Finding a job in and around Zurich, Switzerland: My experience Part 1

Posted on December 16, 2010


On how to find a job in and around Zurich, Switzerland (without German)

Now that we’ve come to the end of my series of posts dedicated to adjusting to life in the German part of Switzerland, I decided to conclude by writing about something I’ve already done briefly in the past, but which drives many users to my blog through search engine enquiries and needs further information clarified: How to find a job in Switzerland, especially if you cannot speak German. Having been living here for over a year now and having myself gone through one exasperating job search after another, I feel it’s only fair for me to tell it as it really is. Note: I am not here going to go through issues of visa and who can and cannot work here in Switzerland, as that would simply over complicate this article, so please make sure to check that on your own.


Most expat sites which claim to write about how to find jobs in Switzerland do it in a completely impersonal manner, merely stating the obvious rather than addressing the heart of the issue; Getting a job in Switzerland for a foreigner without adequate German competence can be immensely difficult, and I can say this because I’ve tested it thoroughly on my own skin. So read on, because in this post you will find all you need to know (according to Den Den) about finding a job in and around Zurich, Switzerland.

People come to Switzerland for a number of reasons. Often, they manage to land a job with a company from their country which has a branch in Switzerland, and people with such jobs will usually not need to speak the language of business, which is German, unless specifically required to by the company employing them. Companies which recruit directly from oversees and do not require these employees to speak German are usually in the finance, banking and IT sectors.

Some people simply dream of moving to Switzerland, and therefore have to find a job in order to finance their dream, while others, like myself, end up in this country because they want to be with their Swiss partner. Both sorts of people who land in Switzerland without previously having secured a job seem to universally be under the impression that finding a way of earning money can’t possibly be that complicated…and once again I need to repeat that yes, it can be.

So here is my first piece of advice:


The Swiss are a highly skilled, professional and commonly multilingual (if not tri or quadrilingual) bunch of people. So if there is any kind of job which will require the employee to operate in more than one language – say, by communicating with both foreign and local customers – then a company here will never employ a native English speaker and a Swiss, but will simply find a Swiss (or someone else who can speak the languages required fluently) to do the job. This means that if you want to do any sort of job connected to customer service – from working in hotels to even working for a local cleaning company – YOU WILL HAVE TO SPEAK GERMAN. One of my greatest sources of frustration here has been that while in my country, if I found myself unemployed I could at least get a badly paid job in a cafe, restaurant or even at a Mcdonals, while here I could only stay home and waste time because even these jobs need me to have a good working knowledge of German.

So here are my next few pieces of advice:

Check (the best job search site in my opinion) and take a look at the sort of jobs which don’t require the person to speak German. Often the jobs in question will need you to have a lot of relevant experience. If you see that you do not have the skills to do any of these jobs, you then have a number of options:

–          If you are planning on moving to the German part of Switzerland and have a bit of time, please do start studying German in a serious way. This will allow you to find simple jobs to do when you arrive which will support you until you come across that perfect, hard to find job offer.

–          Come up with a business or a service you can offer the English-speaking expat community: englishforum is the perfect place to see how people have become creative and inventive in getting their pay checks from fellow foreigners. I’ve met hairdressers who cater specifically for English speakers, cleaners who advertise their services online and also nannies and babysitters whose appeal lies in their native language. Providing child care for the increasing number of expat families is a growing business, but remember that in this country, supply for everything sharply exceeds demand, which means that if you’ve never taken care of kids or cleaned people’s homes professionally and have no references, you will have a very hard time finding work because there are plenty of people who have tons of experience and are also desperately in need of making money.

–          Do not think that you can easily make a living by teaching English: Switzerland is one of those countries where ‘teaching English’ is a very difficult career to pull off. Firstly, once again supply far exceeds demand, which means that for you to stand a chance of getting work you need to be highly qualified and highly experienced. Secondly, English classes are extremely expensive both in a school and privately, and only the people with very good salaries or who get their courses sponsored by their companies can afford them. Apart from the above, there are other problems. If you want to teach in a proper state school, your CELTA is useless and you’ll need to have a degree in education. This means that you need to find work in language schools, none of which usually offer full time contracts. Work is sporadic, unreliable, and usually relegated to early morning (before work), lunch time, and evening (after work), turning the rest of the day pretty much into a precious waste of time. You might also try and find students privately, but from my experience, people are reluctant to pay 50 chf per hour (which is the minimum you can charge in order to make up for commuting costs, preparation time and still have a decent leftover hourly rate) and can be highly unreliable in their commitment. Someone who claims he or she needs to study for a Cambridge certificate for 9 months can show up one month later and tell you that they need the money for other purposes (and yes, this has happened to me more that once) : all in all, taking English lessons is a luxury, and to be fair, considering how much it costs, it’s understandable that it’s hard for people to make such a long-term financial commitment.


So to sum up: PLAN AHEAD. If there is a chance for you to get a job settled through a company in your country, go ahead. If you can’t speak German and would be happy doing a simple job in a restaurant or hotel, start learning it and make sure you reach at least an Intermediate level. If you want to try out being a nanny, take a first aid course back in your country and any other child care related courses. Start gaining some experience and get references.

It breaks my heart when I come across the umpteenth forum post by someone saying that he or she has been sitting at home for months because they are unable to find a job, and I know exactly how it feels because I was one of those people who knew nothing about how hard it would be to make a living here in the German part of Switzerland.

But how about me? Am I still sitting around at home wasting my time and wishing I were earning money instead to enjoy a ‘Swiss lifestyle’? I’ll write about the adventures and misadventures of my attempts at finding a job in a future post about living in and around Zurich, Switzerland. Stay tuned.

-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @