Is this you?
You recognise yourself that you have limited German or Swiss German language skills and you attempting to find a job in a small segment of all the available jobs in Zürich.
You need to be prepared to be flexible, to consider a different role to that you are in today, so think hard as to how important Switzerland is to you and your career. Many smaller companies have English as their stated company language, yet when you work day to day, you find the culture and language use is local Swiss-German. It can work both ways, a Swiss factory manager had the shock of his life when a German Head Office spoke English on all conference calls with him and his staff at the Swiss subsidiary. His company was based just east of the boundary of the canton of Zürich when it was acquired. He had to employ a local English teacher to quietly sit in on meetings and pass conversation notes to staff in German.
Swiss workers will often speak several languages, yet at the same time give the impression they only know Swiss German and a “little English” but be fluent in the other national languages of French and Italian.
As an English speaker, the more German language skills you have, the better you will do in your job search. Switzerland has had a lot of immigration for many decades and is a highly attractive country to secure work in because of the often strong Swiss Franc. This means in your search for an English speaking job in Zürich, you may be going head to head in the final interview rounds with a local, or person from France or Germany who may have “national language advantage” over you.
You need to be resilient and aware of the difficulties and influences upon your job search
The education system may be different to that you are familiar with in your own country, it means over 50% of school leavers at the age of 16 do not go through the familiar path to attend university. Many will balance work with study at a technical or profession related school, often going to get a Bachelor degree later whilst working with many years of experience in their field of work when compared to a university graduate from say France or Spain. It also explains why Swiss employers are very focussed on qualifications, which major was studied and the thesis topic for a Masters, not just professional experience.
It is a reason why a quick scan of courses offered by ETH will help you to frame your CV education section. Hiring Managers will see some courses more frequently than others, if your studies included a component mentioned, consider highlighting it. It is what they are used to reviewing when selecting candidates for interview.
There is a reducing need for English lessons to be taught to employees, the Cambridge First Certificate is often secured by school leavers or apprentices as a mainstream qualification. As a business in Switzerland has become more global in the past 20 to 30 years, the school curriculum has adapted in the last decade especially to ensure future Swiss employees are given the chance to study English. Prior to that, the focus has been on local languages so those in work aged 35 or over may have had fewer opportunities to gain a qualification, so do not assume they will have reason to communicate with you in English.
Why we advise research, prepare, reflect, research, prepare, check, seek advice and form your plan A and plan B before you get here!
If you are going to secure a nice job with Google or another major employer and be hired by their recruiters who sourced your profile off Linkedin, you are at an advantage to the person reading this and thinking of building a network and finding a job on their own efforts. Yet who will integrate the best? What happens if you are made redundant or a contract is terminated? You get a job but your partner struggles to find one for a year, what do you do?This is why we suggest a Plan A and a Plan B, because the job market is very tough, competition is high and outside Zürich, many people like we said before will spend their day speaking Swiss German at work.Many local Zürich hiring managers and HR teams will not consider candidates who they feel they need to be flexible with, a compromise for language skills and experience is very rare, if at all a possibility.
Switzerland’s largest work sectors are industrial, science, engineering, finance, IT, technology and tourism/hospitality. Zürich is dominated by the finance world in news headlines yet many large companies can be found listed here at the Swiss Global Enterprise website. There is a change underway in Zürich and Switzerland.
Resources for start-ups and other initiatives are being committed and not every Swiss person wants to risk working at a start-up. Employment for an English speaker in the arts, healthcare or other cultural sectors is recognised as being limited. In some areas of the Zürich canton, the demand for foreigners to work (without local language skills) is virtually nonexistent.
Once outside the city or canton of Zürich the world of the Grenzgänger ( click to learn more about life when you are allowed to work in Switzerland but live in Germany or France) has an influence, close to St Gallen or Uzwil the salaries reflect this pressure and easily availability of labour. Many Germans will remain in Germany for social security or child education needs yet work in Switzerland.
The exchange rate between the Swiss Franc and the Euro is also an influencing factor on who is employed and on what basis. This is especially the case for those employed in low-skilled jobs. Your work experience could be key when added to your education to find a job. Yet how do you build up knowledge and contacts to support your job search? Reacting to Linkedin, jobs.ch or similar job advertisements will give you a low chance of success.
You will have to do more, take time to research which jobs are easier to fill such as supply chain or purchasing as against pharma drug compliance or cybersecurity. It is why you will hear horror stories about some taking years to search for a new role and others seemingly finding one in a few months.