Homeland China, at home in Germany

Challenges of an international career


More and more small and middle-sized enterprises (SMEs) are also active in foreign markets and could therefore benefit from an international team. Nevertheless, for non-EU citizens it is not easy to find a job in Germany. Sarah Chen, a graduate of the IUBH University of Applied Sciences, succeeded and now has a job with an SME in Rhineland-Palatinate.

“There are lots of reasons to love Germany,” says Sarah Chen. “For example, its financial strength, innovative power, first class infrastructure, language, high standard of living and friendly people.” The thirty-year-old Chinese woman came to Germany to study and then stayed. She is now working at Kumpan Electric, a manufacturer of electric scooters near Bonn, as project manager and coordinator between the subsidiary in Shanghai and the head office in Remagen.

After finishing her master’s in international management at IUBH, she could have found a good job in China but realized that her friends are now scattered throughout the country. “It didn’t feel like home anymore. I thought: homeland China, at home in the world.”

Foreign graduates are potential specialized staff for KMU

Like Sarah, many foreign master’s degree graduates want to gain professional experience in Germany. According to the “HochSchul-Bildungs-Report 2020 – Annual Report 2015” from the McKinsey consultancy firm and the Stifterverband, approximately 80% of foreign graduates have this goal. However, finding a job is apparently not easy: according to the study, one year after graduation more than one fourth of the graduates are still looking for a job. Many do not feel welcomed by SMEs according to the results of the “Study & Work” initiative of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Stifterverband in May 2017.

Even for Sarah it was not easy: “At the beginning I didn’t get much positive feedback from companies. Mainly because I lacked professional experience and am neither an EU citizen nor fluent in German.”

According to the “Study & Work” initiative, international university graduates are as of yet, an untapped pool of skilled workers for SMEs. According to the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) over 12 percent of students at German universities in 2017 are not German citizens. SMEs in particular stand to benefit enormously from this pool of talent: in the course of an increasing internationalisation of markets and growing export capacities for products and services, having employees with international profiles could open up a wide range of opportunities.

Career Services and companies have to work closer together

To achieve this, a closer cooperation between businesses and universities is indispensable. In recognition of this need, the Research Unit on Securing Skilled Labour (Kompetenzzentrum Fachkräftesicherung - KOFA) recommends SMEs to contact and cooperate with university career centres. However, as the Hochschul-Bildungs-Report revealed, only 28% of universities cooperate with businesses on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, universities with good business contacts and student access to high-profile networks are the universities that are of most interest to international graduates.

It is also important to have the chance to complete internships at prestigious companies, take seminars with lecturers who have professional experience and can talk about the corporate world, and utilise university alumni and career guidance services. However, such career services do not exist at all universities so it is still difficult to match skilled international workers with suitable employers.

Sarah benefited from the services offered at her university. “It was really fantastic how much support Ms Dusel from Career Services gave me. Without IUBH’s good network it would have been much more difficult to get job interviews”, she says. The Director of Career Services at the campus in Bad Honnef gave her contacts, advised her and, most importantly, motivated her.

Benefitting of the university's network to find a job

To give students the best possible support at the beginning of their career, right from the start new IUBH students can take seminars and workshops that deal with topics related to the German job market. Career Services helps students and alumni to deal with all matters related to starting a career. The university is well networked with over 2,000 business partners and offers students –in addition to their own annual Career Days fair at the campus in Bad Honnef – opportunities to attend additional career fairs and meet potential employers through course excursions and field trips.

IUBH has had contact with Sarah’s employer Kumpan since the company was founded in 2010. “As a middle sized company we increasingly need to position ourselves on the international market. Employees with international backgrounds and international degrees are therefore a great asset for us”, says Patrik Tykesson, Managing Director of Kumpan. “It is a stroke of luck that right on our front doorstep we have suitable candidates from IUBH Bad Honnef.”

For Sarah the job at Kumpan is also a stroke of luck on her front doorstep: her workplace in Remagen is only 10 kilometres away from the campus in Bad Honnef. Every three months she travels to China and has three to four business trips in Germany per month. Sarah is working professionally in Germany. And, what would she recommend to other foreign alumni who want to pursue a career in Germany? “I don’ think I’m qualified to advise”, the young woman heartily laughs. “But I am convinced that a good network is essential for survival in the professional world. Ask your professors and contact career services at your university. And above all: never lose faith in yourself!”

7 Tips for the Job Search

  1. Start looking for a job well ahead of time: Those who want to start working in Germany after graduation should start looking for a job in the last semester, at the latest.
  2. Identify your skills: According to DAAD, important questions to ask oneself include:
    - Who am I?
    - What are my capabilities?

    - What are my goals?

    - What is feasible?

  3. Seek outside opinions: Ask other people to assess your strengths and capabilities. You can then compare your self-assessment with an outsider’s view. This can reveal refreshing new perspectives.
  4. Learn German: The chance of getting a job in Germany is significantly better if one has a good command of the language. Obtain information about German language courses offered at the university.
  5. Do an extensive job hunt: There are numerous job portals in Germany, for example Monster, StepStone and You can also contact the Federal Employment Agency and comb through job advertisements in newspapers.
  6. Network: Having good networks is increasingly important in the working world. It is worth doing an internship and getting work experience before graduation. Companies are looking for a combination of academic knowledge and practical experience. Personal contacts - or those conveyed by the university’s career services - and letters of recommendation can be helpful.
  7. Learn to deal with rejection: Even though it is no fun to get a rejection and it can sometimes feel hopeless, you must keep trying. Success also depends on being able to deal with setbacks. Therefore, do not give up!

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