Finding somewhere to work
Finding a placement in Germany when you are based in the UK is not easy. You need to find a company that is prepared to take you on and accept that you may not be perfect in their language. On the other hand, you need to be prepared for a steep learning curve in your first few weeks – you need to get to know your job and also get used to using the German language all day every day in a working environment.
Your application therefore needs to be as flawless as possible. When I was looking for my placement I sent off 75 applications – only 57 ever replied and about 50 of those just told me that there were no vacancies and wished me luck for my future.
Since you normally have no way of knowing if a company is prepared to take on a foreign student, the best way is obviously to write and ask.
You will need:
1. a letter – in perfect German. Explain why you are writing, what sort of course you are on and what exactly you are studying.
2. a CV – in German “Lebenslauf”. You may need to explain your A-Level Grades, eg. A = 1, B = 2, so that a German employer can understand them. There is a myth that you should put the names of your parents on your CV, but since I have been here I have never seen a native speaker do this. However you should give your date and place of birth and your marital status. Most importantly: you will be expected to include a passport-sized photo of yourself. Traditionally these are attached with a paper clip to the CV, but a modern application will use a digital photo printed on the top-right of the first page. If you doing anything with technology then this will almost be expected of you. Use the best printing method available to you. In the last few years I have laser-printed the application and then over-printed the photo with a good colour inkjet.
If you feel confident enough, it is good to phone the company and ask for the name of the HR manager and address the letter to them – but before you do this and don’t understand the person on the switchboard, write to “Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren!”.
Sign of with “Mit freundlichen Grüßen,” – if you learnt “Hochachtungsvoll” at school, forget it, this is only used in very formal situations.
Finding company addresses
When I was looking for a placement my main source of addresses was the book Live & Work in Germany which had a list of British companies with offices in Germany. My other source was a collection of food wrappers and tourist brochures that I collected whilst on holiday here – they all have addresses on so why not write to them?
These days the internet makes it a lot easier. Try searching on sites like GoYellow or YellowMap for a company name (“Was”) and leave the city field (“Wo”) blank – it should return you the head or regional offices if it finds a match.
Of course, you can also search for a particular type of company in a particular town. eg. try “Computer” in “Oberursel” and see it you can find me! Or try “Bank” in “Frankfurt” – which should return about 300 addresses!