Finding an English speaking job in Zürich will not be easy

Remember to factor in any travelling partner or spouse

Now that we have given our disclaimer statement we hope to provide all our newly arrived members and website visitors with a useful reference document for their job search.

This guide is drawn from the experiences of HR Managers and Recruiters, as well as those who have had to sit in the RAV offices or apply for a job from outside Switzerland. It is a mix of personal experiences, resources some felt useful and is subject to amendment.

Most people start the guide and then attend a coffee morning to meet others or attend a network night event so check the calendar for more information.

Those who read this who are not in Switzerland yet you should visit here first for a huge resource of information about your rights and obligations at ch.ch

Please check your recruiter status

Stay legal and remove barriers to hire

Recruiters must be licensed to recruit in and outside Switzerland. Companies do use recruiters based outside of Switzerland, you need to understand the relationship. Remember, you do not want to get a job and then find you have a permit problem caused by others.

The ch.ch website will have helped to clarify some questions and is worth being a bookmark in your job search resources.

Switzerland has a special relationship with the EU, being separate and not a signed up member. Switzerland is not part of the EU and relies on many bilateral agreements with the EU which have been signed since 2005 to be part of the club. These cover trade and the rights of citizens from other countries to live and work in the country.

It also means that every foreigner that wants to reside and/or work in Switzerland needs some form of work or residency related permit. It is issued by the government and you will get to know your local Gemainde (local Council) people quite well as you go through the process. EU/EFTA nationals are given work authorisation, having certain rights for free movement and short-term residency to seek for work, yet must still register at the local Gemainde.

EFTA / EU Citizen

If you are an EU/EFTA citizen, you have a ticket to the lottery draw. It depends in Switzerland on what year your country joined the EU and its league position in relation to your coverage by the various signed bilateral contracts that Switzerland has with the EU. Examples of countries where they have a different level of coverage include Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria. For some countries the number of work permits are capped to a certain limit, so do not be upset if you receive an “L” permit for 12 months and not a “B” permit for 3 or 5 years, it could just be your nationality.

As a EU/EFTA citizen, you have to apply for a work permit, most people enjoy the experience and it is quite a simple affair once you are familiar with the forms and process.

Do not rely on the 3 month rule to find your job, as an EU/EFTA national, if you are living here and seeking work it is better to register on arrival for residency and to get the permit process underway, even if you start with a “L”. To learn more from the State Secretariat for Migration website click here.

Please do check with your own embassy or consul if you are in any doubt. Swiss lawyers can be expensive and are often not required because your company HR team have a lot of knowledge to share and advice to give.

SE-Training GmbH
SE-Training GmbH provides unique engineering management training for managers typically in cross-functional Research and Development, or Systems Engineering or Design and Development roles.
Stadt Zürich welcome event

Photo credit: Stadt Zürich

Not an EU Citizen

For those NOT an EU member national/citizen to qualify you will:

Normally be married or in a proven relationship to someone who has a a valid working permit or a Swiss national or
in a recognised registered partnership ( There are a lot of restrictions and some spouses are not allowed to work immediately. This is especially the case if you receive an L permit which could be company employment contract specific and time limited).

Obtain a student visa (your working hours will be limited to an amount of hours of work per week).

Expect your future employer to have to apply to sponsor you, it happens but not very frequently because it is easier to employ a Swiss or EU person. Sponsorship is not a guarantee of a work permit, each application is determined by its merit.

Your job offer is still subject to acceptance by the immigration office or cantonal offices, if your company HR and recruiter have done their job correctly, they will know your chance of success. University, healthcare or specialist key and strategic industry roles where often a PhD and real-life work experience are required ensure a passport to success. A Google or Novartis job interview and potential offer may not be as successful as the applicant for ETH or one offered to a foreign employee to secure work experience at SwissContact or another NGO.

As a Non-EU citizen, you are deemed to be classed as a third state national. Let that sink in for a moment, especially if you are from Japan, Korea or another recognised industrial powerhouse. Your job offer is dependent upon the hiring company proving that they could not find a Swiss person, or an EU National or someone from a non-EU country who is already resident with a valid work permit who do the job and be available to be hired.

Employers are often asked to prove the validity of their job search process, show that they made a “strong effort” to find a Swiss, EU/EFTA citizen or any foreign national with a valid permit to work. Andrew Travers for example once supplied candidate search information together with supporting job advertising information to support HR managers in their need to hire a South American, resident in Belgium but with specific engineering skills and certifications only five  people in the world possesed at his age and experience level. The other four were in China and the USA.

This highlights the issues for a travelling spouse, an added complication to your own journey because if you do not fit into this ‘highly skilled’ category, you will find it difficult to compete against the skilled people with valid work permits already in or near to Switzerland.

It is not uncommon for those already in a long-term relationship with a Swiss national to get married. Of course, if you are already married to a Swiss national or an EU/EFTA national who holds a valid Swiss work permit. This section is not relevant to you – please see the other section ⇐ ⇐

Some links we think may be useful to help you:

Short-term working in Switzerland permits and regulations – Migration Office link

European job seeking and mobility website resource – 105 pages related to keyword Switzerland

Registration for the Zurich city welcome event for new residents (you must do this within 6 months of arrival)

Check out the German courses available to you – not an affiliated link

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 interiew.

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 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 less 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 intiatives 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 are 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 ( those 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 a key when added to your education to finding 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 cyber security. 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.

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:

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 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 speaking English day-to-day. This is why we as a local networking group, the Zürich Networking Group take time to provide you with this living document resource and if you make it, effective advice at our coffee morning sessions or networking events.

Jobs where specialists are hard to find – A recruiters dream and a 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, click on their website links and add them to your favourites in a special folder.

Do not follow them on Linkedin, you feed will quickly fill with updates and you will miss a lot of daily low value time wasting content. The website is the core of the company marketing message. Check their Youtube channel if one exists, Linkedin job postings are often on auto-renew to collect a simple candidate pipeline databank of limited worth to you as a job seeker. The website, Twitter feed, Youtube and Linkedin content helps you understand the culture of the company and highlight if all posts are multi-lingual or locally in German only.

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 opportunites, there are also some temporary jobs offered usually with a 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-center 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 hiring of low-skilled employees who used to handle customer enquiries now done on the website automatically.

A good piece of advice from a local HR manager is

It would also be useful if you acquainted yourself with The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

It is an international standard for describing language ability. It describes language ability on a six-point scale, from A1 for beginners, up to C2 for those who have mastered a language. There will be conversations with hiring managers, friends or future colleagues about language competency and “are you a C1?” or similar.

Your job search raises the point about your English language skills, are they accredited and up to date?  As a job seeker you could be from India, Brazil or China yet worked in New York for years and have no formal English language qualification. As an HR manager he is on auto-pilot many a time when reviewing a CV to check the English language level having interviewed candidates who stated fluent English, yet were intermediate level.

His suggestion was to consider an IELTS course and test or similar when you are here searching for a new role. It may seem odd, he believes it adds a confirmation tick to your CV and refreshes your grammar which will help you to learn German as well. A guide to CEFR and the requirements for IELTS can be found here.

Time to take a break

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