Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Studying in Germany - After

You have your masters degree from a University in Germany, so what next ? There are obviously 2 options - doing a PhD or getting a job. There are a numbers of things that change depending on which one of these choices you make.

Before anything, this article says ''after'', so obviously there were earlier articles and they can be found here. All disclaimers stated in those articles are still good and valid

Obviously you would have thought about your career during the course of your studies. Here are a few steps that would help you get a kick start, besides taking an interest in what you study ofcourse :D !

German: By this time, you should have learnt german to an extent that you can maintain a reasonable conversation. Remember, noone really cares about the grammar mistakes and accent (ofcourse mastering them is an added bonus) as long as you attempt to learn and use the language. You can work in a team only if you are reasonably comfortable with the language even in a MNC. Nobody is going to conduct team meetings in english just for your sake !

Contacts: It is always easy for a company to process an application when it is referred to them through a professor or employee. So make contacts through your lecturers, professors, places where you work part-time as research student. Attend career fairs, conferences and related seminars offered/conducted at the University. These contacts can help you get an internship and/or master thesis and can also serve as references. The easiest way to get a job is to continue your tenure as an employee in the same company where you have been an intern. The team already knows you and your capabilities, so the hiring process is made very simple for them.

Time: Start applying atleast 6 months in advance. Remember there is a lot of paperwork, in getting your visa even after you get a job. So the sooner you start the better. Also many companies have a 2-3 stage interview process and all this takes time, precious time.

Application: You need a concise resume (max. of 2 pages) and a covering letter (this should be altered w.r.t the job position you are applying for) and both in GERMAN (this is Germany, remember ?). You can find tips on how to create a good resume online. Here are a few tips for applications.
  • In Germany, a resume should always have a photo, personal details , your studies/job experience in descending chronological order (most recent one should be first) and a couple of references. Remember, noone is interested in knowing that you were the cricket team captain in class X => Exercise discretion when listing your accomplishments.
  • References are really important and ONLY list people who know you well and will provide a good reference. All companies will contact your references before offering you a job.
  • Register in a job search engine like and have a detailed profile. All companies use such job search engines to find people.
  • Register in an business networking site like LinkedIn and have a detailed profile
  • Always follow up with a phone call a few days after sending in your application. The phone call (in German) can help them understand your interest, your language skills and will make them look up your application, if they haven't already done so.
Here is some information on the preliminary work one has to do before graduation.

Visa: The student visa is always bound to the degree you pursue, which means you cannot use the visa for long once you have graduated. In principle, you can stay in Germany for a year after you graduate with this visa, to look for a job. However you will have to show that you have funds or a student job to support your living costs.

Student Apartment: Obviously one can use it only when one is a student. The contract will most likely expire at the end of the semester you graduate. If you still have not found a place to move in to, you can apply for an extension. Depending on the availability, this may or may not be granted and so apply for an extension as early as possible.

Exmatrikulation: Just like registering at the University, this is more or less giving back your student id. Do not forget to do this because along with this process, you will also be included in the student alumni and you will probably also get free passes to career fairs. It would be smart to do this at the end of the semester even if you have graduated (If this option is available) since you can continue to enjoy student discounts everywhere until the end of the semester.

Now, let me go over the 2 career options one by one.

Doing a PhD
There are mainly 2 kinds of doctoral positions - part-time or full-time. In case of a part-time PhD, you are considered an employee of the University and hence you also have other duties besides you research, like tutoring master students, supervising master thesis and other administrative tasks. Usually this takes 5-6 years in Germany and the gross annual income will be around 40000 euro. After 45% taxes, your take-home pay will be between 1600-1800 euro. These figures obviously vary depending on your Univeristy, research topic and above all, sponsors.

In case of a full-time PhD, you do only research work and hence the duration is 3-4 years. You are considered a doctoral student and your take-home pay will be between 800-1200 euro.

Some universities also offer a third kind, where the pay scale and the time limit is between the 2 choices, given above. The information here is Germany-specific. But there a lot of students who do a PhD in countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland.

Before choosing one of these options, you need to consider the following:
  • Can you deal with the PhD being less lucrative than a job for a few years ? If you have immediate finanical responsibilities, this is probably not the way to go.
  • How long can you spend on a PhD ?
  • Do you have interest in tutoring master students ? The answer to this question and the previous one will help you decide which kind of PhD you want to pursue.
  • It is my belief that to do a PhD, one needs a vision because it is research that may lead to expected or unexpected results and one should be highly committed. Do you have a vision and can you stick to it ?
Job contracts are highly regulated in Germany. Job contracts (for engineers that is) are usually 40 hour per week (can be 35 hr/week in some cases) and come with a 30 day vacation package (add to this 8-10 public holidays, I am so glad Germans take their vacation seriously :D). For a fresher with a masters degree, an annual gross income of 50,000 euro is considered an extremely good salary. Needless to say, salaries and perks are both individual and company dependent.
  • When you have an interview, do your homework and thoroughly learn about the company.
  • Have this information handy: starting date, expected salary and any other requirements related to the job (for example, travel perks, training etc.)
Once you have chosen your career path, life suddenly changes, for the better and inspite of that you will probably miss your student life like I did...oh..well...there are memories, really fond memories ! As always, leave your questions as comments, will do what I can, Good luck !

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