Welcome to the honeypot – a graduate’s guide to breaking into Berlin’s startup scene

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Berlin is becoming a honeypot for hot, young talent. The reasons are oft-cited – it’s cool, it’s creative, it’s swarming with sexy international graduates and beer is cheaper than water. But how to get your ambitious little foot in the door? Recent UK graduate Jay Patani made his way to Berlin and has managed to land a sweet internship. Here, he shares his top tips for graduates looking to make it in the city… 

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Millions of euros are flowing into Berlin’s thriving tech industry. The city’s Chamber of Commerce estimates that around 500 startups emerged last year, stoking the demand for international talent. This trend has been accompanied by a growing number of international graduates flocking to Berlin to etch some international work experience on their (sometimes barren) CVs.

No longer is it only hardcore programming aficionados or bespectacled graphic designers that can survive in the local job market. Increasingly new and varied roles are up for grabs. All you need is curiosity, an entrepreneurial spirit, an obsession with technology and perhaps a bit of relevant prior work experience. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Impoverished international intern

But first, before you get too titillated by the array of different startups and the Berlin buzz, it is worth spending some time to fathom the realities of starting up in a startup. Sadly, startups are not traditionally drowning in money and if salary is your main concern, Berlin is not for you. Lowly paid internships are often the only entry route into the startup world.

Although a little goes a long way in Berlin, supplementary jobs may sometimes be the only way to survive without begging, borrowing, or leeching from parents. Don’t be afraid to negotiate though. Recruitment is never set in stone and if you have what it takes employers may be willing to up their price.

But just how much does it cost to live in Berlin?

moneyACCOMMODATION Flats are fiendishly difficult to find in Berlin, but once located, you could find a decent enough room in a fairly central area (think Neukölln, Friedrichshain or Kreuzberg) from around €300.

LIFE Next, you need to factor in living costs. Food and partying can take their toll on mind, body and wallet. A frugal €400 a month should suffice, if you want to truly enjoy Berlin.

TRAVEL Despite the impression that ticket inspectors on the Metro are on a permanent holiday, any law-abiding citizen should consider dishing out just over €50 for a monthly metro pass. Although very much a bike city, Berlin’s winter can often be unfriendly to our two-wheeled friends.

TOTAL That makes a final sum of around €750 per month. As a warning, this figure is definitely on the lower bound and those without fiscal restraint or with an unquenchable materialistic streak should expect to spend more.

Bureaucrazy Berlin

Unfortunately, the spending does not end there. Any job or internship with a monthly wage over €400 is liable to be taxed. After registering with your local authority (or Bürgeramt) and setting up a bank account, signing up to insurance is the next step. Germany has a progressive income tax system, yet even low internship wages are taxed at around 10 per cent.

What’s on offer in the Berlin job market?

So if you’ve managed to swallow the bitter pill of living with a little, you may wonder what kind of non-technical roles are out there for someone without a background in computer science or web design. Well, there’s only so much a business can do running solely on the engine on technical know-how – this is where business development, sales, marketing and community management come in. Here’s a breakdown of what it takes to fit some of the popular graduate roles:

Sales

coffeeREQUIREMENTS Although not a prerequisite, you should ideally like the sound of your own voice. The ability to schmooze, cement relationships and ultimately sell should be second nature to you. Expect lots of B2C/B2B interaction, lots of calling, lots of emailing and lots of meeting. Misanthropes, stay away.

BLUFFERS’ PHRASES I’m a born negotiator. I’m very customer-focused. I’m driven by targets

Business development/analytics

Roughly knowing your way around a spreadsheet will not suffice. Excel needs to be what you wake up for every morning and what you think about before you go to sleep. You should have a strong numerate background and more importantly have a natural affinity to all things business. But being business-minded is not enough.

Working at a startup requires entrepreneurial drive. You should be constantly thinking of how to push forward and improve the product. Competition in the startup scene is fierce. In order to stay on top, startups need to innovate while keeping costs to a minimum.

BLUFFERS’ PHRASES I’m analytical, with a knack for business acumen. And I’m entrepreneurial, naturally.

Marketing/PR/Community Management

twitter cakesMarketing is where creativity intersects hard-nosed business mentality. You should be able to channel creativity into creating more customers. Acronyms such as SEO and SEM should definitely ring a bell.

Similarly, PR is all about getting the message out, whatever that message may be. Natural exhibitionists with a way with words would fit into a PR role, in which writing press releases praising a product range is a common task.

“An ideal candidate is an open-minded, flexible, motivated and creative person,” remarks Andreas Winiarski, Global Head of Public Relations, at Rocket Internet. “We need people with a hands-on mentality, who are willing to learn and to become better every day.”

Expectations of potential graduate employees are high. Winiarski admits: “Most guys who start at Rocket in the PR or Marketing departments hold university degrees and have already gathered a few years of experience in either advertising or PR agencies or at bigger-sized enterprises.”

But experience is not everything: “The amount of references in one’s CV is not crucial for employment at Rocket. The most important asset is to have proven yourself in life,” adds Winiarski.

Lastly, there is Community Management. A few decades ago, this term would have been received with blank faces all around. While still not in the dictionary, the term is gaining some credence. The buzzword for a Community Manager is engagement – directly with customers or the community at large. The ideal candidate will live more in virtual reality (that is, social media) than in reality itself. Innovation is paramount – you should constantly be thinking of new ways to “connect” (another potential buzzword) with the masses.

BLUFFERS’ PHRASES I’m creative, but with a commercial instinct. And I’m a great communicator

Want to work for Rocket Internet?

In an interview in VentureVillage’s German partner publication Gründerszene, Vera Termühlen, Head of Human Resources at Rocket Internet explains that there is no single factor that makes a perfect employee. Instead, Rocket Internet looks for “multi-dimensional graduates”, who have excelled both academically and in everyday lives. Applicants should be hands-on entrepreneurial types with first-class analytical skills and a passion for the web.

While academic performance matters, Termühlen emphasises the need for practical experience to survive in the business world. This has led Rocket to specifically target universities that integrate compulsory internships in industry with academic studies. For example, this year Rocket has teamed up with the Technical University of Munich (TUM) to hire and train future entrepreneurs.

What language do they speak in Berlin again?

awful-german-languageOn first superficial glance, it may seem that speaking German has fizzled into a linguistic vapour with English taking the post of lingua franca. While there is some truth to this, there is of course merit in actually learning German, to both integrate fully and impress potential employers.

So if you manage to avoid the thrall of traditional graduate schemes (or have tried and failed), take the plunge. Berlin offers a perfect post-studies environment involving equal amounts of experience-building and hedonism.

Wait! There’s a checklist…

But hold on! Before you book the next flight to Berlin and get a year’s pass to Berghain, be sure to scan this checklist to prepare yourself for what’s to come:

• Get your CV together. Include work experiences relevant to the role you are applying for
• Do your research! Make a shortlist of startups that have roused your curiosity
• Even if they’re not hiring, there’s no harm sending a speculative (and flattering) email, outlining your interest
• Check your finances. Ensure that you have enough money to cover flights and at least your first month’s stay
• Build your social media presence – treat this as your second CV
• Learn/brush up on your German
• And finally, don’t forget to regularly check out VentureVillage’s weekly jobs roundup to see what’s on offer!

For related posts, check out:

How to be German – Part 1
Want to pitch to the likes of Bill Gates? “World-changing entrepreneurs” wanted from Germany
Berlin: what’s missing from our startup scene and 8 ways we can step it up

Picture credits: Main image – flickr user toolmantim
Money – flickr user andresrueda
Coffee – flickr user seaneas
Cakes – flickr user clevercupcakes