How to land a startup job in Berlin – even from overseas


You know Berlin’s startup scene is booming and want to be a part of it. But how do you get a job in Berlin if you can’t speak German and are still living abroad?

Don’t worry about those first two hurdles. Most startups are very willing to consider overseas candidates. As Sarah Briddon from SoundCloud’s People Team says, ‘We hire the best candidates regardless of where they come from. We don’t discriminate based on location or if they need a work permit.’

And most startups in Berlin use English as the daily working language. ‘We’re happy to receive applications from all over the world and English is fine. We have team members from 27 different countries so the company language is English, though we offer free German classes and our German native speakers are happy to practice German, too,’ says Mathias Hensel, Talent Relationship Manager at GameDuell. ‘In Berlin you don’t really need to speak German to get along in daily life, but most of our employees come over eager to learn, and it certainly helps.’

Here are more tips on how to find a job at a Berlin startup – even if you’re still overseas – from recruiters and hiring managers at some of Berlin’s top startups.

Be adventurous and up for a challenge

It’s important to know what you’re getting into before you move overseas. Setting up life in a new country is a lot of work and frustration at the beginning, without your usual network of friends and family to help you out, whether you need help moving or just a hug.

Although employers like SoundCloud and GameDuell provide relocation support before, during and after the move, be sure you’re ready to commit and up for the challenge before you apply. Chris Brown, Senior Recruiting Operations Manager at SoundCloud says, ‘I always ask overseas candidates why they’re interested in moving to Berlin; what research they’ve done; if they already have a network here and; if they’ve ever visited before – you’d be surprised at the number of people who apply who have never visited Germany. While we offer great support in helping people relocate and settle in Berlin it always pays to do as much research as possible on the practicalities of living in a different country.’

Consider things like how long you want to be away, how living abroad may affect your relationships, if living in a slightly crazy city like Berlin will suit your personality, etc. Think about the boring necessities, too: how taxes and health insurance will work, how much savings you’ll need to bring for a deposit on a flat (the deposit is often 3 months’ rent!), how you’ll pay student loans, etc. Check out Teleport’s useful ‘quality of life’ guide to Berlin here for useful details on cost of living, salary, climate and more. And during the interview process, be sure to ask companies how they will support your move to Germany, especially if you’ll need a visa or work permit.

Have experience in an in-demand role.

Companies are often happy to relocate overseas candidates to Berlin when they can’t find enough qualified employees locally. At the moment, the hot jobs are any type of software development (front end, full stack, mobile), followed by UX/UI or other designers. Other specialty roles such as digital marketing, growth hacker, etc. are also in demand.

Having at least a couple years’ experience is important. Alina Basina from Jobbatical, a unique platform connecting globetrotters with overseas job openings (including Berlin), says, ‘Our focus is people with 2-3 years’ experience in the field they’ve studied or in their career. We do have more entry-level jobs from time to time, but there it’s a bit harder to convince companies to bring candidates over from another country.’

Don’t currently have any tech skills? Consider coming to Berlin to learn them, and stay to work afterwards. Berlin-based ‘bootcamps’ such as SPICED Academy, Stackademy or Data Science Retreat will teach you the tech skills startups are looking for – in English – and even help connect you with employers during and after the program.

‘Cover letters can make a BIG difference to your application if written correctly. Keep it short and to the point.’

Try a specialty job search sites or recruiters

Our favorite sites for Berlin startup jobs:
Berlin Startup Jobs Berlin Startup Jobs
Jobs in Berlin

And get others to help do the work for you, by directly contacting specialty recruiting sites such as i-Potentials, webcrowd, or Honeypot, which specializes in programming jobs and tempts job-seekers with the promise that, ‘Companies apply to you, not the other way around.’ Honeypot allows companies to browse your profile and contact you to request an interview, with salary information provided up front, and assigns you a talent rep to support you through every step of the process in creating a profile, getting job offers and negotiating your salary.

Berlin’s definitely the place to be for developers looking for work, says Honeypot’s Ewelina Grajko. “Particularly after Brexit, there is huge demand here in Berlin. We’re already working with 150 companies in the city alone and they are recruiting for all languages, with an emphasis on JavaScript, Ruby, PHP and Scala.”

Network, network, network

It’s no surprise that in Berlin’s startup scene, just as in other countries and industries, the best often come through word-of-mouth. This means it’s key to get connected.

Meetup is an excellent place to get started, with over 50 groups related in some way to tech or startups. Facebook, too, has excellent communities like ‘Berlin Startups’ and even ‘Berlin Startup Jobs.’ Joining a coworking space also provides everyday access to other creative minds – most also host workshops, parties and other events.

Be sure to keep your Linked In or XING profiles and your own website well-updated, with a meaningful personal statement and samples of your work if possible, and as you meet interesting people do be sure to connect and follow-up. Even if they don’t know of an actual job opening, you might invite them to coffee or lunch for insider intel on which companies are the best to work for, what salaries are like, places to meet friendly people, etc.’

Research the company and make sure you tailor your applications

Many candidates focus on quantity of applications over quality. This is a huge mistake if it means you’re not taking the time to tailor every single cover letter. (Yes. Every. Single. One.)

At Jobbatical, hundreds of applications from all over the world pass through Alina’s hands per week: ‘What I’m seeing is that you can really tell a lack of time put into applications. People are not detail-oriented, there are a lot of mistakes, or it’s not nicely formatted.’

She recommends researching the job or company you’re applying to and having something unique to say about precisely why you’re interested and the perfect fit. ‘Definitely don’t just put in copy-and-paste cover letter text. Make it more exciting for companies – make them see you’ve put in time to do research about them,’ she adds.

Chris from SoundCloud also values a strong cover letter as part of a stand-out application. ‘Cover letters can make a BIG difference to your application if written correctly. Keep it short and to the point. Tell us about yourself. We want to know what you’re passionate about; what makes you ‘tick’ and how you can make a difference at SoundCloud,’ he recommends.

One really cool thing about applying to jobs in Germany? Unsolicited applications are normal and usually very welcome. The same rules apply: research the job/company and write a very tailored cover letter, addressed directly to the hiring manager if possible. State what role(s) you’re interested in and why that company, in particular, has piqued your interest. Here’s a filterable list of Berlin startups to get you started.

It’s also normal to send a scan of your university diplomas or certificates as well as letters of reference when applying for jobs in Germany, so do include those in your application emails as a default.

Prepare for a lengthy interview process

Because it’s Germany, there are often many steps to take between application and contract. SoundCloud’s interview process is typical of many local startups. Chris describes, ‘If we see a good fit with the application and role, the first stage in the process would be an initial screen with the recruiter. If that goes well there would be a challenge for the candidate to work on, usually based on a business case or, if more of a technical role, then one of our engineering challenges. After this there would be a call with the hiring manager followed by a round of onsite interviews at the relevant office.’

GameDuell also regularly invites candidates into the office in the final interview stage. ‘We have a developer here from Brazil today,’ says Mathias. Candidates typically work on a task that they present to future team members at the end of the day for feedback. ‘We’re happy to cover the flight costs – it’s important to make sure the candidate gets to know the team and feels comfortable in our office, and that the team likes the candidate, too,’ he adds.

Do read up on the company’s culture and team before you apply, which will help you tailor your application. SoundCloud even helps prep candidates themselves with an ‘Applying at SoundCloud F.A.Q.’ guide which is sent to all candidates when they apply, here. But Chris stresses that, ‘What we really want is for candidates to be authentic and to be themselves.’

Be flexible about salary and open-minded about job title/roles

Keep in mind that salaries in Berlin are usually significantly lower than places like New York or London. But so is the cost of living. A two-bedroom flat in a popular, central neighborhood may cost around 900-1200 Euros with utilities, which is quite affordable on the average monthly startup salary of 3,333€.

It’s best to omit salary expectations from your cover letter unless you’re explicitly asked for this. ‘I’d suggest not oversharing, as it can easily turn off a company,’ says Alina. ‘Just because you have a certain salary expectation doesn’t mean a company can’t have a very realistic cost of living conversation with you so you understand what the market is like here. If you put that information out there before being asked, you have more chances of being rejected before even having that conversation.’

And remember that things rarely stay the same for long at startups. If you’re a star employee, companies will find ways to put your skills to maximum use and reward you. It’s quite common to start out doing a more limited role and quickly move on to further responsibilities or a leadership role as others leave, the company grows, and you find your best fit within the company.

Photo: PixaBay
About the author

Tia Robinson.  Co-founder of Expath — helping expats move to Germany, get a job, flat, work permit, insurance, do taxes, learn German & more!