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Is Berlin Really Easy-Access Silicon Valley?

Most of us come to Berlin to be part of the start-up scene: to make an impact on industry, to progress our careers, to be part of something new and exciting. A lot of young people end up in Berlin because the job market back in their home countries is tough to crack. While unemployment in the EU has dropped from 10.4% to 10.2% (not a drastic drop but a drop nonetheless) it can still feel like you’re competing with a million other people for the same job.

Berlin is also home to the Aushilf, the temporary job, if you will. You get the crowd of people who come to the city for a pit stop, enjoying the culture and nightlife on the way while maintaining their lifestyle with a steady income. It’s safe to say though that many expats are here looking for a boost in their career-path or even to start off that career at a booming start-up.

However, finding that life-changing job is proving to be harder and harder to achieve in Berlin. Even the job search itself has become a Herculean task. If you’re lucky enough to get a reply back, you can expect a myriad of phone interviews, assignments, and more yet phone interviews set up by the recruiters to prove that they’re not wasting their time.

But the process is not the only reason that finding a job in a start-up is becoming more difficult for expats. The entire start-up scene is proving to be a bubble, exclusive only to those who jump from start-up to start-up. Like the original Silicon Valley, Berlin’s Silicon Allee has become an exclusive scene where department heads bring in their friends or former-colleagues while external applicants aren’t given a second glance.

This statement comes first hand from recruiters: a 2013 article on eremedia.com states that the most high-volume way of getting hired is to be an employee referral, that is, to be recommended by a company’s existing staffer. If that means only the recommendations are reviewed more closely, as opposed to other applications, then the process is unfair in itself.

Without generalising, a lot of recruiters are young. Fresh out of college, with little career experience themselves, recruiters are expected to sift through hundreds of applications to find the right fit for the company. While their youthful approach can bring a fresh perspective to the process, it can also be damaging to the company if the wrong person is hired. After all, companies invest time and money into recruiting and training their new employees, so if that doesn’t pay off for them then they’ve hired the wrong person.

Start-ups are just as diverse as they want to be, most of the time you find one nationality dominating the company because, as mentioned before, recruiters and manager bring in their friends. The sad truth is that a lot of competent applicants end up taking on small jobs like waiting at restaurants while they keep up the job-search until their luck changes.

Diversity in the Berlin start-up scene is a big issue, and for companies to get the amazing talent that can be offered by Berlin’s huge diverse expat community, they need to be willing to both open their doors and give applicants a fair chance.

Job postings nowadays seem to be used as a tool to entice investors, a way of piquing the interests of venture capitalists and thus obtaining capital to fund their business. This is, of course, great for the job market, as it makes companies look like they’re expanding and hiring more and more, and obviously it helps Berlin grow its industries. But for job-seekers, who already encounter so many obstacles in their job hunt, they face an unfair disadvantage. For things to change, entrance into the start-up scene needs to be opened up and the exclusivity and privilege struck from the application criteria.

By Shoshi Khaddour
Damascus born, London raised, Berlin based. Shoshi is a journalist with a focus on a range of social and political issues. A former broadcast journalist, her interests include food fairs, films, current affairs and space.
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