Anglo expats mine creativity to earn crust

Emily Mawson
Emily Mawson - [email protected]
Anglo expats mine creativity to earn crust
Gareth Knott: "Thankfully design is a universal language." Photo: Handout

Switzerland’s job market is appealingly lucrative but sometimes anglophones need to be creative to find a job in a country where English is not an official language, as The Local's Emily Mawson finds out.


Switzerland tops global quality of living surveys time and again, with high salaries, low tax rates and positive personal finance all cited as attractive factors.

It’s no coincidence that expats ranked it fourth out of 61 countries for working abroad in a 2014 survey by expatriate community Internations, or that 71 percent of those polled described their personal finances as excellent.

What’s perhaps even more striking is the potential to carve out a career niche without knowledge of one of the three national languages – French, German and Italian.

Switzerland is a global banking and financial hub and it hosts numerous multinational companies with an international workforce that enhance the possibilities.

And there are other opportunities, although they may not seem obvious at first.

Following a calling

Language can be a barrier for many in the expat community to begin with, as British-born Sunita Sehmi knows only too well.

In 1992 she moved to Geneva with her husband, in order to be closer to his family. She left behind a lucrative career in executive financial recruitment in the City of London.

“I spoke no French at all, which was a clear professional disadvantage,” she says.

“I was out of work for nine months, and I felt completely incompetent.”

Determined to work, Sehmi used her period of unemployment to learn French.

Having lost confidence in her career, she then took a job teaching English. “It gave me purpose and the boost I desperately needed.”

And the challenges she faced ultimately gave her the impetus to do what she had always wanted.

Although she loved working with children, her goal was supporting and guiding adults to achieve their ambitions.

After qualifying as an executive coach, in 2010 she founded coaching company Walk the Talk to support trailing spouses who found themselves in a similar position to her.

She says: “I love consulting, supporting and coaching trailing spouses, as I know how frustrating it can be when you move to a foreign country.”

Finding market niches 

Swiss recruitment specialist and partner at Swisslinx AG Caroline Ruedin agrees that although not speaking the local language can be a hindrance, there are still opportunities to be found.

She says: “There are still a wide variety of roles open to professionals who only speak English – especially for roles with an international focus or roles requiring niche skills and experience.”

Austrian-Irish magazine editor Carina Scheuringer, who came to Switzerland in 2005, used language to her advantage when she discovered the country was the ideal springboard for self-employment and the fulfilment of her long-standing bilingual magazine business idea.

In 2013 she found a gap in the Swiss market and teamed up with friend and business partner Cherez Tschopp to launch travel and leisure magazine ‘Spot’ in English and German.

A qualified journalist, Carina’s CV also features stints editing Zurich airport’s magazine AIR and international magazine Swiss News, freelancing in writing, editing, photography and teaching, and doing communications for Ernst & Young.

Carina Scheuringer. Photo: Cherez Tschopp

“Switzerland is a beautiful country with much to do and see – and many incredible stories to tell," Scheuringer says.

"In an otherwise over-saturated Swiss market, we felt that there was still room for a publication which provides high quality and independent tried and tested insider articles, packed with useful information on where to go and what do to in Switzerland.

“Self-employment was a good option for us to realize our business idea without having to compromise on our values and to provide the Swiss market with a product we can really stand behind.”

A universal language

South African multidisciplinary designer Gareth Knott also summoned the courage to fulfil his career dream in Switzerland.

After initially arriving to work on a temporary project for one of his clients, he fell in love with a local. Now based in Zurich, he soon spotted a gap in the market for his talents.

“I saw that there was a need for designers on the ground that could reach small start-up companies needing professional design work to give them the right public image,” he explains, of the idea behind his company Lifetime Designs.

For Knott, self-employment was a dream rather than a necessity.

“There are always great opportunities in Switzerland that are also much more secure,” he says.

“But I thrive working for myself, building my dream not someone else's.”

He was helped by working with a group called Impact Hub Zurich, whose international network he describes as “very supportive and incredibly connected”.

The group provides budding entrepreneurs with workspaces, start-up incubation programmes and workshops.

With services in English, it serves as a support network that also allows innovators to network with potential clients.

But Knott adds adds that “thankfully good design is a universal language!”

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