For many expats, living in Switzerland is a wonderful experience because they get to enjoy a good work-life balance and excellent working conditions. Although finding a job in this small Alpine nation can be a challenge, it’s doable. If you’re interested in working in Switzerland, keep reading to find out more about Swiss work culture, working conditions, and landing your first job.
Whether you can move to Switzerland without a job depends on your situation. If you come from an EU or EFTA country, you don’t have to secure a position before you move. However, you have to prove that you have the financial means to support yourself while you’re looking for work.
Individuals who have close family in Switzerland are usually able to live in the country and acquire citizenship without being employed first. This applies to those who have married a Swiss citizen but also those who have Swiss ancestors. According to the Swiss Citizenship Act, you can become a citizen if your mother or father is Swiss, no matter what country you were born in. In certain cases, third-generation foreigners can also get citizenship without employer sponsorship.
The easiest way to get a residence permit is to find employment in Switzerland. If you come from an EU or EFTA country, this isn’t complicated because you can come to Switzerland and find a job once you arrive.
Those who have a non-EU or EFTA passport have to get a work permit before they can become residents of Switzerland. This can be challenging because employers have to prove that no equivalent Swiss, EU, or EFTA worker could be found before hiring someone from a non-EU or EFTA nation. However, there is a shortage of IT and business workers, so those with outstanding qualifications can often find a suitable position and get a work visa.
Further reading: Is It Difficult to Get a Work Visa in Switzerland?
Although you can make speculative job applications and check for opportunities on online portals, you’re more likely to be successful if you have help from someone who knows the local job market. They can connect you to suitable employers and provide you with resources that help you understand Swiss business culture.
Because Switzerland is a highly desirable destination, there is quite a lot of competition for English-speaking jobs. The best way to stand out from the crowd is to work with a staffing agency that already has contacts with key businesses in your industry. Companies are more likely to grant you an interview if you’re recommended by an agency like Rigby than if you make a speculative application.
If you already have a network in Switzerland, you have an advantage. In this case, you can ask your family members or friends for job search tips. They might have relevant contacts and a better understanding of where to find local opportunities.
Don’t worry if you don’t already have a network. You can always take a trip to Switzerland and meet others in your industry. Remember, everyone can get a three-month tourist visa, so nothing is stopping you from visiting and getting to know some locals. If you don’t yet speak German or French, you can join expat Meetup groups or organisations such as the American International Club of Zurich to meet other English speakers. These groups host regular events, so you can get to know Swiss residents in your industry.
After you meet people, follow up with them within a few days. Add them to your LinkedIn network or send them a friendly email. When interacting with your Swiss contacts, remember that communication is often more formal than in other countries. Use people’s last names and start your email with “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” instead of “Hi.”
Although the chances of getting your dream position are lower if the business isn’t actively looking to recruit, there are certain benefits to sending speculative applications. Many companies will value your proactive approach and interest in their business, and they might be more likely to consider you because you’ve sought them out.
In Switzerland, businesses often welcome speculative applications as long as they’re tailored to the company in question. Always research the firm by browsing through the website, searching for news articles, asking your contacts who work there, checking the business’s social media profiles, and visiting industry events. The more you know, the better you can target your application.
If you come from a more informal country, you might be surprised by how formal Swiss business culture is. Always arrive on time when meeting a Swiss person. Shake their hands firmly and look into their eyes while greeting them.
Avoid sensitive topics like religion when making small talk. Stick to food, travel, the weather, sports, and leisure activities. Politics is sometimes an acceptable topic, but it’s better to wait until the other person brings it up. Work and private life are strongly separated, so it’s important not to call Swiss co-workers or business partners outside of working hours.
Once you’ve learned about Swiss business culture, do your best to adapt to it. When working in Switzerland, following the rules is more important than standing out, so you’ll leave a favourable impression if you stick to the local customs.
Another way to impress your business associates is to learn the language. People will appreciate the effort you put into learning German, French, or Italian, and they might be more likely to give you a chance. If you already speak the relevant language, learning the local dialect might be even more beneficial. Remember, you don’t have to be completely fluent to make a good impression.
The working conditions are excellent in Switzerland when compared to other countries. Because there are strict regulations, workers are protected, and everyone can benefit from a fair wage. Before you start applying for jobs, make sure you understand the laws related to work contracts, working hours, salaries, and termination periods. The more information you have, the better you can negotiate with your future employer.
The labour laws in Switzerland are meant to protect workers and prevent mistakes. When you start a new job, you’re typically on probation for one to three months. During the probation period, your contract can be terminated within seven days. Once probation is over, your employer has to give you one month’s notice. After you’ve been working with a company for more than two years, you’ll receive two months’ notice. After ten years, you’ll receive three months’ notice.
There are also laws that protect you if you get ill or injured. Your employer can’t dismiss you for a certain period while you’re unwell. You will get a minimum of 20 days off in addition to public holidays. If you’re under 20 or over 50, you get 25 days off.
You’ll find information about your working hours in your employment contract. Typically, people working in offices, large retail businesses, and the industrial sector can’t work more than 45 hours a week. Those in other industries can work up to a maximum of 50 hours a week.
If you want to work overtime, these working hours and daily rest times still have to be respected. Unless you’re a manager, your employer has to pay you 25% more when you work overtime. Sometimes, you can exchange the extra pay for extra time off.
Virtually everyone receives a fair wage in Switzerland, which is why tipping isn’t as essential as it is in other countries. Although there is no federal minimum wage, many cantons have their own requirements. In Zurich, a new minimum hourly wage of CHF 23.90 has recently been passed. Several other cantons also have minimum wages ranging between CHF 19 and CHF 24.
The three most commonly spoken languages in Switzerland are German, French, and Italian. If you settle in the west of the country, you’ll most likely need to learn French. If you settle in the south, your business associates might speak Italian. Most of the eastern part of Switzerland is German-speaking. It’s important to note that locals speak a dialect known as Swiss German, but most business communication is conducted in standard German.
Although there are English-speaking jobs available in IT and business, working in Switzerland is easier when you know the local language. You can start learning German, French, or Italian online, join a group language class, or hire a private tutor.
Further reading: Can You Get a Job in Switzerland If You Only Speak English?
Various types of jobs are available in Switzerland. While many companies are looking for permanent employees, some are seeking contract staff or people to work on a specific project. Before you start looking for work, think about the kind of position that would suit you. Do you want to test the waters with a short-term contract first? Or are you ready to find an indefinite position and relocate to Switzerland permanently?
Companies often need workers for a specific duration. They might have a temporary staff shortage or higher demand than usual. In this case, they sometimes hire workers from other countries for a specified duration, for example, a year or two. These employees aren’t considered permanent staff. Once the contract is over, the employment relationship is usually terminated. However, contracts can be extended or renewed.
Sometimes, companies initiate projects their regular employees don’t have the necessary expertise to complete on their own, so they hire temporary team members with specific knowledge and skills. Typically, a position related to such a project only lasts for a few months or years. When the necessary work is complete, the relationship between the employee and the company ends. Often, there are opportunities for reassignment to other projects or tasks.
In Switzerland, indefinite contracts are common. Many employers are looking for permanent employees who will stay with the company in the long term. This kind of contract doesn’t come with a fixed end date. Instead, it’s open-ended, which means that the above-mentioned termination laws apply.
It’s worth noting that Swiss workers tend to be quite loyal. According to a study by JobCloud AG and the Link Institute, almost 90% of employees could imagine staying with their employers for five years or more. Therefore, your new employer might expect you to remain with them for some years if they offer you a permanent placement.
Further reading: Working as an AI Engineer in Switzerland
If you don’t currently live in Switzerland and German or French isn’t your first language, finding a suitable job in Switzerland can be hard. The best way to find out about open positions is to use a varied approach. Check out job boards, talk to your network, and contact a recruitment agency in your area. Companies like Rigby can match you with a suitable position, but they’ll also keep your CV on file and alert you to new opportunities. That way, you’ll never miss out on a potential job.
In the past, the Swiss workforce was very homogenous. Although attitudes are changing and people from varied backgrounds are more likely to find employment nowadays, foreign applicants still have to submit more job applications to be invited for an interview. This is another reason why working with a recruitment agency is important. Companies trust high-quality recruiters, so they are more likely to give you a chance when you apply through them.
Working in Switzerland can be exciting and lucrative. When accepting a contract or permanent position, you can expect great working conditions, a fair salary, and clearly defined working hours. Send us a message at Rigby AG to find out more about open positions. Or if you’re not quite ready to apply for a job, head over to our ‘Newsletter’ page and download our free ‘Living in Switzerland’ guide. It contains an extensive section about work.