Last update: September 2017
Many students take advantage of work placements to gain initial professional experience while they are still studying. This experience helps them choose new areas of specialisation in their studies and makes their later entry into the world of work easier.
Why is a work placement worthwhile?
Work placements are considered an excellent opportunity for German and international students alike: they familiarise students with everyday working practices in Germany and help them build contacts to potential employers. Work placements are mandatory in many degree programmes. In these cases they are supervised by university teachers. Courses of study such as medicine even require a work placement for admission.
What kinds of work placements are there?
Work placements are available almost everywhere: with companies and organisations, at research centres and public institutions. Sometimes they last just a few weeks, sometimes several months. Whether to complete a voluntary work placement is up to each individual student; many subjects however include mandatory work placements. Work placements are also open to people who are not attending university.
What defines a good work placement?
Work placements don't always deliver the insights you hope for. That's why it's important to determine during the placement interview whether some important requirements are met.
- Standards: The tasks should be complex and challenging. You should have the opportunity to learn, ideally on a project of your own. That means: not entering data or making coffee all the time.
- Independence: After an introductory phase you should be able to work independently (with occasional help) on your project. If you manage to competently carry out your tasks, you will convince the company of your qualities.
- Duration: A work placement should be long enough to take on complex tasks. Two or three months are usually sufficient.
- Contact: You need a specified contact during your placement with whom you can discuss your work regularly.
- Payment: Some companies pay students on placement 800 EUR a month, others pay nothing at all. If you feel you will benefit from the practical experience, you should choose the work placement even if it does not pay well.
What are the legal requirements?
The same legal regulations as for student side jobs also apply to work placements. Work placements are considered regular work, even if they are unpaid. If you are not from the European Union or the European Economic Area, you are permitted to work for up to 120 days a year. If you work more than this, you will need a permit from the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners' office) and the Agentur für Arbeit (Federal Employment Agency). More information is available here. Excepted from this rule are work placements that are covered by the study regulations for your degree programme (mandatory work placements).
How do I find a work placement?
If you are looking for a work placement, you should first consider what direction you want your career to take. A work placement allows you to try out interests, skills and knowledge from your degree programme in practice. Once you have determined your aims, the professional fields in which you want to work will usually also be clear. Then you can search the appropriate online job exchanges or look through the work placement exchange of your higher education institution for vacancies.
How do I apply?
It is important to contact the company directly before applying. A quick phone call to the specialist or HR department can answer important questions: In what areas are work placements available? How do I apply? What can students on placement expect? Then you can better tailor your application and have already gained a contact.
Your application documents should include:
... an individual cover letter to a personal contact
... a clearly laid out CV
... school and university certificates
... employer references
... possibly work samples
... possibly a letter of recommendation
What do I need to know for the interview?
If your application was good, you may be invited for an interview. The purpose of this interview is to find out whether the needs of the company and your expectations match. You can consider a few things beforehand: Why do you want to work there? What makes you a good choice for the placement? What are your expectations? If you have made it as far as the interview, you have a good chance of getting the work placement.
How much will I be paid?
Germany has a minimum wage of currently 8.84 EUR per hour. Even students may not be paid less than the minimum wage. The minimum wage does not always apply for work placements, however: it does not have to be paid for mandatory placements, and only has to be paid for voluntary work if the work placement lasts longer than three months. Otherwise, students on work placements are usually paid very little or nothing at all. In some cases a scholarship may be an option.