator Stephanie Hausotter started the main part of the meeting by sharing her own experience. An American citizen, she came to Germany for graduate school. As she found Berlin “easy to fall in love with,” upon graduation Stephanie decided to find a job and stay here. Back then, US citizens had to undergo a number of bureaucratic procedures, which to a greater or lesser extent, those of all nationalities must negotiate. In the ensuing conversation, we discovered the legal requirements of residency in Germany post-graduation and the conditions for undertaking a job search.

Health Insurance, Residence and Work Permits

Quite an important thing every Ausländer should understand is the division of roles between the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigners’ Registration Office), which issues residence permits, and the Bundesagentur für Arbeit/ZAV (Federal Employment Agency/International Placement Services), which provides work permits. Depending on the country of citizenship and the obtained degree, there are different categories of student who receive various residence/work rights and possibilities on the territory of the EU. During our meeting, Stephanie presented detailed information about obtaining the residence/work permits for the representatives of different countries, and gave us a brief overview of the regular insurance policy in Germany.

As I come from Europe yet from outside of the European Union, most of my job applications are not considered immediately because of my citizenship and the available types of visa – therefore, I was quite skeptical about my potential employment perspectives in Berlin. However, understanding the specifics of German institutions and the employment procedure for non-EU citizens, along with valuable advice from Stephanie and peer students, helped me realize my previous mistakes and devise a new job searching strategy. In order to win a spot under the career sun, one needs to be more competitive than the residents of the country, so the most likely way to succeed is to search for narrow-profile specialties or language-related jobs.

CV and Cover Letter

According to Stephanie, it’s useful to have a two-page CV both in English and in German (PDF format only!), and keep them both up-to-date. Use the Europass CV format to create a multi-purpose CV. For German employers, a quality photo on the CV is a must, which does not necessarily mean an expensive  professional studio picture. German CVs also include the birth date and birthplace, family status and signature (if you apply online you have to scan it). In addition to the CV, write a basic cover letter stating your job experience, qualifications, goals and interests, and adapt it to the particularities of each company. German companies prefer solid packages of documents, so don’t forget to support the application with reference(s) and diplomas in PDF format.

My brief job search experience in Berlin taught me that it’s necessary to collect references and recommendations even for one-time uncomplicated jobs. Don’t forget to ask for a short letter of recommendation next time you work somewhere!


From the Careers evening presentation, we also learned that the best resources for job search are professional newsletters, websites of companies you are interested in, professional social networks (LinkedIn, Xing) and website change detectors. English- and German-language city guides like Exberliner, Tip Berlin or Zitty regularly publish job ads on the last pages. Try to google jobs for your nationality or for the languages you speak (e.g. jobs for French, jobs for Russian speakers). Do not shun unpaid internships – they are a foot in the door. Short-term internships can turn into 6-month or even 2-year contracts – of course, in the case of a remarkable job performance. Again, never underestimate networking: every single person in your community should know that you are looking for a job, so that they can inform you immediately upon discovering an appropriate opportunity.

Job for Money or Job for Experience?

From my experience, before immersing yourself in the whirlpool of job search, it is necessary to know your main motivation. For those who desperately need money as soon as possible, it is better to check websites with immediate short-term jobs. As there are hundreds of English-speaking expats in Berlin hunting for a job, you will need to react swiftly and be the most convincing. Apart from searching for a particular position, it is possible to offer your services. If you can speak an in-demand language, or give vocal/instrumental/dancing lessons, edit and proofread texts, or anything else which can be useful, post an ad about private lessons on the classifieds sector of employment websites and magazines, or spread flyers in English-speaking bars and expat hot spots in Berlin.

Recent graduates searching for professional development should identify the areas in which they would like to develop: ecology, human rights, art etc. Then, you should create a list of major international organizations in these fields which often hire multilingual interns (like WWF or Amnesty International), and prominent local enterprises (for example museums and theaters in Berlin). Afterwards, you should check all the websites for open calls from these institutions and, in case you don’t find any, write a letter or even make a phone call to introduce yourself. Open calls for entry-level jobs are often not announced, but they may be suggested to people who express their wish to work with a particular organization, thus direct contact is probably the best option. In general it is advisable to be in the habit of checking the “Careers” section on every single visited website, just in case. Finally, there is no need to be afraid to send your résumé if you don’t meet one or two requirements listed in the job offer: if everything else looks fine and motivation is sufficient, luck may be on your side.

Extra advice:

  • Come up with a 2-3 minute compact history about who you are, what you want to do and why you would make a great employee, in case you meet the CEO of a major company in the elevator or in a coffee line at Starbucks. You should always be ready to present yourself briefly in the best possible way, both in written and verbal form.
  • Berlin is a city of both high competence and high unemployment, so it can be easier to find a position in other big German cities – Munich, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Essen, Stuttgart etc. However, if you are enamored with the “poor but sexy” Lebensstil of the capital and its round-the-clock art activities, this option probably won’t work for you.
  • Ask a German-speaking friend to come along to any place where you will have to deal with bureaucracy. Be sure to make an appointment in advance, and bring all the required documents arranged according to the list.
  • If you seriously want to stay in this country, put all your efforts into learning German this spring and summer. Make German friends, go to German speaking get-togethers, order food in German even in a McDonald’s or Starbucks, and never part with your Deutsches Lehrbuch. Germany offers amazing possibilities for polyglots, so don’t postpone and better spend time learning the language now, in order to make it simpler later.

Besides all the tips above, try to appear in the right place at the right time: active theatre-going dramatically increases chances to make connections and find an internship in the art world.  After all, one shouldn’t underestimate the role of chance in job hunting: occasional conversation in the U-Bahn or chatting after the film screening can do more than hundreds of sent CVs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.