Oct 11 • Thomas Bartelsen

Mastering Professional Networking and Work Culture in Germany: From Handshakes to LinkedIn.

Germany in a nutshell

Check out this video to understand Germany better.

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Connecting with the right people can open doors to new opportunities and help advance your career. In Germany, networking is essential to building professional relationships, and it's important to understand the cultural nuances that come with it. With the right approach, you can master the art of professional networking in Germany and take your career to the next level.

Networking is an essential part of professional life in Germany. It is not only about exchanging business cards or sending LinkedIn requests but also about building meaningful relationships with people who share similar interests and goals. In Germany, networking is considered a valuable tool for career advancement and personal growth. It is a way to gain new insights, learn about new opportunities, and expand your knowledge and skills. Understanding German networking is crucial to succeed in the country's professional culture. Germans value punctuality, honesty, and direct communication, so being respectful and straightforward when networking is essential. There are various methods to network in Germany, such as attending industry events, joining professional associations, or participating in online communities. By mastering professional networking in Germany, you can create a solid professional network to help you achieve your career goals and contribute to your personal development.
Assessing the professionalism of a culture in Germany or any other country involves considering various factors. While they can't be claimed as perfect or always correct, they provide a rough indication.  In saying that, there can be vast differences that you encounter. 

Different Generations with different approaches: Germany has a broad workforce of generations with vastly different expectations. Currently, roughly 16 Million people are from Generation X (1965-1979) in Germany (statistic). Germany has generational conflict regarding their diverse and sometimes contradictory expectations. Check out this report for a deep dive.

Here are some measurements and indicators that can help gauge the professionalism of the culture in Germany:

Punctuality: Adherence to schedules and punctuality is highly valued in German culture. Being on time for meetings, appointments, and work strongly indicates professionalism.

Work Ethic:
The commitment to work, dedication, and a strong sense of responsibility are crucial aspects of professionalism. The "Arbeitsmoral" or work ethic in Germany is generally relatively high.

Dress Code:
How people dress for work can indicate a culture's professionalism level. In Germany, business attire is often formal and conservative, especially in corporate settings.

Clear and direct communication is valued in German professional culture. The ability to express oneself professionally and concisely is essential.

Ethics and Integrity:
Upholding ethical standards and integrity is a fundamental aspect of professionalism. Following laws and ethical guidelines in business is a crucial measure.

Quality of Work:
The quality of work produced and the commitment to delivering high-quality results is an essential measure of professionalism in any culture, including Germany.

Respect for Hierarchy:
Understanding and respecting hierarchical organizational structures is significant in German corporate culture. Knowing how to interact with superiors and colleagues is essential.

Collaborating effectively and supporting colleagues is a sign of professionalism. Germans value collaboration and cooperation.

Continual Learning and Development:
The willingness to learn and improve one's skills and knowledge indicates a commitment to professionalism. Lifelong learning is highly regarded in Germany.

Adherence to Rules and Regulations:
Following workplace rules, regulations, and protocols demonstrates professionalism. In Germany, adherence to labor laws and other rules is expected.

Conflict Resolution:
Handling conflicts and disagreements professionally, with diplomacy and respect, is vital to professionalism.

Customer Focus:
In customer-facing roles, the ability to provide excellent service and meet customer needs is a measure of professionalism.

Feedback and Improvement:
The willingness to give and receive constructive feedback for personal and professional growth indicates a professional culture.

Building and maintaining professional networks is an integral part of German professional culture. It can help open doors and create opportunities.

Education and Certification:
The emphasis on education and professional certifications, such as vocational training or academic degrees, reflects the culture's commitment to professionalism. You need a "paper" in Germany to prove you have the certification. 

Cultural indicators such as Hofstede to compare your country of origin with Germany

There isn't a specific cultural index that measures professionalism in the same way that indices like the Global Competitiveness Index measure economic competitiveness or the World Happiness Report measures well-being. Professionalism is a multifaceted concept influenced by various cultural factors but is not typically quantified in a single index.

However, you can gain insights into cultural traits and values that might influence professionalism by examining broader cultural dimensions. Some frameworks that can help you understand the cultural context of professionalism include:

Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions: Geert Hofstede's research identifies cultural dimensions such as Individualism vs. Collectivism, Power Distance, Masculinity vs. Femininity, Uncertainty Avoidance, and Long-Term Orientation. These dimensions can give you a general sense of the cultural values in a country, which can, in turn, influence professionalism.

Trompenaars' Seven Dimensions:
Fons Trompenaars developed a cultural framework including Universalism vs. Particularism, Individualism vs. Communitarianism, and Achievement vs. Ascription. These dimensions can provide insights into how cultures approach professional relationships and values.

GLOBE Study:
The Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) study focuses on cultural attributes and leadership practices in various countries, including Germany. It can provide insights into how cultures view leadership and teamwork.

Let´s take the Gert Hofstede country comparison tool as an example. It allows you to compare your country of origin, let´s take India and the USA for example, and compare different dimensions between these countries. This provides you directly with an edge.

Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions are tools used to understand cultural differences among countries and regions. The dimensions include Power Distance, Individualism vs. Collectivism, Masculinity vs. Femininity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long-Term Orientation vs. Short-Term Orientation, and Indulgence vs. Restraint.

These provide a framework for comparing and contrasting cultures, helping individuals and organizations understand how values, norms, and behaviors differ across countries. It's important to note that these indicators are not absolute, and cultural values can evolve and change over time.
Power Distance (PD): This is about how people in a place feel about having leaders or bosses and if they think they are more critical than regular people or not.

Individualism vs. Collectivism (IDV): This is about whether people like to do things alone or prefer to work together in groups and help each other.

Masculinity vs. Femininity (MAS):
This is like asking if a place thinks being strong and tough is essential or if being kind and caring is more important.

Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI):
This is about whether people in a place like things to be very clear and planned or if they are okay with things being messy and unplanned.

Long-Term Orientation vs. Short-Term Orientation (LTO):
This is like asking if people in a place like to plan for things far in the future or if they focus on what's happening right now.

Indulgence vs. Restraint (IND): This is about whether people like to have fun and enjoy life a lot or if they try to control themselves and not have too much fun.

So if a country scores low, that means they don't think it's essential, and high standards they believe it's necessary. Obviously, people are different; this shall just give you a rough indicator of whether Germany is something for you.

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Understanding the German Way of Networking 

Networking is an essential part of professional life in Germany. However, understanding the German way of networking can be challenging for foreigners. Germans value efficiency, punctuality, and direct communication. Therefore, it is crucial to be well-prepared before attending any networking event. Dressing appropriately, bringing business cards, and having a clear objective are essential. In Germany, small talk is less every day than in other cultures, so getting straight to the point is necessary. Germans also appreciate honesty and authenticity, so it is crucial to present oneself genuinely. Joining professional associations and attending industry events are great ways to network in Germany.

Professional culture in Germany is deeply rooted in the country's history and traditions. Germans value punctuality, efficiency, and directness in their professional interactions. Understanding and respecting these cultural norms is essential when networking in Germany. For example, it is expected to address colleagues and superiors by their last names and to use formal titles such as "Herr" or "Frau." 

Methods to Network in Germany

When it comes to networking in Germany, there are various methods you can use to build and strengthen your professional connections. 

Attend Industry Events: Participate in industry-specific events, conferences, seminars, and trade shows related to your field. These gatherings provide opportunities to meet professionals who share your interests.

Join Professional Organizations: Become a member of professional organizations or associations relevant to your career. These organizations often organize networking events, workshops, and webinars.

Use Online Platforms: Utilize online platforms like LinkedIn, XING (a widespread professional network in Germany), and Meetup (that´s an app) to connect with professionals in your field.

Explore Local Meetup Groups: Explore local meetup groups that cater to expats or professionals in your area. These gatherings often focus on a variety of interests. They can be an excellent way to meet both locals and fellow expats.

Attend Workshops and Training: Enroll in workshops, courses, or training programs related to your industry. Not only will you learn valuable skills, but you'll also have the chance to network with instructors and fellow participants.

Volunteer or Intern: Offering your time and skills through volunteer work or internships is a great way to gain experience and connect with professionals in your field.

Attend Social Events: Don't limit your networking to professional events only. Attend social gatherings, cultural events, and local festivals to meet people from different walks of life. Personal connections can often lead to professional opportunities.

Use Co-Working Spaces: Consider working in co-working spaces to interact with other professionals and entrepreneurs. Many co-working areas host networking events and workshops for their members.

Connect with Alumni Associations: If you studied in Germany or have a German alma mater, consider joining your university's alumni association. These associations often organize events and offer networking opportunities for graduates.

Engage in Tandem Language Partnerships: Many Volkshochschulen offer tandem language exchange programs, where you can connect with local individuals who want to learn your native language in exchange for helping you learn German.

Join LinkedIn Groups and Specialized Exchange Groups: Besides using LinkedIn, consider seeking specialized exchange groups and Arbeitsgruppen (working groups) within your industry. Some industries have unique networking opportunities on platforms like XING or industry-specific forums. For instance, if you're in human resources, consider joining HR-related groups like "Purple Squirrel" or other relevant associations where professionals share insights, job openings, and networking events.

Join "Open Days" of companies you are interested in: Some companies occasionally open their doors or have other formats to get to know potential candidates, such as meeting for coffee. Take advantage of these opportunities to expand your network.

The way ahead

In conclusion, mastering professional networking in Germany is essential for anyone looking to succeed in their career. Understanding German networking is crucial, as it is different from other cultures. Building relationships takes time and effort but is worth it in the long run. It is important to remember that networking in Germany is not just about handing out business cards and making small talk but also about building genuine relationships based on mutual respect and trust. By immersing oneself in the professional culture and taking advantage of various networking methods, such as attending events and using LinkedIn, one can establish a strong network of contacts in Germany. With persistence and patience, anyone can become a successful networker in Germany. So, don't be afraid to put yourself out there and start building those relationships. Your efforts will pay off in the end.
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