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‘It’s competitive’: Essential advice for finding a job in Zurich

Looking for work in Zurich or contemplating a change? Before diving head first into your job search, here's some valuable information and advice from experts and readers who have managed to land a job in Switzerland's biggest jobs market.

A computer next to a pad and a cup of coffee on a wooden table
If you are looking for a job in Zurich, you will need these tools - along with The Local's Zurich job guide. Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Living and working in Zurich offers many draw cards from high salaries, a favourable work-life balance and international working environment.

Yet the process of landing a job as a foreigner in Switzerland’s largest canton can be time-consuming and overwhelming when starting out.

READ MORE: Five insider tips to find a job in Switzerland

The labour market in Zurich

Switzerland runs a quota system for foreign labour, meaning there’s an annual cap on the number of permits issued to foreign workers per year.

The Office for Economy and Labour for canton Zurich (AWA) says they issued 5317 work permits in total to third-country nationals in 2021.

This included permit renewals, those already living in Switzerland (for example students) and workers who were only staying for a short time.

In 2022, the canton of Zurich has 393 short-stay L permits and 246 residence B permits for third-country workers in its reserve (although the canton can request for more at the federal level if this runs out).

As Switzerland operates a dual system, the permits are first screened by the canton before being reviewed by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). 

READ MORE: How much do university graduates earn in Switzerland – and who earns the most?

Compared to other cantons, Zurich has more permits at its disposal.

That’s because the canton is the biggest economic driver contributing over 20 percent to the national GDP.

It employs a fifth of the country’s workers and is home to 116,000 companies such as Google, ABB, Microsoft, AXA and Swiss Re.

The AWA declined to name the companies that hired the largest number of foreign workers. However, they did acknowledge that one third of work permits issued in Zurich go toward the information and communications technology (ICT) sector.

READ MORE: Why finding a job in Switzerland is set to become easier

Generally speaking though, the most employable sector is still healthcare with the highest number of employees at 55,200. Other notable sectors include education – thanks to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) and the University of Zurich – and financial services.

A third of all Swiss banks are situated in the Zurich region including UBS, Credit Suisse and Julius Baer and it is estimated that 9 percent of workers in canton Zurich are employed in the industry. 

For those who may be sitting on the fence about working in Zurich, it may be a good time to take the plunge now. Michael Page found a 38 percent jump in the number of advertised jobs from January to December 2021.

The most sought after roles were: IT specialists, engineers, B2B sales professionals and business administrators.

The Swiss city of Zurich. Photo by Tobias A. Müller on Unsplash

The Swiss city of Zurich. Photo by Tobias A. Müller on Unsplash

What the experts say

One of the questions that inevitably arises is: how much does German matter? Nikolaus Schönecker, Senior Team Lead at Hays in Zurich specialises in filling permanent roles in the IT sector.

“The amount of roles not requiring German or Swiss German is increasing, since many companies are realising this is the only way to challenge the shortage of experts,” he says. Nevertheless, having even rudimentary language skills can set you apart from other foreign candidates.

Working remotely from Switzerland: What are the rules for foreigners?

“Show your willingness to learn German. If you aim to be able to follow business meetings in German at a B1 level and reply in English, the barriers will be lower.” 

Stephan Surber, Senior Partner at Page Executive Switzerland, advises job-hunters to connect with the local expat community as well as country-related networking organisations such as the Chambers of Commerce.

Most of these groups including AmCham, Swiss-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Swedish-Swiss Chamber of Commerce also publish a list of its members online, which may be a good guide to finding international firms based in Zurich.

He also suggests jobseekers to target expert networks such as the CFA or ACCA community for financial analysts and accountants. 

EXPLAINED: Which Swiss cantons have a minimum wage?

There are many English-language job portals on hand such as jobsinzurich.com, LinkedIn and The Local’s own job platform. But experts we spoke to said that recruitment agencies or headhunters could prove useful in finding hidden opportunities that are not yet on the market.

They can also provide feedback on interviews and ask their clients questions that a direct candidate would not usually get to ask. 

And if you eventually find yourself across an interviewer, aim to be modest and genuine. “Although self-confidence can surely help in most jobs, most Swiss people dislike bragging and overstating,” reminds Schönecker. “So try to show your best side in a realistic way.” 

What our readers advise

Amadej Kristjan Kocbek moved to Zurich and began working as a Data Engineer at AI services company Unit8 in August 2021. “Based on the lower response rates I got, I could feel that the job market is more competitive in Switzerland than in surrounding countries, but not prohibitively so.”

Originally from Slovenia, Kocbek found his current job through SwissDevJobs, a job portal which focuses on the IT industry. Although he used German with half the companies he interviewed with, most of them did not see it as mandatory.

He recommends people to come with at least a year of relevant experience, to send in job applications in the same language as the advertisement and ultimately, to have persistence for the entire process. “If you only send a few dozen applications and land a job, that’s already very successful.”

Meanwhile, Leeor Groen from Australia began working as an Advisory Assistant Manager at the audit and advisory firm PwC after completing his studies at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.

Freelancing in Switzerland: What foreign nationals need to know

The process was lengthy; his start date was postponed several months as he waited for the approval of his short-term L permit abroad in Tel Aviv. He eventually transferred to a B permit after 11 months.

“It’s hard to break into the job market without a residency permit and language skills especially for early stage graduate positions,” says Groen who is now in the process of applying for permanent residency. “You’re basically relying on your network.”

Groen was most recently a Partner at Blockchain Valley Ventures and says he was brought on as the first employee only after getting in touch with its CEO. 

A survey among our readers echoed these sentiments. Many said that cultivating a strong professional network is key to the job search and agreed that speaking German was at least beneficial to very important.

Other advice we received included having reference letters ready, to be patient with the process (which can stretch over a month), and to avoid overselling oneself.  

To stay on the job market in Switzerland, stay tuned to The Local and check out our Jobs board. 

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BERN

Verdict: How to save money in Bern

Want to feel the Bern on the cheap? Here’s how to save a franc or two in the Swiss capital.

Verdict: How to save money in Bern

The home of Toblerone and Emmental, Bern can be an expensive place to live.

The Swiss ‘capital’ of Bern is home to a number of domestic and international organisations, as well as companies, making it a sought after location for workers. 

EXPLAINED: Why is Bern the ‘capital’ of Switzerland?

Bern is Switzerland’s fifth-largest city on the basis of population, which makes it a little quieter than Zurich or Geneva. 

While the cost of living in Bern might be a little lower than the larger Swiss metropolises, it is still Switzerland – meaning that it can get expensive. 

In order to get a better idea of the cost of living in Bern and how to save money, we reached out to our readers to ask for their perspective – and their tips.

Here is what they had to say. 

How expensive is it to live in Bern?

Compared to other European countries, pretty much every corner of Switzerland is expensive, from Aargau to Zug. 

Fortunately however, unlike other capitals – and we are aware that Switzerland doesn’t technically have a capital as we’ve discussed here – Bern is not the most expensive place in the country. 

The international hubs of Zurich and Geneva, with their strong job markets and expensive rents, are the most expensive cities in Switzerland to live. 

Outside of these two, the most expensive places tend to smaller areas like Saas Fee and Gstaad, which are popular both among tourists and the wealthy. 

READ MORE: The Swiss capital of Bern has a statue of an ogre eating babies and nobody knows why

More than half of those who responded to the survey told us cost of living was an issue in Bern, reflecting the fact that while it may be expensive, it’s still cheaper than other parts of the country. 

How to save money in Bern?

Many of the tips our readers gave us were not Bern-specific, but had relevance no matter where you live in Switzerland. 

Ashutosh, a relative newcomer to Bern, said “don’t spend unnecessarily” while Neil simply said “spend less”, which is a great way to save money wherever you are. 

Bent Mathiese, who has been in Bern for 20 years, told us to use websites like price comparison site Top Priese to get an idea of how to save. 

“I shop in Denner, Migros and Digitec. Other stores charge a premium. Uses toppreise.ch and other sites to compare prices.”

Cost of living: How to save on groceries in Switzerland 

Joe, who has lived in Switzerland for seven years, said “cooking for yourself” was the best way to save. 

Walking in Bern is absolutely free. Photo by Alin Andersen on Unsplash

Walking in Bern is absolutely free. Photo by Alin Andersen on Unsplash

Bern-specific tips to save money

Bern residents will probably also know that some of the greatest things to do here are free. 

Swimming in the beautiful Aare river won’t cost you a centime, while you can also visit the Marzili and Lorraine baths free of charge, including the use of lockers and bathrooms. 

The Rosegarten is home to a spectacular variety of flora and is a perfect place to spend a summer’s day. 

While eating out in Switzerland is never cheap, signing up to the Prozentbuch – annual fee CHF45 – will get you two-for-one meals in restaurants across the city. 

Given that a meal can cost up to CHF45, eating just one meal might get you your annual fee back immediately. 

Cost of living: The most – and least – expensive cantons in Switzerland

If you are visiting Switzerland and you’re going to buy Toblerone or Emmental to take home, keep in mind that they are available in supermarkets for much less than specialty stores and gift shops (and they’ll still come from Bern, so they’re still authentic!)

For tourists, visiting the former home of Albert Einstein will set you back just CHF5 while checking out the Zytglogge is free (guided tour starts at CHF20). 

Tell me more about Bern

Located near the linguistic border between French and German-speaking Switzerland, the capital city has a very picturesque medieval city centre recognised by UNESCO as a Cultural World Heritage Site.

Despite its relatively small size (144,000 residents), Bern also possesses one of the longest shopping promenades in Europe.

Bern. Photo by AFP

Why is this city great for expats? One of the reasons is that its central location and political status means  residents can take advantage of the frequent and reliable public transportation to other major Swiss cities.

Useful information:

Foreign nationals: 16.3 percent

Unemployment rate: 1.8 percent 

Average net monthly salary: 5,490 francs

Average rent (based on size), 3 bedrooms: 2,485 francs

Public transportation: bus, tram

Nearest international airport: Zurich, about 130 km by train or motorway

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