New to Switzerland? Three Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Quest for the Perfect Job…

At the beginning of 2012, I was living in Atlanta with a nearly desperate and growing need to fulfill a lifelong dream of moving to Switzerland — my mother’s home country and my summer home throughout my childhood.

I had visited less than a year earlier to help move my grandmother out of her family home in Winterthur and into nursing care. And I could feel my connection to that part of my family and Switzerland quickly receding. At some point in April, I stumbled upon a lecturing job outside of Zürich. The hiring manager said sheepishly, “The position is only part-time,” and gave me a few days to think about it.

As a co-owner of a restaurant, I went straight to my life and business-partner who promptly replied, “You said if you landed a job in Switzerland, you would move. This sounds like your opportunity.”

We decided to give things one year. He would keep things going at the restaurant, perhaps find a potential buyer, and I would pursue a lifelong dream.

Thus began my quest to find meaningful, self-sustaining employment in Switzerland.

Since moving to the Zürich-area in August 2012, I have amassed a little bit of insight into the job search process in Switzerland. Here are three things I wish I had known from the get-go:

1. “Get your picture took”.

Coming from the states, the concept of putting one’s photo on one’s résumé — or CV (Curriculum Vitae), as they like to say on this side of the pond — is a little strange. When I first arrived, I was nervous about any of the multiple forms of discrimination one might be faced with, including gender and age discrimination. I learned relatively early on that there aren’t any laws restricting potential employers from asking candidates to include their photo with their application. I got around my initial reserve in this department by telling myself, I wouldn’t want to go to an interview with someone who may be turned off by, say, my curly hair — let alone be hired by a group of people who are curly-hair haters. 🙂

All that said, make sure your photo is on your application, make sure you look good (i.e., professional, or at least like you’re playing the part), and get over any angst about possibly being rejected. (Rejection is the name of the pavement-pounding game — ask any actor.)

2. Get Ready to Walk Down Memory Lane.

In the U.S., copies of degrees, certificates, letters of recommendation, are not usually shared at the outset of the application process. Here, I learned that applications (especially online ones) will be rejected if all these boxes aren’t ticked off. Human recruiters seem particularly keen to see these as well.

If not for the internet, I would have had to phone all my schools from nearly 20 years ago (or *gasp* write letters, get stamps and make my way to the post office) and ask them to send me those documents with stamps and seals, etc. (In the process, I realized I hadn’t really updated my connection with them — so I was able to revive long-lost contacts. Always a plus.)

Get your degrees, letters of recommendation and other certificates before leaving the States — and digitize them. You’ll be using them over and over again.

3. At the very least, remember you’re the one who’s different

Sometimes, having graduated from some university overseas is a bonus on one’s résumé, but for most people (and not just in Switzerland) qualifications like a degree from a school that hiring people understand, credentials from a business they recognize, a letter in a language they don’t need to translate, are more likely to remain in the memories of the folks reviewing your application.

I’ll see if I can make myself more clear with an illustration.

Shortly after I moved to Hawaii, I applied for a job working at a poster store in Lahaina. This wasn’t just any poster shop. The owner of this shop actually travelled the world looking for antique posters. He would buy them at auctions, or from vendors at flea markets, and then he’d have them shipped to Hawaii. He had an employee demonstrate how he wishes for the posters to be described. (He had a script!)

Briefly stated, the sales people had to mention at least three times that “these posters were printed back in [for example] Toulouse Lautrec’s day — they actually remained glued to the walls for decades before they were painstakingly removed and carefully shipped from Paris to here. Imagine, Toulouse might have personally glued this actual sheet of paper…”

My point is, the same message had to be repeated several times in different ways — just so a customer would get the drift and say, “You mean these were actually used to advertise acts at the Moulin Rouge back in the day?” That’s right. These aren’t just any posters, my friend.

And, you, dear reader, aren’t just any applicant. Hang in there, and remember: You’re beyond what any company would have imagined when it realized it opened a position to fill.