Tips for your career start

A multiethnic team in conversation
© Getty Images/Koh Sze Kiat

By alumni for alumni

Jose Bolaños, Jessica Schüller, Ajita Shringarpure and Aigul Zhalgassova have found interesting jobs in Germany after their studies at German universities. Here they relate how they managed their start.

What made starting your career in Germany easier?

Ajita Shringarpure: The most helpful aspect was that I’d already mastered German to B2 level. That meant I was better prepared to apply for positions, could generally communicate better and make new contacts.

Aigul Zhalgassova: My first boss, an experienced partner in a consultancy firm, gave me a valuable tip during our first project. He advised me to: ‘Always focus on the expectations. What are the client’s expectations? What should be the outcome of a task?’ In other words the priority is expectation management.

Jessica Schüller: My recommendation for anyone wanting to work in Germany is that they should at least successfully complete a work placement here. Because the difference between and in their country of origin can best be understood based on practical experience.

Jose Bolaños: In my case, my career development in Germany was made easier by understanding the organisational landscape that’s relevant to my topic. I tried to gain an overview of the organisations that are involved in environmental protection. And I completed internships and got involved in volunteering. Not to earn money, but to establish contacts. I’m still benefiting from that today.

What specifically did you find helpful?

Ajita Shringarpure: It was useful that I’d read lots of blogs about the personal experiences of students and others working in Germany. I also made contact with people on LinkedIn who’re doing something similar to me.

Jessica Schüller: I spent a lot of time researching sectors and companies. That didn’t just help me with finding a job, it also gave me a good overview of career options in my field of work. I also concentrated on acquiring that are specific to my specialism.

Jose Bolaños: Especially early on, I attended lots of events arranged by environmental organisations so that I could meet people from my field of work. So in my spare time I was a member of UN-Funken, the carnival association for staff of the international organisations in Bonn.

Aigul Zhalgassova: My previous working life involved managing projects, solving problems, developing concepts – yet the crucial thing was that I built wonderful relationships with people. So my advice would be to show interest in your team. Tell them about yourself. Think of your counterpart as a unique and exceptional person with whom you’re likely to spend more time than with your circle of friends.

What would you have liked to know in advance?

Ajita Shringarpure: It wasn’t clear to me that employers in Germany place great emphasis on specific skills, such as being proficient in certain application programmes and being able to substantiate this. Certificates are very significant in Germany. I had certainly read that workplace communication in Germany is very direct and less restrained than I’m used to from my home country, but it took me a while to get used to it.

Jessica Schüller: Work experience is generally more important in the USA than your university degree. I wasn’t aware that this is different in Germany. If you want to progress professionally in higher education administration and management, then you need the equivalent of a master’s degree or even a doctorate. A bachelor’s degree alone isn’t sufficient.

Jose Bolaños: The communications industry involves you having to constantly change and adapt. The constant dilemma is whether to try to be a generalist or to specialise. Although in my view that always depends on the specialism.

Aigul Zhalgassova: Sometimes it’s even expedient not to know everything, and to be unbiased. I, for example, only learned about the Germans’ supposed objectivity in an intercultural training course years after my arrival in Germany. They are said for instance to be less interested in activities outside of work. I can’t confirm such stereotypes. For me it always comes down to the individual person.

What mistakes can be made and how can they be avoided?

Jessica Schüller: I frequently observe two mistakes in my work with international students. Many don’t spend enough time . And secondly, I can’t stress often enough the importance of German language skills. Your job and career opportunities are so much better if you have a professional command of the language.

Jose Bolaños: Speaking German, no matter how difficult it may be, is certainly a major advantage for integrating into life and work in Germany. If I could turn back time, I’d definitely put more hours and effort into learning the language.

Ajita Shringarpure: You should never stop learning German. And you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, even if they seem so trivial.

Aigul Zhalgassova: You can indeed never ask enough questions. My former team leader once asked a colleague for a figure. This colleague drew the statistics from several systems and meticulously transferred them into an elaborate PowerPoint presentation. It took two days. The team leader later said that a two-liner would have sufficed.

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