Landing a job in Europe for (Indian) foreigners in Europe


my network of Indian contacts in ICT is “considerably” large and therefore the head-hunting branch of my company receives dozens of CV’s from India each week. I often get asked by applicants how to land a job in Germany/France/Holland etc … So I’d like to shed some light here.

Germany is currently the hot-spot of the EU job market and there are thousands of qualified applicants from all over the world (especially from those EU economies who are troubled right now). These are easier to hire because many of them are already in the country. So remember that by sending your CV from overseas you actually compete against these guys!

The three biggest filters on any hiring process are: location location location.
So if the hiring manager received your CV from Sweden but there are 5 more CV’s from suitable candidates in Germany then it makes sense to interview these first. (optimize the work-flow and reduce it’s impeding logistical complexity)

Even your CV is a solid technical match, hiring managers often prefer to have interviews in person (at least in later stages of the process). … And while a video chat is a good way for an initial contact, it simply won’t cut it for basing a decision whether enter into a sign permanent contract with you!

The challenge for hiring managers is that even they’re excited about your CV, and would love to invite you, they’re still required (often by law) to cover your expenses to travel to/from the interview. If you are already in Germany it’s easy because costs are predictable. From outside Germany much harder because costs extra need clarification, more work, yada, yada …. So agreeing to pay for travel fees implies a risk of spending more of this budget than normal, but with an uncertain outcome. If the interview does not work out they might need to justify why they invited you in the first place. So again the rule of location.

The third problem is more sensitive but I realized that agencies or HR departments are secretive so nobody out there ever speaks up, so here it is …

As a headhunter who goes through many CV’s each week I’ve noticed that applications from India are the most difficult to evaluate in terms of whether the person really knows his stuff.

This is not a generalization and has nothing to do with cultural barriers. I have many close Indian friends and once operated a small start-up in Sri-Lanka (I didn’t get rich but had the time of my life). I have placed many people from India inside German firms who managed to integrate really well! The issue here is that an Indian CV will often (90% of the time) contain every keyword that exists on the planet, just in order to get the foot in the door. DON’T DO THAT! It’s very hard for a hiring manager to gauge what the applicant knows best and what their real speciality is. Even for a person like me who comes from a technical background with years of SW development I find it often hopeless. Having to invest massive time figuring out the real skills behind a CV will wastes the hiring managers time and is the worst you can do!

I have discussed this subject with several professionals in the industry (not just in Germany but people in the UK, France and Holland) and came to the conclusion that it’s one of the reasons why it has become increasingly hard to enter the market even for applicants with perfect CV’s. Because 9/10 times CV’s are like this and hiring manager looking at your name/phone number will simply already expect the worst and think “oh dear another one of these jack of all trades”. Often they don’t look even further when realising you are based in India, which might be kind of unfair sure, but it’s simple human nature: if you have been fooled so many times you will develop a certain attitude or expectation before you even had a proper look. That said it is refreshing to see CV’s from people who get it right. But my opinion is it shouldn’t be like that.

Please don’t get me wrong I love people who are “allrounders” but listing every one of the 500 tools you have every used in your 3 years of command line usage, along with “project management duties fresh from university” simply begs the question what you really know. especially people in tech should know that just because they beat the companies keyword logic doesn’t mean the technical hiring manager will like that product! So again don’t do that, … m’kay?!!

It would be much better to focus on what you really love and drive home your passion. Flexibility backfires when people are too flexible or sell themselves as “qualified for everything”. It makes your audience also wonder if you just want to go to another country and don’t care about the actual job (you should never look desperate whatever situation you are in).

If you want to highlight the fact that you’re a well-rounded individual with a broad sense of interests, then this is great. But then better to add links to these other documents (online) and keep your CV focused/crisp and in line with what you’re really about.

The following is a problem common in applications from all nationalities:

We get plenty of applications to pure technical jobs (SW development guru, HW designer, Network Analyst, InfoSec/Pentest expert, etc.). Here applicants with only 2 years of development experience often feel they have to include info about their management experience or ambitions to eventually move into PM. This is a double edged sword because it indicates that the person would much rather manage than design code.

Before you put focus on your extensive management experience, better carefully check what the job-spec says: Do they want a worker-bee, a team-leader or a technical-PM? Do you even want to be a manager? Would you currently have better chances in mgmt or in a senior architect/design role. There are distinguished engineers in many companies who earn far more as you would probably imagine: and they are really the best in their field mainly because they stuck with it. There are many ways to the top it doesn’t always have to be via management. If you do put focus on mgmt in a job that asks for worker-bees, it will raise questions whether you actually love your work and still feel passionate about the technical aspect.

Companies prefer people who have a clear idea of where they are in life and which direction they want to go! If an employer is looking for a senior developer they probably won’t risk bringing in an applicant who actually prefers to manage, while knowing nothing about the highly complex internal work-flow/process/politics (which often takes years to develop). This problem becomes stronger as the seniority of the candidate increases. But sadly is also present even in some Junior applicants. So think about what you really want and clearly say so! Want to become a PM? Then don’t apply for a Senior Development role because people will think you are the worst manager ever!

Do I have to speak German/Dutch/French:

Yes and no. Many people will love to speak English with you (which sometimes even makes it hard to learn the local language quicker). But in a work environment you would do much better when making an effort and learn the lingo. Anglo-Saxon suffer from this most because the rest of Europeans are raised/drilled to improve their English. They were told that English is very important already in primary school. So whenever they see a chance to speak it they do. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort. The most successful integration of an English man I’ve ever seen was an ex-colleage of mine who insisted even in a multicultural work environment to speak German with his German colleagues. He would give anyone an upset look followed by a long pause and reply in German to any English question he received from Germans :-) I realized much later that only due to that “stubbornness” was he able to speak at that level.

Finally the excuse that “in your 5 years working in the country you were simply soooo busy with your job” is a straight #FAIL. If not for yourself then at least as a form of respect to those co-workers who don’t speak English as good as yourself – learn the language :-) !

Not learning the language will put you in a situation where once you change the employer after few years you’ll suddenly have to explain why you couldn’t be asked to make an effort in those years you were already here!

Are German and France extreme? No. Picture landing a job in the UK without English, or in Japan without Japanese? Would be hard right? So better get cracking because the sooner you do, the better your chances in the long run. What will help big time for your application is if you enrol in language classes long before you go. It will also lead to a better salary because you become more competitive on the local market and feel more at home in the country of your choice!

Never apply to several different jobs at the same time unless they all happen to be really close to your skills. If they aren’t then think again (study what I wrote above). Don’t spread yourself too thin.

Spell check the text before you submit and if possible have a friend proof-read it too!! (-> this one goes out especially to my native English speaking friends ;-))

Ensure you include your contact details (yes it seems obvious but sometimes CV’s lack a phone number). Some hiring managers will simply not bother if you only list an email address.

Last but not least here is a list of documents required by many hiring managers (some of this might look especially strange or over-the-top to UK applicants):

  1. CV
  2. Motivation Letter (cover letter): if you can pull it off write it in the local language. Keep it brief! Find common ground between the job-spec, the skills in your CV, and the company information you have (do your research). Ensure the cover letter is written for this one position. If it could be sent to several jobs it’s not specific enough and will do more harm than good! Avoid common phrases and marketing bla!
  3. University diplomas
  4. University transcripts (showing grades)
  5. Reference from previous employers (get them before you even think of quitting your job and always get them when your superior changes).
  6. 2 or 3 contacts who can be contacted who can speak for you.
  7. Links to any interesting projects you did outside work (github, sourceforge, etc … or even your blog)

I look forward to your improved CV’s – so “do the needful” ;-)

Best of Luck!

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