The extent of ease or difficulty that you experience getting a position, will depend on your skill set, where you’re from, what field you’d like to work in, and what stage you are at in your career development.
Non-EU and with little work experience
It is often more difficult for non-EU (non European Union) residents to find a job, as well as for those just starting out in their careers (straight out of school). To come to Switzerland to work, one generally has to have a job lined up (complete with an employment contract guaranteed by the employer), in order to get a work permit. If you are not from an EU country, and just starting out in your career, the usual way to find a job in Basel is to apply as a trainee or for an internship (often called Praktikant positions).
Traineeships and Internships
Many companies in Basel run this type of program, but look carefully on the career search websites, as this type of training position can be listed under a different category than full time positions. I started out in Basel as an intern (15 years ago!), which allowed me to get some work experience, build a network and learn some of the local language and customs, paving the way for future jobs. Don’t be afraid to network; my first job in Basel came from meeting someone at a party in Canada, whose brother was living in Switzerland! There is a vast network of international trainees from different industries and companies in Basel, so you’re sure to meet interesting people with similar interests.
Be flexible with contact and interview methods
Most interested employers will begin the interview process by telephone. If you are not currently residing in Basel or the surrounding area, going from applicant to interviewee may be difficult. Interested employers may have difficulties contacting you due to time differences, and will definately have difficulties organizing a live interview. Internet-video based interviews are not unheard of, so make sure you have a wide variety of such platforms (Skype, MS Lync, etc.) at your disposal, and be sure to tell your potential employers, that you are flexible to contacted at their convenience. Be patient and be sure to follow-up with potential employers occasionally (once a month or so), if you have not heard back from potential offers.
Your interview might also take place at an office in your own country, at the local video conferencing facility of the company (if there is a branch near you). It’s rare for entry-level candidates to be flown into Basel for an interview, even for the larger companies, and nearly unheard of for smaller companies with less generous recruiting budgets. If you are accepted for a position, your employer will organize your work permit, but you’ll have to fill out the required paperwork they provide you with to ensure the process goes forward.
From the EU and with little work experience
Residents of EU or the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), are usually allowed to come to Switzerland for three months while job hunting. This period can be increased to six months in some cases. If you are from the EU, or currently have a Swiss work permit, getting a job (or changing jobs) is still a relatively slow, and labor intensive process, often taking 3 -6 months or longer. If you are already in Basel, you might try to deliver your application to smaller companies, in person. Be sure to dress appropriately, learn about what the company does and do your best to make a good impression. I’ve worked with several small (20-30 person) companies in Basel and applications from this type of candidate were preferred, as candidates could make an impression to go with the application package they dropped off. Don’t be afraid to look outside the city limits or to accept an offer that is not your ‘dream job’, as these positions can be excellent stepping stones, and provide you with more time to find a job that better suits you. Your first few jobs might not be exactly what you want, but it’s critical to build your skill set and gain experience, so that once the perfect job does come along, your profile fits it.
Again, internships and trainee positions are the easiest position for someone starting out on their career path. If you don’t need immediate funds, you might even consider volunteering at some of these places free of charge, in order to learn the business, make connections and show the team what you’re capable of.
If you are an established professional, from either EU or non-EU countries, getting a job will pose many of the same challenges for those who are just starting out. In order to give yourself the best chances to find a position, it’s critical to market yourself as a unique asset to the company you plan to work for. You need to carefully tailor each application (both CV and cover letter), and be certain to focus on matching your skill set, with that required by the position. If possible, try to give specific examples of how your abilities apply to the position you are applying for. You want to be sure the recruiter or employer sees how your skills are transferable to the open position. If you are currently located outside of Basel and the surrounding area, you’ll likely need to come to the city in order to interview. For high level positions, this might be covered by the company, but be certain to clarify this with them in advance. As with any high level interview, preparation is critical, so be sure to prepare yourself for the interview well in advance, bring a list of intelligent, relevant questions you might have regarding the position, and bring along any additional materials you might need to show.
If you receive an offer which is not exactly what you want, you might consider accepting it, while you continue your job search for something more appropriate. In Switzerland, there is generally a three month probationary period, where you can leave a job with minimal notice. This will be listed in your contract/terms of employment. Alternatively, there are numerous multi-national companies in Basel; it might be best to try and get a position at a branch of one of these in your home country and then get transferred internally.
Some ideas to improve your chances of finding a position
To optimize your chances of gaining employment I’ve provided tips and resources to help your job search in Basel.
- CV format –The Swiss CV format is different than that of many other countries as it includes a photograph (current and professional looking), and personal information such as your birthdate, marital status, and whether you have children. You should not omit any of these details.
- Headhunters- There are numerous agencies both online or in Basel itself, that will try to find you a job (note: there are also some scam agencies, so don’t pay agencies to do this. Headhunters are generally paid by the companies they find new hires for).
- Learn German – While the spoken language in Basel is the Swiss German Dialect, a strong background High German will certainly help you, especially if you can read and write fluently. There are online and retail courses that will teach you German, and private and public lessons should available where you live. You should take a course that provides you with an official certificate
- Networking – Be sure you talk to people in the region who might be able to help you and join relevant groups on LinkedIn and Facebook.