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.
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 Zurich, many people like we said before will spend their day speaking Swiss German at work.
Many local Zurich 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.
Zurich 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 Zurich and Switzerland.
Resources for start-ups and other initiatives are being committed and not every Swiss person wants to risk working at a startup. Employment for an English speaker in the arts, healthcare or other cultural sectors is recognised as being limited.
In some areas of the Zurich canton, the demand for foreigners to work (without local language skills) is virtually nonexistent.
Once outside the city or canton of Zurich 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 in Zurich.
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 Zurich in a few months.
Ready for a break or to read on?
Business sectors and companies offering a chance of being hired in Zürich
A good number of target companies and organisations that appear to be very internationally oriented and that have some form of Regional or Swiss Head Office can be found listed here:
- Wikipedia list of Swiss companies by revenue
- American Swiss Chamber of Commerce – amcham
- Greater Zurich Area website – note how events are listed in German on the English events page
- Swiss company including Zurich start-up listing by year in English
The advice we give is to seek out those larger companies on the list who have a matrix structure, who advertise roles where the travel percentage is high or whose websites are clearly focussed on English readers. This is because you need English for international roles.
This will help you to screen out those where a company will advertise a job in English, make no reference to the need for German to follow group HR policy then leave you cold and reject your CV.
Why? In the case of a company who starts with a letter between N and Q in IT, the person posting the position in HR used the role/position template they had used before and failed to clearly state the need for German.
How much time did she waste for herself and applicants? Her global VP of HR will not know, the hire is completed, there are sufficient other applicants trying to get that “dream job in Switzerland.”
There is also another reason which affects many organisations.
The company policy is to write in English and no-one has ever considered enforcing it when it comes to day-to-day work. It is not uncommon. This is why the Zürich Networking Group offers a free level to get you on the newsletter list, to learn more about the group and to attend an event or coffee morning when you visit to help you in your research, or when you arrive.
Jobs where specialists are hard to find – A recruiters dream and an HR headache – you could be the solution!
These exist in a number of different business areas, it can include roles such as:
- IT software engineers with knowledge of banking compliance and cyber security and have experience of Blockchain
- Analysts in certain business intelligence areas related to the environmental impact of global warming at a 10yrs+ experience level
- Pharma or Bio laboratory scientist for early-stage research ( often smaller bio or pharma companies benefitting from large company downsizing)
- Genetics specialist for new tailored therapeutics
- Banking project or other management staff for specific finance controls experience to deal with impending regulatory requirements
It is always worth checking the job advertising websites regularly, which positions take time to fill. Spend time on LinkedIn just reading the posted job advertisements, look at the company pages, read the employee profiles and use their company website link.
The website is the core of the company marketing message. Check the company Youtube channel if one exists, what videos are available for the Swiss or Zurich offices? A number are good and a lot are average.
Remember, LinkedIn job postings are often on auto-renew to collect a simple candidate pipeline databank.
This is of limited worth to you as a job seeker. The website, Twitter feed, Youtube and Linkedin content help you understand the culture of the company and highlight if all posts are multilingual or just local content and in German.
When a job advert specifies needs Swiss-German check if German language skills will be okay, it is a filter to remove applicants, so check first before applying.
Other places to look if your skills are more general include:
- International, private schools or English language schools or training companies.
- Service companies and consultancies like Accenture, Ernst and Young where there are high levels of administration and reporting.
- Retail does offer some opportunities, there are also some temporary jobs offered usually with low basic pay, or as a freelancer on commission only.
- The low-skilled labour market, a role which could be a transition job where you have limited exposure to customers. These can be varied and often can come from a personal connection.
It is important to recognise that even many seemingly “low-level” role here in Switzerland needs some form of licence or qualification to work in that field.
- If you work in security, you will need a C permit by most hiring companies
- Call-centre work usually requires a strong competency in two of the three main languages – French and Italian (assuming you as a reader have limited German). They are a dying business in high-cost Zürich, Swisscom and others have their operations outsourced or located well outside the canton because of costs. Hosting technologies, chat box help and AI assistants are already having an impact upon the hiring of these roles. See it as a transition job only.
- Many jobs will be advertised as age restricted – yes, there are still employers out there advertising 25-40 age only applicants, why? AHV – social security costs increase as a % at age 45.