Tag Archives: Switzerland

Guest Blog by Larissa Hämisegger

I thought I was bad at learning languages.

Back in high school, it was mandatory for us to study French and my grades were pretty bad. I don’t like to learn things by heart, I need to understand the reasons behind something. And that’s actually how we learn languages in school. We learn to understand the grammar of the language. However, all I remember from these 8 years or so of French classes is the struggle I had with studying grammar and words and memorizing the exceptions – and there were a lot of them. Am I able to have a conversation in French now? No!

During high school, I had the opportunity to study abroad one year and I chose Sweden. I thought: they all speak English well, which would make it easier to find friends and a sense of belonging. Of course, it wasn’t. While they do all speak fluent English, conversation amongst Swedes is obviously in Swedish. Real social integration was impossible without being able to understand and speak Swedish. So I took lessons in Swedish but after 10 or so classes I realized it was taking too long to learn something I could actually use. Also, I didn’t want to spend my time with the other exchange students: I wanted to get to know the Swedish life.

So I chose to do the following:

– I had sticky notes all over the apartment with the Swedish words for all the things we had at home.

– I watched Swedish shows with Swedish subtitles.

– I listened carefully whenever I heard people talking – to the sounds, the melody, and tried to understand at least the topic, they were talking about.

– Whenever I heard a word several times I asked what it was or looked it up in the dictionary and since I heard it many times, it stayed in my head easily.

– And since it got dark very early there, I looked through the newspapers and read about what time the sun rises and when it sets.

What happened? After 3 months I had this click moment and I was able to understand most of what people were saying. A month later I was fluent. I applied Swedish as much as I could because my main motivation was to make friends and integrate. The Swedes were impressed and started to click with me because I used all their slang words. Of course, I had those words because I learned what people were talking through reality TV shows and listening to classmates. But it was exactly that, that showed I tried to adapt and didn’t learn the language from a book.

Recently I had a chat with a linguist and then the penny dropped. It is well known that we learn a language faster by listening and imitating and not by studying grammar and vocabulary. We are not bad at learning languages, nor are they too difficult, or our brains too old – we just mostly learn the wrong way.

So here’s what do you need to do to learn a language fast:

– listen attentively and often

– imitate and repeat what you hear

– listen to and read about topics you care about

– practice, practice, practice

– incorporate the language every day

So my suggestion is, get yourself some radio podcasts or, even better, watch tv in (Swiss) German with German subtitles and do that as often as possible. Write down the words you hear often and then translate them. You will not understand much in the beginning, but you will get a feeling for the language, which is more important than anything else. Through hearing the same words and sentence structure over and over again and understanding in what context they are used, you will extend your vocabulary and your grammar. And speak as much as you can with everyone you meet and don’t worry about making a lot of mistakes because nobody cares about this but you.

 

Larissa Hämisegger is Founder of UNUMONDO, a company that supports non-German speakers living in Switzerland to learn (Swiss) German by facilitating real life exchanges and learning opportunities, rather than in the classroom. She combines her background in business management and organizational development with her studies in Yoga and Meditation to find ways for people to find a sense of belonging and connect through language.

 

Guest Blog by Reinild van der Vecht

It’s been three years since I moved to Switzerland following my husband, who got a great job here. For him going to work every day was business as usual. My challenge to make a happy life here has been quite a struggle. I was going to three changes:

  1. The career I had back in Holland needed some reviewing; it felt right to leave and start orientating on new possibilities.
  2. I was pregnant with our first child.
  3. The relocation itself: starting over in a new country.

I started on the third part: integrating in Zurich by taking intensive language courses and following the women’s integration course organized by Stadt Zürich. I enjoyed it! In the meantime I had my medical files translated and changed into the Swiss system of pregnancy controls. Via my husband’s company I became part of the International Dual Career Network (IDCN), where I started orientating on the Swiss job market. Also, I was quite busy organizing our move and the administrative tasks. These first months I had lots to do and to discover.

Then after almost 6 months, our son was born. Finding a new rhythm with the baby kept me quite busy, not to mention all our family and friends visiting us. I made new friends, new moms like myself I met at the “Mütterberatung”, at the integration course and at the “Rückbildung”.

Three months after the birth I was making plans again: I was visiting network events, getting my B2 German diploma, I planned to send out applications and I put my son on the daycare waiting list. By the time he was six months, I remember I felt like he was strong enough to be in daycare and I really needed time for myself. I wanted to be seen as Reinild again, not as ‘just’ someone’s wife or mother.

That’s when the real challenge started.

I applied for several jobs, tried to have a daily and weekly routine with my son and friends, but somehow I felt lost. Looking back, I didn’t really accept the situation I was in. I enjoyed the time with my son, but was missing my professional life. The applications I sent where too different, not very well targeted.

And to be honest, I didn’t send that many…

I decided I needed help. With a coach I researched my situation, my strengths, skill set, ideas and dreams. We brainstormed what jobs and companies would fit and I checked on additional education possibilities. Following an additional educational program at a Swiss university made the difference. My son went to daycare (he was 18 months by then) and I had time to go to school and to study. It was hard because the program was new to me (I was changing industry), everything was in (Swiss)German and making a real connection with the other students was not that easy. But I managed and eight months later I received the certificate and was eager to find a job.

This time, I really took it seriously. I started telling friends what I was looking for. I asked some of my colleague-students for lunch to discuss their careers and companies. It helped me to figure out what I wanted and which job titles and companies fit to that. In the meantime I followed a very hands-on workshop on how to apply and get hired in Switzerland. With a big portion of luck I found a job and I love it!

My lessons learned, which I hope will help you:

  • Take your time to relocate physically and emotionally.
  • Acknowledge your situation and accept it.
  • Make a plan, set achievable goals, be confident that your competencies are valuable wherever you are.
  • Broaden the way you look upon your life and career. I once read an interview with a Swiss director saying: “Es sei nicht tragisch, wenn man seinen Traum nicht leben könne; es gebe immer eine gute Alternative.”

 

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Reinild van der Vecht works as Process Manager at a Swiss cable company. In 2016 she successfully completed the CAS Logistics Strategy and Supply Chain Management at ZHAW School of Engineering. She lives with her family in Zurich, volunteers as treasurer in her local Turnverein Fluntern and is an active member of the Powerhouse Network.

Guest post* by Heike ReinhartInternationalGermanTeacher@gmail.com

When you are hesitant to speak German

The dream team

This is for all my students who are sometimes hesitant to speak German because they might confuse the prepositions or the accusative and dative endings. I share my skiing angst with all of you as an example of working through grammar anxiety.

I always liked to ski when I lived in Germany. I would schedule ski trips in the Northern part of Italy or Austria in late winter. It was a time when the sun would warm my face and the snow was at its best. No need to adjust gloves, hat, goggles. No time to think about the steep slope in front of me. No need to worry about keeping up with my friends who were better and faster skiers. But my anxiety sometimes made me afraid to go down the steep, long, mountain.

That was when a found Josef, an experienced, professional ski teacher who uses his interest in psychology to help his ski students overcome their fear. I was relieved to know that I was not the only person with skiing anxiety. In two hours, Josef taught me some simple trips including how to always be able to stop. After two hours my fear was alleviated – even at the top of a red slope.

When speaking German produces anxiety

Speaking German can be equally anxiety producing for students. But there are a few tricks which can help any student get past their fear of mixing up “Akkusativ” and “Dativ” prepositions. I remind my students that the reason they are learning German is so they can communicate with other German speakers and to start to go down the difficult slope of learning a new culture.

They can choose simple words to express their wishes and be understood. They won’t be judged because they use the wrong preposition. In fact, my students quickly discover how positively German speakers react to their efforts to communicate in German.

My teaching approach gets results for even the newest German student. And just like learning to ski making fun an integral element of learning in order to built confidence without fear.

The purpose of language is to communicate. As soon as you realized that, you will relax and just get the idea out.

 

 

Heike ReinhartHeike Reinhart is a German language instructor and intercultural trainer. She works with internationally mobile professionals who want to speed up their learning process and pass test (Goethe and TELC) faster.

 

*This post was first published on Heike Reinhart’s website.

 

 

 

 

GPT Tip: Check out Heike Reinhart’s German Pronouncation Class 5.2016 starting on 1 June 2016 in Basel.

by Angie Weinberger

Multinational companies in Switzerland promote an “inclusive” culture. All people regardless of their religious or cultural background should have the same opportunities within the company. While I often hear that Switzerland is so intercultural as it has four different language regions and lies in the middle of Europe I experience a different reality. In public discussions we speak about differences but we hardly touch pragmatic solutions for helping each other to get along. Here are 13 easy to implement ideas to make your Muslim employees feel more included in your workforce.

At the bottom of inclusiveness is intercultural competence or as I call it “Global Leadership Competency”. Last year, one of my Muslim clients was attacked in the tram (local train) because she was wearing a headscarf. She and her husband had just moved into Basel from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She then decided not to wear a headscarf and to speak German in public. She is fluent as she grew up in Germany. One of my colleagues told me about an African-American who is scared to leave his house because he is constantly asked for his papers and stared at. He wears a beard and his religious background is not Muslim but he feels treated like a terrorist here.

Another one of my US clients who is of Malaysian decent asked me why he is constantly asked for his residence permit these days. And I heard many other stories from friends who just happen to have a Pakistani, Indian or Tunisian background. Most of them are well-educated professionals who could work anywhere in the world.

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We help our clients to gain their confidence back. We point out that Switzerland is an open country with a long history of religious freedom. That includes the freedom to not believe in anything at all. We raise the intercultural competence of the employees in the companies we work with but we cannot reach every single person in the country. I am embarrassed when I hear such stories.

We wish for our clients to be received with open arms in everyday life and in the companies they work for irrespective of their cultural and religious background.

Since 2000, I observed that many global companies develop intercultural competence of their staff and managers mainly through training and legislative minimum standards. While this is better than nothing it is not enough. In Switzerland, the current trend in diversity training is to uncover our “unconscious bias”, i.e how our unconscious stereotypes affect our hiring and promotion decisions. We tend to like people who look like us, think like us, behave like us come from backgrounds similar to ours. This is also called the Mini-Me syndrome.

I don’t see many discussions in corporations around intercultural, interracial and inter-religious differences and commonalities. The main reason is that outside of intercultural training these differences tend to be seen as personal differences more often than cultural differences. Once there is a conflict it is often attributed to the individual rather than cultural background. Or the other way round: Negative judgements are attributed to the cultural background rather than the individual behavior. Hardly anyone I know has enough knowledge to even distinguish between a stereotype and a cultural tendency.

We should encourage intercultural discussions more often. Awareness creates acceptance in a multicultural environment. In Tourism, we tackle customers differently according to their cultural background. In companies we can provide a discrimination-free environment and welcome everyone with open arms by considering a few minor but effective adjustments.

1) Religion is a private matter of every employee which should not have to do anything with her or his work performance. If we focus our assessments on performance rather than person we are on a good track.

2) Muslims might need short breaks to pray. If we use a trust-based time management system rather than strict time control we can ensure that the religious minorities get the prayer time during the day.

3) In hospitals physician must learn rules which have to be observed by Muslims especially when a man treats a women. In case of doubt ask the patient.

4) In tourism we need to learn what is important to client from the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia for example as with the ban of burqas we might not be able to serve those clients in Switzerland any longer.

5) In the police we need to ensure that we are moving away from stereotyping and get a clear understanding of why many young man feel overburdened with the life in another culture while their families at home depend on their financial support.

6) As therapists and other health care professionals we need to learn how trauma of war and being alone when you come from a collectivist cultural background might affect your psyche. We also need to understand that counseling might not be a concept in many of the home cultures of Muslim employees (assuming they did not grow up in Europe or the US).

7) We need to differentiate the social classes of the person we speak to. If you have an Islamic banker or a writer who had fled from Afghanistan, then you are likely to have no misunderstandings because you can communicate with both in German or English. But if you talk to a less educated colleague who has just arrived in Switzerland and does not yet speak the language well, then of course you will need to simplify your language and use techniques to check in if he or she understands you. Avoid to speak in child language and use proper German or English when speaking.

8) We need to train our staff members at authorities, medical assistants, personal assistants and company receptionists to deal with cultural differences better.

9) We can get the basics for inclusion right. It is also important for Jews, Hindus, Jains and many other religious minorities to know what they eat and drink. You can install signs in the canteen and explain what is in the food. You can offer one halal meat dish. At cocktail parties you can show which drinks contain alcohol and explain that everyone is welcome even if they don’t like wine.

10) We can approve extended holidays over Muslim festivals to fly or drive home. Adapt your company’s HR policy to provide more flexibility for different religious holidays.

11) We can congratulate Muslims on their holidays. In the fasting month of Ramadan allow shorter working hours.

12) We can provide prayer and meditation rooms to our staff. It helps all staff members to have quite zones where they can contemplate, pray or simply meditate in these hectic times.

13) We can provide more vocational training and internship opportunities to refugees and asylum seekers. Many refugees do not have formal qualifications and will fall through the roster of our recruitment processes but we could see how they work if we provide more internships and vocational training to them.

I hope that these 13 pragmatic ideas will help you to build an environment in which your Muslim employees feel more included. If you would like more customized advice please contact me at angela@globalpeopletransitions.com.

 

 

This post was first published on LinkedIn.

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Getting a Swiss recruiter’s attention is almost like asking her out on a date. When you write a cover letter you want the other person to like you and find you attractive enough to read your résumé. The cover letter is your appetizer and the résumé is your main course. If you get to the interview stage then that’s like having the dessert on the first date. And after three interviews you might get kissed. I mean you might get the job offer you are longing for.

Don’t spoil the recruiter’s appetite by presenting the main course in the cover letter.

Imagine you are on your first date and your counterpart tells you for half an hour how great he or she is. Rather boring right? You zoom out of the conversation and wish to run away. Same is true if a recruiter reads your whole résumé already in the cover letter.

What could you do to make the conversation more interesting?

Cover letter writing is an art. With modern technology applicants often do not see a need to write a cover letter these days but in my view it is the most artistic part of a good application and in Switzerland it is a MUST.

Many recruiters want to read it. They would like to see you made an effort to get that interview. I receive a number of cover letters and most of them sound like they were copied from a textbook. Only the more personal ones gain my attention. The have to be personal, crisp and show me who you are.

Here are tips for fresh cover letters:

  • Use the correct name of the recruiter instead of Sir or Madam. Make sure you also spell names of references correctly. Be respectful and address recruiters formally.1
  • Make the letter appealing and nice looking by using one font only and adhering to normal letter writing style in the country you are applying to.
  • Speak about the needs of the other party before you speak about your needs.
  • Find a personal connection between either you and the company or you and the recruiter. Maybe you use one of their products or you associate positive feelings with the brand because of a personal story.
  • If you copy and paste (which is not a good idea in general), please check that you did not use the wrong company name or contact person. It helps to read the letter out loud.
  • Use active language and full sentences. When I say active language I ask you to use more verbs than nouns, avoid passive constructs and keep sentences short.
  • If you are not an English native speaker check your translation and let a native speaker review your grammar.
  • Be brief and stick to a maximum of one page. Five paragraphs are sufficient.
  • Add your contact data in the last paragraph especially your phone number and email ID. Make sure your email sounds respectable and the name is memorable.
  • Avoid slang and casual writing style. You are a professional so behave like one! Even if you are from Generation Y or Game, remember that this is a letter and not a chat. The person you want to date might be the age of your parents.
  • I just read a great post by Liz Ryan on LinkedIn about modern companies asking applicants to send them 250 to 300 words to describe their “WHY”. A lot of applications still do not get that this is the whole purpose of the cover letter. I also recommend brainstorming exercises to my clients on why they want to work in the role and the company before they start writing a fresh letter.

Send convincing testimonials

In Switzerland and Germany work certificates, references and testimonials are usually summarized with the word “Zeugnisse“. They are required for any job application. Some employers only request them once you are offered a job, others want to see them when you send your initial application. When a job ad asks you to hand in your complete documentation, then you should include all your work certificates, references and testimonials

Helpful types of work certificates, references and testimonials

1) Work certificates and confirmations 

Show proof from all your previous employments. Here we expect to see a qualitative element in them explaining what you do well and how you performed on your job. If you apply from abroad request a three liner from your previous employer confirming the times you have worked fort hem and a contact person who will give a reference. If you only have names of referees make sure they expect to be called by the potential employer.

2) Certificates of language certifications and seminars

Our assumption is that the more additional training you have undertaken, the better you are at your job. Even if the certification is a bit older it is worthwhile adding it to your file. Make sure all foreign language certifications are translated into English.

3) University and high school diplomas

Usually the last diploma and transcript is required. If your marks do not translate into German try to give an explanation on a separate sheet. Please note that even Switzerland and Germany have completely opposite grading systems so it is always good to explain (1.3 in Germany is excellent, in Switzerland it is a fail).

4) Client testimonials and performance reviews

If you have a chance and it is not against any confidentiality agreements you can add client testimonials and even your performance reviews in your file. It is often more credible to hear words of praise of others than your own. You can ask your former clients and managers to edit and sign a draft that you send to them so they know exactly what you would like them to confirm about you.

How do you arrange your testimonials?

To make it easy for the HR Professional I would advise you sort the testimonials in chronological order and give an overview on a cover page too. Scan all docs in one pdf and make sure that the file size is not more than 2MB as a lot of recruiting platforms won’t accept bigger files. If you do not have all your documents together yet mention on the cover page when you will hand them in.

I hope this post helps you with your job application in Switzerland. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about it.

 

PS: If you feel challenged about finding a job in Switzerland make sure you subscribe here to our newsletter “The Global People Club Sandwich”. We will soon publish “The Global Career Workbook” which should help you with these types of challenges when moving to Switzerland or other countries for your career. 

PPS: One of my favorite blogs about recruiting topics is www.careerrealism.com. You can find helpful resume writing tips there too.