Advising international students on career perspectives in Germany

Correct as of: 10/03/2023

Many German universities advise international students on how to navigate the labour market, one of them being Leipzig University. This is where a Career Service was established as a project in 2010; since October 2016, it has placed a special emphasis on international students. What exactly does the Career Service for Internationals at Leipzig University do? We chatted briefly to Ms Susanne Benko, staff member of the service centre, about this.

The Career Service for Internationals at Leipzig University advises international students on their career prospects during their academic education in Leipzig. What services are available in this area? Which ones are popular with the students?

We offer our students and graduates (up to two years after graduation) not only one-to-one guidance, but also qualification courses. The latter include workshops on topics such as interviews, employment contracts and project management, but also events where we invite international alumni to share their experiences and provide advice on how to manage the transition from higher education to work, as well as talk about the potential challenges involved. We are also in the process of opening up our Career Start Mentoring Programme to more international students by offering the framework programme in two languages. Here, too, we benefit from our experienced alumni, who are more than happy to give something back to their alma mater and its current students.

Our one-to-one guidance is especially popular; in my view, this service makes students feel particularly valued and respected.

Based on your advisory experience, what are the specific needs and problems encountered by the target group?

There is no such thing as the one and only international student – the target group is too heterogeneous for that. However, experience shows that international students are often lacking a network in Germany and are unsure of what they have to offer German employers. They are frequently unfamiliar with the specifics of the application process in Germany and of the German labour market. In contrast to other European countries, the legal regulations for international graduates are very favourable in Germany, but still they are often uncertain about how to obtain a regular work permit. Another factor that repeatedly plays a role is insufficient German language skills.

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What other organisations or companies do you collaborate with? Does the Career Service have a good network in the region?

Needless to say, networking with regional companies plays an important role for us at the Career Service. We organise event formats with companies, as well as offering a very low-threshold job portal to bring students and potential employers together and to enable our students to gain insights into practice.

Beyond collaborative activities within the university, we consider Studentenwerk Leipzig, the City of Leipzig, the “Integration through Qualification” network, the Saxony branch of the Career Service Network, and Leipzig Glocal (a private web magazine for Leipzig’s international residents) to be very important partners. In Leipzig, we are in the fortunate position that the City of Leipzig organises a working group that brings together all stakeholders involved in the issue of “training and employment” for migrant target groups on a monthly basis, among them the Employment Agency and the Foreigners Authority.

Can you tell us something about where your students end up after graduation?

Unfortunately, there are no specific statistical surveys on this at Leipzig University. But I personally remain “connected” to many international students via social networks, even after they have graduated; I reckon that around 80 per cent of the people we know from our work at the Career Service stay in Germany, at least to begin with. What I find remarkable is that many of them leave the region because they find employment elsewhere (more quickly), even though they think a lot of Leipzig and would like to stay here.

What challenges has the Career Service tackled in its work to date?

The Career Service was set up as part of an ESF (European Social Fund) project. The transition to permanence was not easy, but we were delighted when it happened – something that cannot be taken for granted, at least not in Saxony. Another challenge we constantly face is mastering the balancing act between our students’ wishes and needs on the one hand and the expectations of companies on the other. On top of that, we are repeatedly confronted with challenging budgetary issues. And finally, we must continually strive to maintain our visibility to students, because we work with an ever-changing target group that comes and goes.

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