The Ultimate Guide to Working in Berlin

So, you’ve either arrived in Berlin and have to find a job before your savings run out, or you’re thinking about making the move from elsewhere and you need to figure out your game plan before you up sticks. You’ve come to the right place. At BerlinStartupJobs.com, we know our onions when it comes to finding a great job in Berlin. We’ve been witness to a burgeoning startup scene since it kicked off, have put time and research into salary standards, and have worked with companies to understand their employment needs. For anglophones, getting a job in a Berlin startup is definitely the easiest way to get established and to find fulfilling work in this sometimes confusing city. It’s also a great place for freelancers, though the admin involved in that particular choice can be a lot. We’ll break that down for you later, too. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, here’s a more general overview of the job market in the German capital.

The job market in Berlin

For many years, the Berlin job market was quite stagnant. The city was full of artists living on a shoestring, and occasionally rock stars and trust fund kids dropped in for a while to soak up a little freewheeling debauchery. However, while Berlin remains an attractive destination for the world’s creative types, times they are a-changin’.

In March 2018, the federal employment agency, the Bundesagentur für Arbeit, released new figures stating that the unemployment rate in the city has halved since 2005. The unemployment rate in Berlin is, at time of writing, just under 7%. Youth unemployment in particular has fallen by 7.9%. This is the lowest unemployment rate the city has seen since statistics began in 1991 following the fall of the wall. A city like Berlin might not function as well as it does were in not propped up by one of the strongest economies in the world. But luckily, it is, which allows the city room to grow and manoeuvre. The job market in Berlin is dissimilar to many other capitals as well, largely due to historical reasons. For instance, there aren’t many manufacturing jobs in the city as Germany’s famed automotive industry keeps most of its work in southern Germany. Same goes for financial institutions which are largely centred around Frankfurt. However, the one blessing about Berlin, particularly for international candidates, is that there are startups disrupting pretty much every industry these days, so whether you’re interested in transport, food, finance, the creative arts, scientific research, or whatever else takes your fancy, you’ll probably find a company that’s working on the cutting edge of your particular field of interest. So, what are good industries to get into in Berlin?

Strongest industries and sectors in Berlin

According to the report referenced above, the strongest industries currently in Berlin are IT, communication, public administration (civil service) and construction (nobody mention BER airport!). The booming startup sector contributes a huge number of job opportunities to the market every year and there are a multitude of exciting household names and household names-to-be in the city. Jobs in hospitality are also a really great way to get a toe in the Berlin door as many cafés and bars in the central districts are staffed by anglophones. This is also a good way for artists, writers and more creative people to get started in the city while looking for a more permanent, relevant job. There are hosts of galleries and museums in the city though paid arts jobs can be hard to come by. It’s all about getting to town and chatting to those around you.

It probably goes without saying in this day and age that software engineers are in demand. In Berlin however, a good developer will be snapped up before they’ve even had a chance to set down their bags. The tech economy needs a talented workforce and recruiters and HR departments are finding it harder and harder to fill tech jobs in Berlin. Others in demand by Berlin startup companies are creative copywriters, UX/UI designers, sales and marketing experts, and multilingual customer service agents. So, there’s a diverse array of job opportunities available in Berlin. All it takes is a little research will put you on the right path to a great job in Berlin.

Working environment

Like the city itself, the working environment in Berlin startups is casual. So, that means there’s no need to show up to an interview trussed up in a suit. More traditional German companies have stricter dress codes and a more old-school sense of business etiquette but if you’re after a working environment where you can be yourself, then a startup is what you’re after. Many startup companies have a relaxed approach to working hours and flexible schedules. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that startups also have an all-hands-on-deck approach and you’re unlikely to be able to skip out of the office at 5pm every day. Startup companies expect you to be invested in the product or service that you’re working on and therefore spend a lot of energy on cultivating the kind of company culture that will make you want to do exactly that. But don’t be fooled by spin. A foosball table — or kicker as the locals call it — does not a company culture make. Pay attention to the atmosphere when you arrive at the company, observe how people interact, and see if it sits well with your way of working. Your first impressions will tell you a lot.

Employment status

Now, so you know the types of jobs you can apply for. What about the types of contracts you can hold? Here’s a quick run-down.

  1. Intern

This is one you’re probably familiar with. Interns work at a company for a set period of time — usually 3 to 6 months — as a way to gain experience. Internships are often an educational requirement, or taken on by graduates/career changers as a means of getting a little experience in their chosen field. The good news is that all companies in Germany have been obliged to pay interns at least the minimum wage — currently €8.50 per hour — for their troubles as of January 2016. Unfortunately, this does not apply to you if you’re obliged to take on an internship for university/school credit.

  1. Trainee

A trainee is exactly what it sounds like: a person hired to train for a position that they will eventually hold. This usually means that the company fully intend to take on the person at the end of the traineeship. Trainees also commit to a longer-term working period, often up to a year. Trainees are also paid better than interns, but they have a lot more responsibility.

  1. Minijob

Here’s one for newbies. The minijob is an entirely German invention. It’s usually defined as a part-time job which pays no more than €450 per month. Minijob holders are exempt from paying tax unless they have any other form of income.

  1. Full-time and part-time contracts

The standard full-time contract in Germany is 40 hours over a five-day week. The working week is Monday – Saturday, but most office jobs, of course, work on a Monday – Friday basis. Everything except bars, restaurants and hotels are closed on Sundays so unless you work in the service industry, you’re guaranteed that day off. People working full-time contracts are entitled to 20 days of annual leave per year, though most employers will offer 24 – 30 days of vacation per annum. Leave days are distributed on a pro rata basis if you work a part-time contract. Most contracts will state that you may not take leave until you pass the 6-month probationary period but very few companies actually enforce this.

  1. Limited / Unlimited contracts

The one major drawback to working for a startup is a lack of guaranteed job security. For that reason, some companies may offer you a limited contract (e.g. one year) until such time as they can extend it to a permanent or unlimited arrangement. In fact, most companies will offer you a limited contract at first. This is no reflection on you or their belief in your potential. This is simply common practice. Most contracts, whether limited or unlimited, will include a 6-month probation period, during which time the contract can be terminated by either party according to the notice period set by the contract — usually two weeks. After that, the minimum notice period is usually 4 weeks, though this very much depends on the seniority of the contract. In Germany, it is very hard to fire someone with an unlimited contract if they successfully complete their probation, with some exceptions.

  1. Freelance contracts

Freelancing in Berlin is very common, and if you play your cards right, you can earn quite a lot. However, you are then obliged to file your own tax returns — fork out for a tax advisor; it’s worth it — and to pay the entire cost of your own health insurance, pension etc. which can be a hefty sum. If a company wants you to work full-time for an extended period on a freelance basis, say no. Employers also cannot require you to work on their premises if you’re employed on a freelance basis.

So, there’s a quick overview of the basics. For more in-depth details about all of the above and more, please click on the links below.