With one of the best-paid workforces in Europe and an equally gold-plated social safety net, it's easy to see why working in Switzerland is so attractive. These factors are enhanced by low crime, picture-book scenery and the very best winter sports facilities.
There are hurdles however . . . The work force is small, competition is fierce and while EU/EFTA accords have eased employment restrictions for member states, job seekers from outside Europe will find their attempts hampered by red tape.
Job seeking sources
Nowadays the best job finding resources in Switzerland for English-speakers are online.
The Local’s own jobs section has listings of hundreds of English-speaking jobs across Switzerland.
Sites such as Jobwinner.ch (Jobup.ch in French-speaking regions), or the more executive alpha.ch and MPB , are popular among both job seekers and employers. Depending on the canton you will find scores of offers from companies that require staff armed with an English mother tongue.
The service provides a free system to download your CV and cover-letter and send them directly to the employer. It works. However, don’t expect too much from merely posting your CV on the site (another service) – much better to be proactive.
Agencies including Adecco still form a major pillar of the Swiss employment market but are generally more useful for applicants already in possession of a work permit.
Considering the transient nature of expat life, speculative applications are certainly worth a shot. Before mailing your cover letter and CV, identify your target: Personalabteilungsleite in German or Directeur de Ressources Humaines (French). Addressing these officials in their respective languages if possible will win brownie points. Many Swiss consider that English speakers don’t make enough linguistic effort and they have a point. This brings us to . . .
Although Switzerland employs three major national languages, English is frequently used in the work place. Nonetheless, knowledge of German, French and, to a lesser extent, Italian is going to be an advantage. Take note though – the German-Swiss dialect contains vocabulary and expressions entirely alien to high German speakers. On the other hand the French used in Switzerland is more manageable and far slower than say, the machinegun delivery of Parisians. Meanwhile, both Chinese (Mandarin) and Russian language skills are fast becoming valuable additions to linguistic requirements.
EU/EFTA members enjoy the right to move between cantons, change jobs, bring their family into the country and for those family members to work. They can spend up to three months in Switzerland searching for work if they choose. If intending to spend more than three months here they are required to register with the canton of residence.
For non-EU/EFTA nationals the process is far more painful. Annual quotas are limited and employers are obliged to prove that the job on offer isn’t one that could be filled by a local. Permits are also restricted to those with higher education.
If you get that far and have agreed terms, the employer will send you an official job offer. The HR department will then apply for your residency in the same canton. If accepted by local authorities, your employer will send you a Zusicherung der Aufenthalsbewilligung or Autorisation de Séjour, essentially pre-approval for residency. This is the document you must present to secure the final residency permit when you arrive in Switzerland. Be warned – the entire process could drag on for several months and promises of a permit from your potential employer should be taken with a pinch of salt. The final decision lies with the canton.
International organizations are major employers in Switzerland, especially in Geneva. Work permits are not required and staff are issued with a special ID card (Identitätskarte or Carte de Légitimation).
Swiss companies are scrupulous about screening and we’ve also heard from some natives and long-serving expats that wearing a watch to a job interview is a consideration. While we’ve yet to confirm or refute this claim, it would be a shame to risk disqualification over such an oversight.
Wearing a tie is probably the safest option, but there are increasing signs of relaxation in the Swiss workplace. This depends on the company you’re aiming to join. If in doubt, ask what is expected.
Holders of B permits – generally the version newcomers are awarded these – are taxed at source according to cantonal fiscal regulations. This means you never get to see the cash. As soon as you graduate to a C permit, which takes five to 10 years, then you are required to process your own contributions.
Some perceive that the rise in power of the right wing Swiss People’s Party (those behind the infamous ban on the construction of minarets) in recent years has prompted an increase in national xenophobia.
Nonetheless, it’s worth remembering that the majority of the population doesn’t share these views and embraces easier employment policies, provided immigrants respect Swiss customs and stay out of trouble.