After some years working here and discussing with colleagues over time (German-speaking and non-German speaking) – especially over subjects of work-style and experiences we had, I thought is not a bad idea to give some hints (or warnings) to others that would have in their mind taking a job here in Austria, in “international-companies” like most of those employing Engineers are promoting themselves.
Considering you are coming for a job from a non-German speaking country (and maybe with no or very little German knowledge), check if the job-ad mentions anything about this language – like one colleague from Italy put it some years ago: “I can speak some German, but not to professional level, so I use English on the job, even if some colleagues are uncomfortable with it and I get German-written emails; I don’t assume responsibility for technical work in a language that I don’t master good enough for that” – and I think he is fully right.
First contact – interview
If you have no previous knowledge of the working environment, no close friends or acquaintances working in the company X or Y already, your fist contact and impression with be during the Interview stage – most probably with some HR person and one or more technical persons (Managers or maybe even an Engineer doing coding work).
However, it might be that at interview the English is used (like with this colleague and others like him) and you might think English is OK. However, I have noticed some ways of checking that, assuming they are honest with you at interview, of course 🙂 :
- see how good & fluent the project managers or the technical guy is mastering English (and how comfortable is with it, with long sentences especially), outside the technical topics – if you have the chance to drive the discussion in such “collateral” directions
- ask for proportion of non-German speaking people in the group, team, project you will work in, at that location/city – NOT in the whole company ! This will also show how well prepared the HR person and the project manager are, in knowing their people and team. Here check if you get a “mostly straightforward” answer (like exact numbers or at least some approximate proportion, like 1 in 4, 1 in 10, etc..) OR if you get a VERY evasive answer – like “in our company we support multiculturalism” or “as international company English is widely used” or other avoidance like that – showing that they don’t know (or don’t want to tell) the actual situation.
- try to insert in discussion also the situation, that me and others stumbled over time after time for more than a decade: email-communication that, in a long discussion-list, is mixed: written in German by some colleagues at some point and in English at some other points in time. You will have to get a grasp of that “history” too, over technical topics, when that mixed-email will come to you – with you not knowing (or very little) German 🙂 …. if they say at interview this is not happening – good for you; if they avoid straightforward answers with generic-talk like above, then you might reconsider working there without knowing German.
Working there – with “traditional” colleagues
Here I would like to mention situations that were somehow “strange” for me and other “outside” colleagues – also from other companies that I keep in contact with, until we managed to understand more from the mind-set and working-style; you can take this as a small guidance or, if not convenient, try to avoid working here.
“Traditional” colleagues are those born and raised in Austria – and maybe even FPÖ supporters, even if politics are officially banned from interfering with work in an international-company. They are the ones waking-up very early, coming in the office around 7:00 (or up to 8:00 if living outside the main city), having already a coffee break around 9:00, sticking to “fixed by tradition” lunch-break that can be 11:30,12:00, etc… and leaving the office, sometimes like clock-work, at 16:00, 16:30, 17…. depending also on the time their Bus or S-Bahn is leaving (for those not living in the city but commuting from near-by 20-40km villages).
If you get into such a group, due to your job, like one non-Austrian colleague explained to me after some 2 years in such environment, you will not be seen very well if, taking for real the “flexible work time” policy you were communicated by HR at interview, you will come at 9 or 9:30 in office and work until 17-18 o’clock; it does not mean that someone will point a finger at you – but you will discover that you are left “out” from more and more discussions on technical issues, that the project manager is involving you less in tasks compared with the “traditional” colleagues (especially since he might also be one)… and slowly, but surely, you will be “sided” and wondering what the hell are you doing there, at 16:30 in the lab or with a test-bench in front of you and with no colleague around you to talk a bug or issue with. !!
Of course, this situation will not be told to you at interview, especially since the HR person might not even be aware of it – and, strangely somehow, I think not even the project manager is fully realizing it, caught with all the planning work and meetings he/she has to do on daily bases (unless he is really headed towards not having an “Auslander” in his team, in which case is strange that he invited at interview and hired one ?!?).
Working with more open-minded colleagues
This should be the situation that one would expect from an international-company and I appreciate that the group where I work for some years is fitting this category; maybe because also the percentage of non-German speaking persons (or speaking just beginner-level) is over 50% in the group 🙂 … so, English is a must for all of us – both technical and for lunch-breaks. Here is the situation where would be useful to ask at interview the percentage-related question I mentioned above.
In such environment, with everyone mastering English fluent enough (at least for technical matters), you will have more understanding in your daily work, both when about new ideas, digging-up a heavy buried bug, etc… Hopefully also the project manager will be comfortable with this – otherwise you might get “isolated” from management decisions and their communication – see hint above of checking about mixed German-English emails from time to time, in spite of “international-company” official culture 🙂
In such groups the flexible time is indeed flexible (I have colleague coming at 6:30-7 o’clock and one, from a south-European country, coming 10…11 o’clock, except for sometime meetings at 9:00, when he is doing an effort 🙂 ). Also the handling of work load and collaborating with each-other is quite fair and balanced – and I hope more and more companies will go in this direction, in spite of the Brexit, raising of nationalist feelings around Europe and inclusion of a extreme right-party in the Government here, in Austria, at the end of 2017.
Being around German/Austrian managers
Now, this is partially from my experience, partially from experience of non-German speaking management-colleagues. In my experience I noticed that some managers are “traditional” ones, with work-time and policy like in the sub-chapter above. Also, although they know the English language, they feel more comfortable in communication with their group, teams, to use the German language; here I have to explicit examples, without giving names, since I don’t want to risk having the company’s lawyers on my back 🙂 :
- some years ago, the group manager we have, gathered the whole 40-50 people in the large meeting room for some discussions following re-organizations after the 2008 crisis. The topics were mostly about the projects and work that will be allocated, but also had to be presented in a “soft” way – I assumed. As such, although his slides were written in English, he told us (in English) from the beginning that “such aspects would be better presented in German, because of the language interpretations of some colleagues and , well, you know… is better like that” – and then he switched to German for the rest of the meeting, to the dismay of the ca. 4-5 non-German speaking colleagues present there.
- also not long ago, his boss, managing a whole location here in Graz, had similar situation – this time probably 60-70 people gathered for him presenting some time-line plans about new projects and some “exceptional” involvement of our company in some “new-tech” that is to come…. He had also the slides in English, with some 4-5 non-German speaking colleagues present also – some of those from above-mentioned meeting have skipped the current one, having a feeling it will be in German too 🙂 … but meanwhile we got new non-German speaking colleagues hired. So, after this top-manager started to explain in German the topics from slides, at about side 3, one of the new colleagues intervened and asked (politely) if possible to switch to English. Here, this top-manager did an “Austrian-style diplomatic” exit: with a big smile and very “sweet” attitude, asked how many in the room don’t understand German – and some 4-5 hand were raised; after that he said “well, now I will not ask how many colleagues are not understanding English, but … (big smile), well… is better for the majority present to get the explanations in German” – he mentioned also that questions can be put in English and he will answer in English, but the rest of the meeting was continued in German
On top of those events, that I keep in mind as representative for managers that, in international-company, are disregarding the internationally used language for the last 1/2 century at least…. I have the experience of another non-German speaking colleague that worked directly as manager, with those people from above (and others too). He told me, before leaving the company in the end… that in management meetings was noticeable how some managers were having difficulty with mastering the “nuances” of English language when expressing their thoughts – and for sure would have felt much better to have discussions ONLY in German, with (preferably) native German-speaking peers. The keyword “native” is to pay attention to here – even if you learned German to some degree in a class, you might still not master the “nuances” of the native speaker – so, a word of warning of those that are joining companies on managerial position, where “traditional” managers are already a majority !