Working in Zurich places expats in an international banking capital and a major European commercial centre. The city is known for its high professional standards, and long-term career opportunities can arise from even a short stint. Educated and experienced expats can expect competitive salaries, which are necessary in a city with such a high cost of living.
Most non-EU nationals relocate with a job already in place, given the difficulties attached to securing a Swiss residence permit. Still, with concerted effort and determination, it's possible for English speakers to find a job in Zurich.
Job market in Zurich
Most employment opportunities for expats come from the finance sector, in banking and wealth management. This industry area generates nearly a quarter of the jobs and a third of the wealth in the city, but there are opportunities in other industries too.
IT, computing, engineering and banking are big business in Zurich. Vacancies in these industries often don’t require applicants to speak German unless some level of customer service is involved. Google has a large office in Zurich which routinely sponsors and employs foreigners, and major banks sometimes have vacancies for English-speaking professionals.
Expats wanting to teach English in private language schools will likely need a CELTA certificate and an English degree. Few schools will consider candidates without them, including the largest language centres, which offer the best chance of earning a good salary.
Expats will also need several years of experience to teach 'English for business' courses. Vacancies are limited and competition is fierce due to a surplus of language teachers and competitive hourly rates. Giving private lessons to students is also an option, but this involves a complicated process to register as a freelancer.
Teaching English in standard schools will require an education degree, and other qualifications won’t be accepted. Swiss locals are often preferred for these posts, but vacancies are posted through the English Teachers Association of Switzerland and individual school websites.
Finding a job in Zurich
Finding a job in Zurich is not easy. Most expats working in the city have either been transferred through their company or have been headhunted.
Owing to the high cost of living in Zurich, it's advisable to secure a job before relocating to the city. In fact, it's pretty difficult to sign a rental contract without proof of employment in the city.
The best place to begin a job search would be online. Many local newspapers also have job listings and some of these publications have online versions available, which enable expats to begin the job search before relocating. Social networking sites such as LinkedIn are also highly useful. Individual companies often post vacancies on their websites, so it's worth surfing the sites relevant to one's industry.
While it is not always necessary to speak Swiss German, it is certainly advantageous. Having some knowledge of German will be especially useful for those intending on working in the service sector.
Work culture in Zurich
The business culture in Zurich, and Switzerland in general, is rather formal, but industries and individual companies differ. Business practices may also vary slightly based on which canton an expat is based in.
Business interactions in Zurich are characterised by directness and restraint, especially with the German-Swiss, and expats will have to stay focused and control their emotions. It's typically best to avoid small talk in the business environment.
The Swiss are famously punctual, and arriving late to a meeting or being unprepared will be seen as disrespectful. It's always best to arrive early and confirm appointments ahead of time.
Hierarchy is important and people receive respect based on their rank, education and achievements. Even though executives make the decisions, they look for a broad consensus. Managers are expected to guide their teams, and cooperation is valued.
Business environments in Switzerland tend to be merit-based, but trust is still important in negotiations. The Swiss like dealing with people they know, and often expect long-term commitments from their associates. Negotiations can be prolonged by the trust-building process and the Swiss attention to detail as well as respect for protocol.
►For more about jobs and the economy, see Working in Switzerland
"My job hunt took seven months, which is longer than I would have expected it to take in London. The economy is strong and there is plenty of work in finance, banking and IT, although probably less so in other fields."
Read more about British expat Helen's experiences in Zurich in our interview with her.
Are you an expat living in Zurich?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Zurich. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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