Job Hunting for Students 101

Searching for jobs is a tedious process for everyone, even more so if you are a graduate fresh out of university and going into the “real world”. The Career Center at ETH aims to ease this transition. Lorena Coletti, career advisor, gives a peek into the do’s, the don’ts, and the must-knows of job hunting in Switzerland.

by Polykum Redaktion

by ETH Career Center

Question: Lorena, as a career advisor at ETH Career Center you counsel students, PhD’s and postdocs from diverse countries. What is the most common question you’re asked?

Lorena: I think the most common question is: “Can you check my CV?”. Our CV checks are always fully booked due to the high demand for professional feedback. For foreigners, there are some special aspects to consider: It’s crucial to include personal data like full contact information (phone number, address, etc.), date of birth, and nationality. Also, it’s common to include a photo. If your CV is the only one without one, it might get lost in the shuffle. A cover letter is not always required. In recent years, the demand for them has decreased. If in doubt, opt for one. It’s an opportunity to make a personal connection with the employer and to stand out from others. Use it to explain how your goals and aspirations align with theirs. Check out our ETH Application Guide for more detailed information about application documents.

Talking about application documents. What is this so-called “Arbeitszeugnis” in Switzerland?

Lorena: The “Arbeitszeugnis”, also called “work certificate” or “reference letter”, is a formal document issued by an employer. Employees are legally entitled to get this document if they have worked for a company for more than three months. It must include the following: start and end date of the job, the role and activities carried out, an assessment of the quality of the employee’s work and behaviour, and the reason why it has been issued (termination, change of boss, etc.). The most important part of it is the evaluation of the employee’s performance and conduct during the employment. The document should not contain any unclear or coded language.

How important is it to speak German when working in Switzerland?

Lorena: This depends on the type of job, location, industry, etc. The language(s) spoken in the workplace depends on the region and the company. Some places require fluency in German while others may prioritise English to communicate effectively with colleagues and clients. Speaking the local language can help you better integrate into the culture and society in which you’re living, which can be beneficial personally and professionally. The same applies to the French- and Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland.

There is another important topic when working in Switzerland. As in every country around the world, people cannot just come to Switzerland and work. How does this work?

Lorena: This is indeed a vast and also delicate topic, especially for non-EU/EFTA citizens. Citizens from EU/EFTA countries must register and apply for a residence permit if they want to stay and work in Switzerland for more than three months. Non-EU/EFTA nationals need a relevant work permit even for short-term employment. It is up to the future employer to take the necessary steps to obtain a work permit.

As the Career Center is not specialised in law and regulation related topics, we regularly invite specialists to share their knowledge at the “Working in Switzerland” event. We also recommend that third-country nationals reaching out to the local legal authorities or companies specialised in this topic (e.g. a-link, smartpermit, swisspermitsolutions, sigtax, etc.).

Switzerland has one of the highest average salaries, which is certainly a good reason for foreign graduates to stay here and look for a job. What do they have to look out for when it comes to salary?

Lorena: Salary is often a taboo topic as many people are uncomfortable talking about it. We recommend to wait for the employer to initiate salary discussions, but if they haven’t done so by the end of a second interview, you should bring it up. Know your worth and have a salary range in mind. Do your research using salary calculators, employer rating platforms, and professional associations. Also consider how well your profile fits the position. The salary being negotiated is always the gross salary from which social security and
other costs may be deducted. In Switzerland companies commonly pay a 13th month of salary instead of the standard 12 months. To avoid confusion, we recommended to talk about the yearly salary. Look at the entire compensation package (bonus, extra pension, fringe benefits, working hours and vacation days). Also, be aware of regional differences in salary and cost of living. What counts at the end of the day is what you have left to spend after your essential costs.

What about the culture? The Swiss are known to value responsibility, punctuality, detail orientation and hard work. How should people behave when they start a job?

Lorena: There are some things that are common to the Swiss work culture especially when it comes to punctuality but also discretion and confidentiality. But having worked in different companies, from start-ups to big corporates in various industries, I’ve encountered very different cultures. What I recommend is a bit of caution at the beginning. Try to ask questions, observe well and get a feel for how the culture works in your new environment, what the unwritten rules are, and then adapt accordingly.

What is your final advice for those wanting to enter the Swiss job market as a foreign student?

Lorena: Networking is key. Many jobs are traded on the hidden job market. Employers often look for talents internally. Con-tacts with existing staff are important and networking via social media or employer branding events like job fairs are also widely used. Just applying to job ads might not be enough. If you get the chance to present yourself and make a good impression, it’s more likely that people are open to discuss your profile even if you don’t speak German or need a work permit.

Lorena Coletti

is a career advisor at the ETH Career Center with a combined background in business and psychology. In the last 15 years she has worked in various roles such as client services, project and event management, talent acquisition and academic research. Thanks to her experience in different companies – from start-ups, midsized and international corporate companies to university settings – she has a broad knowledge of the Swiss job market. She loves to share her knowledge to support people to evolve in their careers and professional life.

For more information about your application and career planning, check out our website:

You may also like