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Getting started in a Swiss company as a foreign trainee

There’s an enormous amount of interest among foreign students at ETH Zurich to gain a foothold in the Swiss economy: at the information event “Working in Switzerland as a Non-Swiss” organised by the ETH Career Centre, the lecture theatre was packed to the rafters.

Martin Ghisletti, Head of the ETH Career Centre, is well aware of the major need for information among foreign students interested in finding a job on the Swiss market. (Photo: Alice Werner ETH Zurich)
Martin Ghisletti, Head of the ETH Career Centre, is well aware of the major need for information among foreign students interested in finding a job on the Swiss market. (Photo: Alice Werner ETH Zurich)

Martin Ghisletti, Head of the ETH Career Centre, was prepared for a large crowd: over 250 ETH-Zurich students had signed up for the info event “Working in Switzerland as a Non-Swiss”. The event was booked out days in advance – doubtlessly one of the reasons why the students began to trickle in half an hour early to make sure they got a seat. ETH Zurich’s employment statistics from 2009 also prove just how much interest there is among foreign students to gain a foothold on the Swiss job market: around sixty percent of foreign Master’s students without a residency permit look for a job in Switzerland after they graduate.

Eager for information

Martin Ghisletti is well aware of the major need for information among foreign students interested in finding a job on the Swiss market from the statistics and personal conversations: how does the job market actually work here? Where are vacancies advertised? And what do you need to know about applying? Well-qualified specialists are in demand in Swiss companies. “Foreign ETH-Zurich students should be able to benefit from the good job market situation just as much as Swiss students – hence tonight’s info evening.”

The head of the ETH Career Centre has his young audience’s undivided attention from the outset as they frantically scribble down the lecturer’s PowerPoint slides point by point. “The application process”, explains Ghisletti, “can be divided into four phases.” First of all, you assess your current situation: who am I? What can I do? What do I want? Then comes the exploration phase, i.e. researching which industries or types of company might be of general interest, before narrowing it down to suitable firms and vacancies. When you’re looking for a job, a broad-based strategy is crucial: from Internet job exchanges and contact networks like XING or Linkedin to career fairs. After all, half of all ETH-Zurich graduates find their first jobs through personal contacts. With events like the Polymesse, Company on Campus and special recruiting days, ETH Zurich and its organisations actively help the students to make contact with companies.

In the final step, you write the actual application. Martin Ghisletti points out the formal differences to the foreign students: “Unlike in the US or Asia, in Switzerland a CV can be customised and contain personal information on your hobbies and interests.” The tips on how to present yourself in your application file and at interview provided by the Career Centre are featured on ETH Zurich’s homepage, where you can download an informative application guidebook.

Keep the good minds in the country!

In a second presentation, Peter Braun and Marc-Philippe Prinz from Lenz & Staehelin, one of the biggest Swiss law firms, provide information on the legal foundations and formal criteria for work permits. After all, there are special regulations for ETH-Zurich students from Non-EU/EFTA countries. Companies looking to employ a mechanical engineering graduate with a Canadian passport or a Bulgarian chemist, for instance, have to prove that the candidates have applied for a specialist position that is of particular academic or economic interest to Switzerland. The legislature, Prinz explains, has deliberately left a lot of leeway here so the regulations for work permits can be relaxed or tightened up depending on the economic situation. “At the moment, skilled personnel are in demand and the quota for job applicants from abroad has been increased since the beginning of the year.”

The chances of getting a position as a trainee in a local company look good. Switzerland has an explicit agreement with seventeen non-EU/EFTA countries: students from these nations are now allowed to gain hands-on experience in a Swiss company for up to eighteen months. In the spirit of “keeping the brains in the country”, students who complete their Master’s or doctorate at a Swiss university should especially be encouraged to stay in Switzerland. “Of course, there are also political considerations, too”, points out Marc-Philippe Prinz after the event. “If you fund a traineeship, you also want to benefit from the result somewhere down the line.” The students certainly benefited this evening: on the feedback questionnaires, around eighty percent indicated that the event had lived up to or even exceeded their expectations.


Actualizada la última vez por Chévere.Org 14 Mar 2011.


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