How to Research Companies and Employers in Germany — Germany Career Coach (2024)

Researching companies, jobs, and teams in Germany is important work for several reasons. Naturally, you want to find the right fit. However, what many internationals do not realize is that if you do not find a good fit and end up job hopping, that may negatively impact your near-future career options negatively. To illustrate, there is a concept in German called the “roter Faden” or common theme, that refers to both the content of what you have been doing and the consistency with which you have been doing it. This means when a hiring manager looks at your application documents, they want to see a clear path as to why you are now applying for a job with their company, and they also want to see (among other factors) a common theme as far as your consistency with staying at companies goes. In this post I am going to describe how to go about doing research on companies in Germany, including how to identify your target German companies, how to integrate employers from across the German labor market landscape, questions to ask about each company and where to find the information, getting an insider’s view into the company and using all of your hard work to master the interview process.

Why Research Matters: Loyalty and Length in the German Context

I’ve seen internationals take whatever job they can find at first and then end up job hopping. After three years and four previous employers, the companies they approach are skeptical about hiring someone with such a track record. While gaining experience at multiple companies can be beneficial, and attitudes towards this certainly have changed in Germany in the past twenty years, the tendency is still to look for length at a company as a high performance indicator.

All this is to say that you need to do your research before you apply and before you take a job. Company, team, and manager fit matters and will influence whether or not you stay in the medium- to long-term. Of course, position fit also matters, but that’s a different type of research with different aims. Let’s focus first on companies, because ideally, your Germany job search strategy includes identifying 10-20 target companies that you are interested in and believe you could add value to.

Identifying Your Target Companies in Germany

One of the best ways to identify target companies is to use industry magazines to find out about companies in your target area that you may be interested in. Naturally, many of the relevant publications in your ideal field in Germany will be in German. But at first, that does not matter. It matters that you understand the employer landscape, so scanning these periodicals and making a list of the companies is a great first step.

One of the more obvious strategies is to keep track of who is hiring in your field by following the job advertisem*nts on sites such as LinkedIn, Indeed, or the German Federal Employment Agency’s Jobbörse (Germany’s largest job search engine!). Finally, a tool I find particularly useful are company databases. These could be national or local databases. Here are a few examples:

I always recommend taking a look at the local Chamber of Industry and Commerce (Industrie und Handelskammer - IHK) because they normally have a list of companies. If you are enrolled at a German university, you should check with the career services department, because they may have a subscription to the company databases that are behind a firewall. Additionally, you can also check out the job boards on association websites (in German: Verband/Verbände, e.g. the association of engineers in Germany) to get an idea of companies in specific industries in Germany.

The Landscape of German Employers

I’ve written about having a diversified application strategy, which includes mixing up which companies you are applying at in terms of size, location, and other factors. It can be easy to fall into the habit of always looking for companies with an international presence, or those listed on the DAX, or those with English-speaking positions openly advertised. However, the landscape of German employers is incredibly diverse, including:

  • International corporations and large companies

  • Large medium-sized companies

  • Small and Medium-sized companies (SMEs)

  • SMEs - Family Businesses

  • SMEs - Start-Ups

  • Public service, including local, state, federal, regional and international

  • Academia/research - learn more about your options here

Small and medium-sized companies make up the backbone of the German economy, so including them in your search should be a no brainer. Some field-specific exceptions exist, but for the vast majority of us, including a variety of these diverse employer types will help our job searches be more successful.

A Guide to Researching Companies in Germany

Once you have identified your target companies, you may be tempted to go through the process of deciding which positions are a good fit for you. However, it is critical that you first look at the companies on their own. The positions that are currently available may not be what is available later on, and you always have the opportunity to apply with an initiative application if the company is a good fit but the position you are looking for is not open at this time.

When you begin your research on companies in Germany, I recommend putting everything into the International Career Management System(COPYRIGHT) (ICMS) you have access to if you participate in the Germany Career Kickstarter (LINK). If you are not in the Germany Career Kickstarter yet, you can use a simple Excel spreadsheet or even get a bit more fancy with AirTable. In any case, having everything about your job search, including company research, is important for streamlining your Germany job search.

In any case, the first step is to add your 10-20 target companies to your ICMS. Then, create a column/row (depending on the style you prefer) for each of the following:

  • What does the company do or make?

  • What is the history of the company?

  • Who runs the company?

  • How many employees does it have?

  • How many clients does the company have and who are they?

  • What makes this company different from other companies?

  • What are the company’s strengths?

  • What are the company’s weaknesses?

  • What “success stories” either from customers/clients or from employees does the company share?

  • Interesting facts about the company

  • Departments you are interested in

  • Key people in those departments (including LinkedIn/Xing profiles)

  • Positions you are interested in

  • What is the company posting about on their social media profiles? (e.g. What are the topics presented? Is there a conversation among employees or a monologue from the company? What language is used?)

  • Any personal tidbits you need to keep in mind: location, remote work, flexible hours, etc.

These are general questions so please feel free to add new ones as you see fit. You can gather this information from a variety of sources such as the company website, social media, digital or analog press, LinkedIn (company pages and career pages), Xing, Wikipedia, Google, internet reviews, Glassdoor or Kununu.

Using Glassdoor and Kununu in Your German Company Research

On this last note, take a look at the data on Glassdoor or Kununu. What are people saying about this organization? Just be sure to look at the whole picture. How many reviews are there? Are they older or newer? And remember that people tend to be more motivated to write reviews when they have had a bad experience than to proactively write positive reviews about a great experience they have had, so take what you read as helpful information but not necessarily the whole “truth” about an organization.

One thing I also like to do is track the position openings over time of the company, which can be done on LinkedIn or Xing, but also by looking at company career pages or more in-depth data on Glassdoor and Kununu. What positions are they hiring for? How often are they posting the same positions? By tracking the positions of your target companies, you can also evaluate them for high performance indicators and red flags. For example, seeing the same position advertised every few months might make you question why that is and perhaps focus your job search energies elsewhere.

How to Get an Insider’s View of Your Target German Organization

While vital to company research, internet research can only take us so far. Checking out these different sites is just one step. Once you have a general idea of the company from your internet research, check your Linkedin and Xing contacts to see if you are connected with someone who works there, has worked there, or who knows someone who has worked there. If you do not have a direct connection, it is OK to reach out to “cold” contacts (i.e. people you do not know personally) but try to do so through LinkedIn or Xing and not their company email. The LinkedIn and Xing search functions work really well, so you can search for a specific position name there, or you can go to the company pages and look for someone currently or previously working at the company, perhaps you can even find someone in the department you are targeting.

One thing I highly recommend is not just focusing on who is currently working at your target company. Once you have identified who you’d like to speak to, reach out and ask them if they would be interested in speaking to you for 15-20 minutes about their experience at the company or organization. This is helpful not only for understanding the company, team and position better, but also for growing your network. Should you choose later on not to go with this company, you will still have the contacts there. Therefore, while it is important to ask informal questions and get answers to your pressing concerns, remember to keep it professional. The focus should be on hearing about the person’s experience, not on detailing your job search struggles. Always keep in mind that this person could be a future employer, colleague, or peer in your industry.

It is perfectly OK to ask former or current employers if they can recommend the company they worked for/are working at. Speaking with people who have worked there in the past but move companies can be particularly insightful–for better or for worse. In both cases, it is good to get a balanced idea by speaking to someone who is distanced from the company. If they rave about their experience working there, great! If they do not, please remember it was their personal experience, but you should also then do your due diligence to reach out to other past employees. You will know you are done with this step once you get to the point of saturation, which means you are beginning to hear the same things over and over again.

How to Use Research about German Companies in Interviews

This is my favorite part. By this point, you have put so much effort into identifying your target companies in Germany, researching what they are all about, and figuring out whether or not they will continue to be a target company for you. Congratulations! This is a lot of work most people do not put in ahead of time. But, this work will now pay off. As you go to apply at your identified target Germany employers and get callbacks for interviews, you are already ahead of the game. You have done the company research so you can answer questions such as why you want to work specifically for them, what sets the company apart from other companies, and how you think you can contribute to what the company is currently trying to achieve. This will make your interview preparation go so much smoother and overall, lead to you feeling more confident and relaxed in interviews because you have been engaging with the company information for several weeks by this point.

Finally, company research is only one part of the puzzle. Position research and team research (which can be incredibly hard to do from behind a screen, even with zoom) are integral.

How to Research Companies and Employers in Germany — Germany Career Coach (2024)
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