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Neha Naik: Making the jump from IT Maintenance to Development

When IT maintenance expert Neha Naik started looking for IT jobs in Germany, she was well prepared. Not only did she speak German at B1, but she also understood the German working and application culture. Yet, finding a job turned out more difficult than she had expected. In this interview, Neha describes how she overcame unexpected challenges and settled in Germany.

ProRecognition: Before we begin, can you tell us a bit about your qualification and professional background?

Neha Naik: I’m a software engineer, I have a Bachelor of Engineering in IT and around 10 years of experience in IT. I have worked in application support and maintenance service. Apart from that, I have also managed a development team to develop and deliver an application. And now I’m working as a System Analyst and Software Developer in Germany.

The road towards Germany

You had already had quite a bit of work experience in India before you reached out to ProRecognition. What made you decide to go to Germany?

While I was working for a German client in India, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Germany in 2012. I was impressed by the quality of work and the direct exposure to the customers. Working with them face-to-face, trying to solve problems with the application – I just loved it. The response time, the pattern of problem-solving concepts, etc. was different when I worked on site. Direct communication helped me understand them better. I got more ideas and felt that I learned more when working directly with the client. Nonetheless, I didn’t decide to move to Germany immediately. I was happy with what I was doing – visiting Germany every now and then and working from here. I seriously started looking for opportunities only in 2016 or 2017.

Even though it was only a vague plan at first, how did it affect you? Did you take any specific steps to prepare?

Not specifically. First, I developed an interest to learn the language. I started attending classes from 2015/16. Back then, I didn’t know how important German was for finding a job. I just knew some words from work and was curious to know more. Then I started enhancing my network. From the notice board of Max Müller Bhavan, I got to know about ProRecognition and other contacts who could share their experiences regarding Germany. Besides that, I used professional networking sites like Xing and LinkedIn to just extend my network. And I spoke to my colleagues to get an idea about living in Germany, what tips they had, what are challenges etc. Having these contacts mattered so much in my case.

“I had the feeling that I was doing something right”

You first contacted ProRecognition at the end of 2017. Do you still remember what expectations you had when you reached out?

When doing research, you have so much information that contradicts the actual process. So, what I was looking for was some guidance on the correct way of doing things. And when I reached out to ProRecognition, that’s what I got. The team advised and supported me along the way, from my initial queries to which health insurer to select. I think I understood how to correctly apply for a job in Germany when I attended ProRecognition’s application workshop. Before the workshop, I often used to think: “Why am I not getting a response, even a rejection?” There was no response at all. But when I started doing the things I learned in the workshop, I started getting responses from my applications. Even when I got rejections, I was happy because at least I heard back. I had a feeling that I was doing something right.

In addition to guidance, ProRecognition also submitted my profile to the Bundesagentur für Arbeit [Federal Employment Agency]. They then reached out to me and tried to understand what I was looking for. This gave me hope. And when afterward, they started mailing me opportunities, I knew that I had found the right path. You still have to work for what you want, you have to do that by yourself. But being given guidance on the path was really important in my journey. And it helped me be successful.

An unexpected challenge

At the time that you joined the application workshop, you were pursuing B1. So, in terms of language, you had good starting conditions. Nonetheless, you were facing some issues finding suitable vacancies. What was the issue there?

I had experience in different areas, mainly managing application service and support, and some experience in development. I was more comfortable with that job profile. But there were very few job openings for IT maintenance in Germany. And on top of that, the ones that were available required fluency in German because they included frequent customer contact. With B1, I was at the level where, in my opinion, you only start properly learning the language: I could understand, but I wasn’t that fluent. And German is a beautiful language, but at the same time, it is so difficult! That’s why I was finding it difficult to find that job profile. I had to come out of my comfort zone and look for something where the number of vacancies was more but I had a little less experience.

A daring change of strategy

So, how did you change your application strategy?

When I was researching job opportunities, I saw that the number of vacancies for development profiles was high and a German language level of B1 was sufficient. I had done development in the past. But I had less experience and I knew that I had to be confident about the basics. Therefore, I reworked my resume a bit, giving less focus to my maintenance and more to my development experience, and also started brushing up on my knowledge. I had to put in efforts to convince employers – even to at least crack an interview for that matter. My application strategy itself didn’t change much because it was the same application process: Giving importance to writing a convincing cover letter and a neat resume.

And then what happened? How did you find your job eventually?

As I said earlier: We need to have the right contact. After I told my network that I was looking out for jobs in Germany, one of my colleagues informed me that there was a vacancy in the company I’m now working at. Of course, it was for a developer profile. I was quite nervous because it wasn’t something that I had looked for initially. And I had a lot of doubts: “Will I be able to do it?” or “Even if I crack the interview, will I be able to meet the expectations of my client and team members?” When I received the interview call, I remember that I was very nervous. But all the learnings helped me and I was able to convince them.

“Aller Anfang ist schwer”

After you job offer was finalised, you entered Germany with an EU Blue Card visa. How were things for you when you arrived?

Everything was new. I felt that I was in a foreign land with no family, no friends. I had really come out of my comfort zone. Even the language was a challenge. Although I had completed B1, I realised that the language you speak in class is very different. There are so many accents, there is such vast vocabulary. Especially in group discussions, I often used to get lost. Not only was everyone talking German but about topics that were new to me, too. One-on-one I could communicate without problems. However, when I was in a room full of people speaking, I wondered: “What happened to my German?” (laughs) Luckily, some of my colleagues told me that “aller Anfang ist schwer” and gave me tips. And when I got adjusted with the teammates, I automatically got adjusted with the work.

What also helped me was that initially, I lodged with an aged couple. And they were so sweet! When I arrived with my big bag from India, they came to pick me up from the railway station. They also helped with things like opening a bank account or registering for an income tax ID. That surprised me a bit because I didn’t expect that I would get so much help. But the landlady understood my situation. She used to tell me: “You’re in a foreign country. Don’t worry, we’ll try to take care of you as much as we can.”

After I had settled my initial things, I also put in additional effort to learn about my work. I would come home and read, trying to sharpen my skills so that I understand what is going on at work. It took me about six months to completely settle in. I’m very glad that I changed my profile because I like my work. And my company also sponsored some courses that helped me with my daily work. When I look back, I see that I have gained so much knowledge and that I made a step forward from the work that I was doing. And I’m glad that I like it here.

Becoming a permanent resident

By now you also have your permanent residency in Germany. How did you go about that process?

When I received my Blue Card, I already had the information that I could apply for permanent residency only 21 months after my arrival. The process itself was quite smooth: I just called the person responsible for my account in the Ausländerbehörde [Foreigner Registration Office] and she gave me the list of documents I had to furnish. So, I submitted those documents in July 2020 and received my permanent residency within one month. Just after that, the process changed a bit though: Now you have to pass an exam in order to get the permanent residency.

With German skills, patience, and planning to success

If you look back on your journey, what advice would you give to other IT professionals from India who want to follow in your footsteps?

Anyone looking to working in Germany should really go for a language course. It’s true that some profiles don’t require much German, but if you have language skills, that’s extremely beneficial. Knowing German helped me connect with my colleagues. And I also obtained my permanent residency very quickly.

Secondly, when you start applying, don’t get impatient. Usually, recruiters require some time to respond to applications, even with a rejection. Don’t give up too quickly. You may require many applications before you succeed because there are so many applicants from India and all over the world. For the same reason, it’s so important to have a high-quality resume and cover letter, something that catches the eye of the person that is filtering the profiles. Even though a professional application is something so basic, it carries a lot of weight.

Another important thing is planning. Coming to Germany on a business trip or for vacation is different from moving to Germany for work. When you come by yourself, you have to do everything independently. You should inform yourself as much as possible. List down every step to get a proper understanding of the process. This way, if something goes wrong you know the steps to solve the problem. Of course, having the right contacts also helps. If you have those, you can get correct guidance, so it’s good to enhance your professional network a bit, and put some effort to do research.

And finally, I would recommend to everyone to schedule a meeting with ProRecognition. They really go out of their way to support and guide you. That really helped me a lot.

Thanks for sharing your experience!

(The interview was held in January 2021)