5 Things You Need to Know About Working in Germany

When you think of Germany, pretzels, beer and BMWs are common stereotypes that come to mind. But there is much more to Deutschland than that – especially if you are planning to work.

Reichstag

A country built on research, innovation and its ability to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), with the biggest economy in Europe and the fourth largest in the world – who wouldn’t want the opportunity to work in Germany?

Not only home to many of the European and Worldwide market leaders, recent figures show more than 45,000 foreign companies are also conducting business there. Although many more factors have helped shape German industry, this structure has consequently had deep impacts on the Procurement (Beschaffung) role.

The Need to Know

Procurious founder, Tania Seary, recently had the opportunity to meet the leadership team from the German Association of Materials Management, Purchasing and Logistics (BME) in Frankfurt. BME have established themselves as a professional association for buyers and logistics, supporting members in developing new markets and the configuration of economic processes.

According to BME, there are more than 100,000 procurement professionals working in Germany, so here’s what you need to know if you’re looking to join them:

  1. Germans can be considered the masters of planning

Doing business in Germany without adequate cross-cultural awareness is a risky proposition, and businesses should ensure they carry with them an appreciation of both the business landscape and the culture. Hierarchy is highly valued in Germany, and there are often myriad procedures and policies which can slow things down, so having a bit of patience is crucial to the success of business negotiations.

The desire for orderliness spills over into the business life of Germans – surprises and humour are not welcome! According to the German Business Culture Guide, everything is carefully planned out and decided upon, with changes rarely occurring after an agreement is made.

  1. Get used to some straight talking

There are cultural differences at play. The German business culture is perhaps less instantaneous than in countries like the UK, and personal relationships that are developed slowly over time are seen as a more desirable way to do business. Don’t be surprised if you jump straight into business talk, as there is little time for small talk.

  1. A series of villages, not really a country

Germany is a country with a long history and vast cultural differences throughout. For a country of its size (only 357,000km² – Australia is 21 times bigger), it has 16 states and over 400 districts.

This means you’re going to need to recognise the contrasts across the country, especially as industry is fragmented and big companies operate often in small villages. Although complex, this presents a fantastic opportunity to learn how to work with, and understand, different cultures – a brilliant training ground for future leaders.

  1. If you’re a social media nut – this is a different landscape

By sheer numbers, social media is as popular here as the rest of the world. According to the EU’s “Passport to Trade” more than 75 per cent of all Germans over 14 years of age use the Internet in some way, and 90 per cent of 14 to 29 year olds are on social media.

What is different about social media in Germany is the popularity of the local, German-only networks, in addition to the global players. The most popular networks listed according to their number of users are (get ready – you may not have even heard of some of these):

  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • Xing
  • Wer-kennt-wen
  • MeinVZ/StudyVZ
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • Lokalisten.

Up until 2009, there were up to 15 million German-speaking users on a German language network resembling Facebook called StudiVZ. But Facebook eventually conquered Germany (as it has for most of the world), as it enabled users to socialise and interact with people outside Germany too.

There is a Russian joke that says:  “Twitter can’t be popular in Germany, because 140 characters are basically two words in German.”  There are certainly enough short words to compose tweets in German, but when you read that only 10 per cent of Germans use Twitter, it makes you think there might be some truth to that joke.

With words like “kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung” meaning ‘car liability insurance’, and “donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitaenswitwe” meaning ‘widow of a Danube steamboat company captain’, let’s hope Twitter changes to a 15,000-character limit soon!

  1. And your role in procurement…

Procurement is not the only function of choice – it’s one of hundreds – and, if you’re coming from a large multinational corporation, a word you need to understand and add to your vocabulary is “Mittelstand”.

We often throw in terms like MNCs and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) around when asked who your employer is, but statistically what is the real difference?

Statistically, any business with fewer than 500 employees is classed as an SME. However, in Germany this would mean that 99 per cent of businesses would fall into this category.

So the Germans created the world “Mittelstand”, which can refers to both SMEs and much larger companies, if they are run in the same spirit. This typically means the owner or owners take business decisions largely on their own, but retain close ties with both the business and the employees.

This involvement with the business applies to over 3.6 million “Mittelstand” companies, providing more than 60 per cent of all jobs in Germany, and making up 53 per cent of the country’s GDP. So the chances are you’ve already conducted business with a potential employer.

There you have it – some top tips for working and doing business in Germany. And if you’re looking for a job there, or plan on working there in the future, good luck (or as the Germans say…viel Glück!)