So you've finished your exams, concluded your research, and received your degree. What comes next? For all-too-many people, the answer is "I have no idea". While downtime after completing your degree is important and well-earned, the way you approach the first few years after graduation can make a big difference to your eventual career prospects.
With that in mind, we've come up with some useful tips for graduating students, so that they can put their degree to good use, and build a life in Germany.
1. Extend Your Residence Permit Before Starting Your Job Hunt
All international students who graduate from German universities are given an 18-month period where they can find a job and start working, which is good news. However, to commence that period, most people will need to apply for a new residence permit, and that takes a little work.
To obtain the permit, you'll need to present your passport, a copy of your degree certificate (or a signed letter proving that you've completed the course), a document showing that you have valid health insurance, and some evidence that you have the money to support yourself.
It's best to start hunting for a position before graduation and to obtain your permit immediately after graduating. The period will lapse 18 months after graduation, whether you invoke it or not.
2. Look for the Most Likely Career Opportunities in Your Field
When looking for work, it helps to focus your efforts on economic sectors that connect naturally with your studies.
Most universities have careers support advisers, who can help you find relevant work. The EURES website is extremely useful, as is Graduateland. Both feature filters that can be used to zero in on jobs that reflect your qualifications and interests.
Sites like that also let you concentrate on the most likely fields for graduate jobs, such as accountancy, computer engineering, and medical technology. All are great sectors for job-seekers, but don't give up if your favorite area isn't represented. Broaden your search and use all of the tools available, and you'll find some surprising opportunities.
Finally, ask at your university for any local job fairs. Conference centers throughout Germany schedule events targeted at graduates, allowing you to meet companies in person, and sell your skills and personality.
3. Use the Period After Graduation to Perfect Your German
While some students can get by at university without being fluent in German, this is very rarely the case in the actual job market. Because of this, it is highly advisable for people staying in Germany to raise their TestDaf scores.
Remember, you'll be competing against a national community of graduates in your chosen field, and recruiters will naturally tend to prioritize German speakers over those with poor language skills, even if you are a mathematics or engineering genius.
If possible, study to TestDaf level 4-5, and start doing so as early as possible. It might be possible to mix your final year of study with a German course, and if the option is available, take it. You won't regret it.
4. Get on the Blue Card Track As Soon as Possible
If you want to stay in Germany after the initial 18 month period has elapsed, you will need to obtain a Blue Card (which functions like a Green Card in the USA) and is essentially a residency permit.
Blue Cards are available to those with employment contracts and salaries above $52,000 per year, and allows the holder to work anywhere in the European Union.
If you aren't confident of obtaining a high salary, some "shortage occupations" are included. For example, if you work as a scientific researcher, a doctor, or an IT technician, and earn over $40,000, you should be able to obtain a Blue Card.
After that, the Blue Card remains valid for 4 years, but holders have the right to apply for Permanent Residency after 33 months. And, if you have obtained the highest German language qualifications, that period falls to 21 months - another great argument for cramming on vocabulary and mastering those tenses.
If you return home for a period, but want to return to Germany later, you can apply for a Job Seeker Visa. This allows you to stay in Germany for 6 months while you look for a job in a field related to your degree.
Whether it's the pull of low unemployment rates, the country's innovative automation and engineering fields, or just a desire to continue the life you've created, working in Germany after studying is an attractive choice.