Paths after university

If you want to work in Germany after your studies, as a rule that’s not a problem. In most cases, because you have earned a higher degree in Germany, you will be able to join the labour market directly. You can stay in touch with your former fellow students via alumni networks.

Your initial opportunities

There are lots of opportunities in Germany for you to get started in the labour market. Here is an overview of common paths to a first job and their specifics.

Students face a university after graduation
Students after graduation © DAAD/Jan Zappner

The Economy

Along with the larger companies in Germany, there are far more small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These firms, which are part of what’s known as the ‘Mittelstand’, have no more than a few hundred employees and are also often run by a single family.

95 percent of all German companies fall into this category. They are often more successful than they might appear at first glance. Despite many being located in smaller places, they can be world leaders in their markets. Most familiar products with the seal ‘Made in Germany’ are part of this group.

In Germany, wages are often subject to negotiation and rise every year, depending on company profits.

Founding a business

Do you have the next big innovative idea and want to be self-employed, for example, by starting your own business?

The website of the Office for the Migrant Economy (‘Fachstelle Migrantenökonomie’) of the IQ Netzwerk has valuable information on how to start a business when you finish your academic training.

The conditions vary according to what country you come from and what residence status you have in Germany.

Student is advised on starting a business
Advice on setting up a business© DAAD/Jan Zappner

For some occupations you may have to demonstrate special qualifications if you want to become self-employed. These are called ‘regulated occupations’, and they include medical professions. Distinctions are also made between commercial and free occupations (for instance, those of doctor, lawyer, accountant, interpreter or artist). This distinction affects how you calculate your taxes and whether you need to register your business as a commercial enterprise.

Universities and Research

Would you like to continue doing research? There are a number of possibilities.

Most research positions at universities are fixed term and connected to a specific project. But there are also research jobs outside universities, for instance, at research institutions or in industry. Often big companies have their own in-house research departments.

The website ‘’ has lots of information about how to do a PhD or a postdoc in Germany as well as the requirements and career and advancement opportunities for PhDs and postdocs.

The Public Sector and NGOs

In Germany, the encompasses all people who work for publicly incorporated entities, institutions and foundations. Such people are employed by the German national government, the regional states or the local district governments. Examples are judges, civil servants and schoolteachers, who are also considered civil servants in Germany. 

Wages are usually governed by broad labour agreement: the TVöD on the national level, the TV-L on the regional state level and the TvöD-VKA on the local district level. Physicians and other types of civil servants have their own wage agreements.
Many NGOs, institutions and foundations aren’t official parts of the public sector but still abide by its rules and conditions, including wage agreements and all requirements that apply to the public sector.

In addition to regulating wages, labour agreements also set the level of pay rises and legal working conditions, for instance, whether people automatically receive permanent contracts after fixed terms of two years or are entitled to a pension from their employers. Often people who can show they work for the public sector are granted small rebates on insurance and other contractual products. Public sector jobs offer a higher degree of security than on the free market.

How to find work in Germany

Recognition of qualifications

An important precondition for entering the German labour market is that your degree is recognized. This is automatically the case with degrees earned in Germany. If you received your degree elsewhere, whether it be inside or outside the EU, you should check to see whether it is recognized in Germany.

In some occupations, you are required to get your degree recognized, and some employers explicitly demand that you do this as well.

Looking for a job: Start as early as possible

People from outside the EU who attend German universities are allowed to stay in Germany to look for employment for a maximum of 18 months after completing their degrees. This period can be over more quickly than you would like. For that reason, you should already begin searching for a job in the final semester of your studies – ‘four months before the end of your course at the latest’, recommends Maria-Theresia Jansen from the Federal Employment Agency (‘Bundesagentur für Arbeit’) office in Bonn. As an employment adviser in the office’s academic careers team, she has spent 30 years counselling international degree earners searching for a foothold in the German labour market.

While you’re looking for long-term or permanent employment, you are allowed to work as much as you want. If you have been granted the right to reside in Germany, there are no time limits on work while you are looking for employment.

Before your job search: Self-analysis

Before you set off in search of a job, you should ask yourself four questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What can I do?
  • What do I want?
  • What’s possible?

Maria-Theresia Jansen calls this an ‘inner inventory’. Take your time answering the questions and be honest. A good self-analysis can help save a lot of time wasted looking around without a goal.

„It’s important to look at related fields and be able to transfer your own knowledge.“

Maria-Theresia Jansen, Berufsberaterin

When asked why it makes sense to answer these questions, Jansen responds: ‘Many degree holders only look for positions that are an exact fit with what they did during their studies. They immediately look past everything else’. This is a big mistake, Jansen stresses, since such ‘tunnel vision’ makes life unnecessarily difficult. Jobseekers should expand their horizons. A position doesn’t to be exactly what they studied at university. ‘It’s important to look at related fields and be able to transfer your own knowledge’, advises Jansen.

The internet isn’t the only way to find a job

Get an overview of the various sectors and companies out there. Jobs fairs for university graduates as well as specialist conferences are a great way to get information and make contacts. You can usually find information about fairs and other events and job announcements from companies on bulletin boards in your academic department.

Of course, you can also find interesting information on the internet using one of a myriad of search engines, but don’t forget that your university can help, too. Most university career centres have a database you can consult. What’s more, they can help you get a start in your career by reviewing your application materials and coaching you for job interviews. The also frequently host talks by businesses looking to hire. The offerings are broad and most often free.

Important! Learn German!

Don’t forget the language. ‘Without a knowledge of German, the selection of jobs is very limited’, Jansen warns. Thus, it’s a good idea to take a language course during your studies. Of course, you may be able to complete a degree at a German university completely in English, and your fellow students may be able to talk to you in English or French. But to enable deeper human contact with your future work colleagues, it’s quite advisable to learn German. You can find what you need to know .

Alumni: A permanent network of common experience

The DAAD takes alumni relations very seriously. That’s why it funds events for DAAD alumni in Germany and abroad, supports DAAD alumni associations and alumni work at German universities, and keeps alumni from all over the world informed and connected. In certain cases, it finances repeat invitations or the purchase of materials and specialist literature.

The goal of all these initiatives is to maintain the connections between former grant recipients to Germany and other host countries, to build an active, constantly growing global network and to work together with alumni in fruitful partnerships.

DAAD alumni support

Our alumni programmes are designed to continue support for former grant recipients and open various possibilities to them as part of the worldwide DAAD alumni network. Support programmes are aimed primarily at DAAD alumni. Alumni special projects are open to Germany alumni.

More than 160 alumni associations worldwide serve to connect alumni with one another and to the DAAD. The DAAD places great value upon alumni associations as a partner in promoting international exchange and a motor driving alumni work on the ground. The efforts of alumni associations make an important contribution to the continued benefits of the DAAD grant programmes. The associations are independent organizations that regulate their affairs, constitution and specific goals on their own.

The DAAD promotes the work of alumni associations both materially, in the form of subsidies for events, publication and IT equipment, and immaterially, by including the associations on mailing lists, in its PR work and in joint activities.

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