Work in Switzerland: Finding jobs in Switzerland
How to find work in Switzerland, with information on the Swiss job market, available jobs in Switzerland, Swiss work permits plus where to look for jobs in Switzerland.
Switzerland is a very appealing place to come and work: the salaries, working conditions and quality of life are very high. But competition for Swiss jobs is fierce and opportunities are more limited for those coming from outside of the EU or EFTA (European Free Trade Association) as there are often quotas for foreign workers in Switzerland, even for highly skilled, well-qualified specialists. However, finding a job in Switzerland is possible.
Work in Switzerland
The Swiss job market
The Swiss economy is stable and the Swiss unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the world, standing 3 percent as at May 2014, according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). However, foreigners account for almost half of those who are officially unemployed.
The positives are that salaries in Switzerland are amongst the highest in the world, you get at least four weeks’ holiday a year, there are excellent social security benefits if you’re out of work, and you’ll enjoy one of the highest qualities of life in the world. However, the labour market is small, competition for jobs is high and if you’re from outside the EU, then only a limited number of management level, well-qualified and specialist employees are admitted into the country to work.
Cross-border workers also continue to play an important role in Switzerland, with some 318,500 cross-border workers active in Switzerland at the end of 2016, almost 4 percent higher than the previous year. Cross-border workers made up more than a quarter of the workforce in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino and more than 10 percent in Lake Geneva and northwestern Switzerland.
Switzerland continues to attract foreign companies – partly due to favourable tax conditions but also for skilled workers and quality education and training systems – although faces a strong franc and doubts over future tax policies. In 2016 some 265 international companies established a physical presence in Switzerland, contributing 1,005 new jobs, similar to 2015's figures of 264 firms and 1,082 jobs but still far from 2010 when Switzerland attracted some 379 companies and 2,431 jobs. Zurich attracted among the highest international companies in 2016 (101 firms up from 93), promising up to 1,500 jobs within five years. The pharmaceutical and medtech belt around Basel also proved popular in 2016, with 36 companies relocating (more than 50 percent up from 2015) offering up to 600 positions by 2019.
However, as an EU ruling aims to stop cantons offering reduced taxes to foreign firms on overseas earnings, some regions may see a decline in company relocation while the tax situation is unclear. A large proportion of companies benefiting from tax breaks are located in Geneva, Vaud and Valais. These cantons will likely undergo the greatest adjustments when required to adopt the new tax code, potentially as soon as 2019.
Available jobs in Switzerland
Switzerland may be a small country but it’s a nation with a highly skilled workforce (in hi-, micro- and bio-technology for example) and an important industrial nation, with half of all Swiss export revenue coming from mechanical/electrical engineering and the chemicals sector. It’s also one of the world’s major financial centres. So there are jobs for skilled workers in engineering and technology, pharmaceuticals, consulting, banking, insurance and IT, with financial analysts, business analysts and systems analysts in great demand.
Multi-national companies tend to be the major employers of English speakers and some of the world’s biggest are headquartered in Switzerland, including Nestlé, Novartis, Zurich Insurance, Roche, Credit Suisse, Adecco, Swiss Re and Glencore.
Many international organisations are also based in Switzerland, especially Geneva. You can look for work at the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, and the International Red Cross, as well as visit this list of links to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Geneva and elsewhere in Switzerland.
Swiss management culture
The Swiss appreciate sobriety, thrift, tolerance, punctuality and a sense of responsibility, and this is reflected in their business practices, which tend to be formal and conservative. The culture within a Swiss company can vary according to whether the company is in the French, German or Italian region of Switzerland. As a rule, the hierarchy tends to be vertical, with decisions being made at the top of the company. Companies in French and Italian areas may be more laid back than German areas. Meetings are task-orientated and rather impersonal; discussions are precise, cautious and can seem a little negative to some. The Swiss are considered tough but fair negotiators and humour has no place in negotiations. Keep your business and personal life separate: the Swiss don’t like to mix business with pleasure. Working hours are long: some 45 to 50 hours a week.
For more information, see Expatica’s guide to management culture in Switzerland.
Swiss work visas
Switzerland is not part of the EU but citizens from countries which are part of the EU or EFTA (European Free Trade Association) can come to Switzerland without a visa, move between cantons, look for work for up to three months and work without the need for a work permit – although if you’re planning to stay longer than three months you’ll need to register for a residence permit with the canton in which you’re living. There are further restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens entering the labour market for the first time, which may remain in place until May 31, 2016 at the latest. Quota restrictions for Croatians will remain for an indefinite period. For the latest information, see the Federal Office for Migration (FOM).
It’s much harder for everyone else as there are strict employment quotas for foreigners, employers have to prove that the job can’t be done by a local and permits are limited to managers, specialists and those with higher educational qualifications. If you do get a job offer, your employer makes an application in the local canton who will forward it to the FOM for approval. If this is granted the FOM authorises the canton to send a visa clearance certificate to the Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country, where you can apply for a visa. For more information, see Expatica's guide to Swiss work permits.
If you get a job with an international organisation, you don’t need a work permit but you’ll be issued with a special ID card (Identitätskarte or Carte de Légitimation).
Switzerland has three main national languages: German-Swiss is the most widely spoken, especially in the centre and areas in the east; French is spoken in the west; and Italian in the south. While English is often spoken in the workplace, having some knowledge of these other languages will give you an advantage in the job market, as would being able to speak Russian or Mandarin.
A report in 2017 showed statistically foreigners coming to work in Switzerland will find themselves in a German-Swiss working ennvironment, which is the case for some 42 percent of Swiss residents. However, the multilingual Swiss are increasingly adapting to the growing international workplace: twice as many people in Switzerland speak Swiss German or English at work than they do at home. Additionally, since 2000, the number of residents who do not speak any official Swiss language has more than doubled, or tripled since 1990 according to the Swiss statistics office.
After Italian, which is regarded as both a national language and migrant language, the most frequently spoken foreign languages are English and Portuguese. English, however, is the most widely distributed foreign language in Switzerland, partly due to its status as the international language, followed closely by Albanian.
If you want to work in a regulated profession – health, teaching, technology, law and social work – in Switzerland, you’ll need to have your foreign qualifications recognised, even if you’re from the EU/EEA. If your occupation isn’t regulated you may still wish to get a ‘level certificate’ that provides Swiss employers with information about how your foreign qualification relates to the Swiss education system. You can find out more information and do this process through the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).
Academic qualifications (not for regulated professions) from some countries are recognised via the Bologna Process. University qualifications (bachelor degrees and above but not those related to regulated professions) can also be recognised for work purposes through Swiss ENIC-NARIC.
Finding jobs in Switzerland
Make your first stop Expatica’s jobs in Switzerland where you’ll find a constantly updated list of jobs in different sectors across the country.
If you’re from the EU or EEA you can search for a job in Switzerland through EURES, the European Job Mobility Portal. This is maintained by the European Commission and designed to aid the freedom of movement within the European Economic Area. As well as looking for work, you can upload your CV, which can be viewed by prospective employers, as well as get advice on the legal and administrative issues involved in working in Switzerland.
Public employment services
The Regional Employment Centres (RAV/ORP/URC) in the different cantons throughout Switzerland will help EU/EEA citizens find work, you can register at your local office or look at current vacancies on their Job Area pages.
General jobs in Switzerland:
- Jobscout 24
- Seasonworkers – ski jobs
- Total jobs
Specialist jobs in Switzerland:
- Alpha – for executives
- Darwin – IT and telecoms
- Euro Science Jobs – research and post-doc jobs
- Job Directory – banking and financial sector portal
- Robert Walters – accountancy and finance
- SwissLinx – executive, technology and finance
- Techno Jobs – IT and technical jobs
- Wiley – pharmaceutical
Jobs for English speakers:
Register at one of the many private employment agencies. Private recruitment agencies are called Arbeitsvermittlung or agence de placement in Switzerland. Manpower and Adecco are two of the main agencies but to find a list of agencies who are licensed to work in this field, see here.
Teaching English in Switzerland
Getting a job teaching English can be hard as many Swiss nationals already speak it, but if you can find a job the pay is good. See i-to-i Teach English in Switzerland for more information. Circle of Schools has jobs for English teachers in state schools but you must be either an EU citizen or married to one.
Jobs may be published in newspapers: look in the classifieds under stellentinserate in German, les offres d’emploi in French, or annunci di lavoro in Italian. The main newspapers that carry ads include Basler Zeitung, Bund and Berner Zeitung, Corriere del Ticino, Finanz und Wirtschaft, Handelsblatt, Le Temps (Geneva), Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Schweizerische Handels-Zeitung, and SonntagsZeitung. Tages Anzeiger (Zurich), 24 Heures (Vaud) and Tribune de Genève (Geneva) each publish jobs ads one day a week. You can find a full list of Swiss online newspapers here.
Vacancies are often filled through contacts in Switzerland so networking can be key. Join professional networking sites like LinkedIn, and check out the many networking organisations. Here are a few of them: American International Club of Geneva, Organisation of Women in Trade: Geneva, Executives International, Career Women’s Forum, Irish Business Network and Business and Professional Woman (BPW).
Chambers of commerce (Wirtschaftskammer /Chambre économique) in each canton often organise networking events for professionals; find the contact details for each canton here. You can also try linking up with others in the same field through social networking sites like Meetup and through Expatica’s own forum in Switzerland.
Make the first move – speculative job applications
Many jobs in Switzerland are filled by people contacting the company directly rather than through advertisements in the press or online. So check out Swiss firms to see what vacancies are being advertised or find out who to approach to make a speculative application. You’ll find up-to-date information on many Swiss companies on SwissFirms, a Swiss Chamber of Commerce website, and on the Federal Commercial Registry website. Make sure you address your CV and cover letter to the right person (and in the right language): look under Personalabteilungsleite (German) or Directeur de Ressources Humaines (French).
Applying for a job in Switzerland
When you have found a job, you’ll need to know how to put together a Swiss-style CV and cover letter to make sure your application gets the consideration it deserves. To find out how to prepare your CV and covering letter, as well as what to expect in a Swiss job interview, see Expatica's guide to applying for a job in Switzerland.
- Finding a job in Zurich
- Finding a job in Basel
- Applying for a job in Switzerland
- Swiss work permits
- Starting a business or self-employment in Switzerland
- Business culture in Switzerland
Find a job in Switzerland using Expatica's job search.
Updated: 2012; September 2014.
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