German language skills - Do you need them to get a job as a software developer in Germany?

By Jörg Kleis

Java, Javascript, Golang, C, … all are international languages that software developers “speak” around the world. But, when it comes to working languages, tech professionals looking for jobs in Germany wonder if they have to be able to speak or understand any German - and if so, how much. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to German language skills.

Are German skills needed to take on a job in Germany? First, you need to know this

Germany and German speaking countries including Germany, Switzerland and Austria form a relatively large market, which translates into high volumes of business being done in German. The German-speaking population of these three countries alone is almost 100 million. Granted, if you’re from India, 100 million isn’t that much. But from a European perspective it very well is.

So unlike smaller countries like Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, or the Czech Republic with a unique language where companies naturally seek doing business internationally and therefore in English, most German companies have German products or German services for German-speaking clients, which means employees and teams speak German.

Germans like to speak English, and in fact would like to be able to speak it even better

That being said, if you are wondering about Germans and how they see and look at non-German speakers, it is not that there exists an unwillingness of Germans to speak English. In fact, you are going to find that many Germans speak English at a fair level and would even love to improve their English skills. Obviously, the younger that other person is, the more likely it is that their English is quite okay.

However, the simple reason that English as such doesn’t play a bigger role in daily life including work life so far is that the large majority of Germans isn’t as exposed to English as others. So, they don’t speak English better because they simply don’t have to. This is also the reason why foreign TV shows and movies are translated and synchronized by professional speakers here. In short: The German-speaking market as such has a sufficient size for happily doing business in it.

If you’re a software developer, you generally don’t have to know any German - as long as your English is very good

The reason I am mentioning all this is that the vast majority of international applicants we worked with over the last years, and who are not software developers, have expressed their dissatisfaction that “nobody had told them earlier” on how hard it could be to get a job if you don’t know any German. The good news is: If you are a software developer you have plenty of English options.

There are over 100.000 unfilled positions in Tech & IT in Germany every year. This means that lots of companies regularly end up failing to find and hire applicants. Why? Simply because there is a shortage of skilled IT professionals. And you have to know how to get one of these jobs. At the moment, we see between 5% and 10% of job descriptions being published in English or expressing openness for English-speaking applicants - and that is much more than in all other professional areas.

For other professionals and industries, the starting point is more difficult

We estimate the numbers have risen by over 200% over the last 10 years and they will keep in an ever-globalizing world with a need for foreign specialists. However, this again only applies to a special group of experts, namely software developers. Of course, there are exceptions based on the company (“We hire internationally!”) or industry (“We need to get a hold of as many applicants as possible.”). Meaning, there are companies that for themselves have decided to start hiring English-speaking applicants from all sorts of areas regularly.

However, this only applies to a small portion of German companies. Last time I checked, only 1% of German employers really hire in English at all. Yes, multinationals are more open, but then again they are harder to get into. Even SAP consultants - which is essentially “Tech & IT” or hardware technicians are struggling to find jobs without German skills. Again, the following logic applies: Many jobs are for German-speakers because they deal with German customers in a German work environment. It doesn’t mean you won‘t get hired. It just means it will be harder.

You want to widen your options. Here is my overall statement about German skills at the workplace

The good news again is that for software developers, coders, testers and data analysts we see a growing number of English-speaking jobs in Germany. Nonetheless, as your coach I would always advise you to widen your options. Here is why: Many CEOs keep telling us: “If he or she will be in touch with the customer or the client, they will need to speak German because our business is in German and our customers are German.”

Let me go back to the example of SAP consultants - high demand and easy to get in - if you speak German. Because in a case in which the customers or clients are German, you can bet that German skills will be required in one way or another. And this means that hiring managers or HR will want to check your language skills by being able to speak at least on a good B1-level, if not on a solid B2-level.

Understand that there is a correlation between your German skills and your options

This means there is a strong correlation between you moving from A1 to A2, over to B1 and to B2 on the one hand and you being able to attract more attention from more employers as you are doing so. Because, while there are employers who are not willing to hire someone without any German skills, there will gradually be more as you move up the ladder. They see your willingness and ability to learn. They say, “If this lady is already at A2, she will learn German at the office in no time.” And there are going to be even more of those if you can show off with a B2 certificate.

You will essentially kill two birds with one stone: First, you show your commitment to learn. It will not only help you with the German as such, but also help you score points in the social skill department. Second, any German skills will still come in handy when you relocate and settle down here. Making new friends, meeting colleagues after work, traveling cross-country by Deutsche Bahn - you name it. To make a long story short: The question about your German skills is likely to be and remain an issue throughout your application, recruiting and onboarding process.

The best way to learn a language is to speak it

The best way to learn a language is to speak it. This is especially so because there will come a point where you simply get the feeling that all that dry German grammar isn’t really cutting it for you any longer, for example after having already progressed to B1 and B2. At some point in time, all you need to do is speak the language. Second, speaking German with Germans can be great fun. If you talk to them without them expecting it, they will love you for it - just like they’ll love correcting your mistakes.

“Du kannst schon ein bisschen Deutsch?” That’s great! By the way, Chatterbug is a great platform to actually talk to people whose mother tongue is German. are good platforms. And there are Facebook Groups where people offer their services if you type in “Deutsch lernen”. Viel Spaß dabei! If you’re interested in learning more about how can help you find your job as a software developer, Data Scientist or Tester you are invited to watch our free online training video.