At first glance, Zurich may not appear the most inviting destinations for new graduates.
But looks can be deceiving.
The Swiss city has a reputation for being expensive and aloof, but thanks to low taxes and high salaries it can be a very affordable place to live and work.
Switzerland may be politically neutral, but it lies at the very heart of Europe. Zurich, its biggest city and economic engine, is a multicultural hotspot and a major player in global industries – not least finance.
Beyond banking, Zurich offers excellent opportunities, with over 80% of jobs in the city being in the service sector, and has thriving creative and biotechnology industries in particular.
Zurich has much to offer the new graduate jobseeker, including enviable overall quality of life, modern, efficient public services and a stable, growing economy.
Here are 5 reasons to start building your career in Zurich.
1/ A financial centre
Swiss banks are renowned the world over for their discretion and quality of service.
That is no accident. The Swiss finance sector has over the years acquired global clout and international renown, with Zurich playing a major part.
It is estimated that finance accounts for as much as a third of the city’s economic output, and employs around a quarter of the entire workforce. In the 2017 Global Financial Centres Index, Zurich was ranked the 11th most competitive financial sector in the world, and the 2nd in Europe (behind London).
The Swiss Stock Exchange, established in Zurich in 1877, is one of the world’s most prominent and is consistently found in the global top 20 by market capitalization.
As Switzerland’s premier financial centre, the city is home to global players such as UBS, Credit Suisse, Zurich Insurance Group and Swiss Re – multinational companies employing huge numbers around the world.
Anyone considering a career in finance – be it in banking, insurance or elsewhere – need look no further than Zurich.
2/ At the heart of Europe
A cultural melting pot
Zurich is a city of many languages. And is home to people of many nationalities.
While ‘Zurich German’ is the city’s native tongue, and ‘Swiss Standard German’ the more formal official language, English and French are widely spoken, and German speakers from elsewhere will not find the language a struggle.
It is said that around a third to a half of the workers in the city are not Swiss nationals, meaning expats will feel very much at home there.
Despite this multiculturalism (or as a result of it), the Swiss have gained a reputation of late for opposing immigration and cultural diversity. Though it has become harder to move to Switzerland in recent times – visas are granted to those who have a job already and whose future employer can prove no Swiss can fill the position – this is less of a problem for Europeans.
If you get the chance to move to Zurich, it’s advisable to take it.
Open (not just for business)
Though famed for its political neutrality and opposition to joining international institutions (such as the EU), Switzerland has deep ties and wide-ranging agreements with other European countries, accepting free movement of labour from the rest of the Union and becoming part of the Schengen Zone.
In Zurich, you are at the heart of Europe. Travel to Italy, France and Germany is easy, and flights out of Zurich Airport, Switzerland’s biggest, connect the city to the rest of the continent within a couple of hours in all directions.
Contrary to its image, Switzerland is far from isolationist – many multinational organizations are headquartered there, and it is the birthplace of the Red Cross (its symbolic name deriving from the Swiss flag with its colours reversed).
The multiculturalism and globalism of Zurich is one of the city’s strongest selling points, and help fuel an economy which is celebrated for its strength, stability and cutting-edge.
3/ Booming biotech
Beyond banking, a major draw for many – thanks to skills shortages and growth potential – is the biotech, pharmaceuticals and chemicals industries.
It is not hard to see why scientific careers have taken off. Once home to Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli and Felix Bloch, Zurich has a proud history of excellence in natural science.
Switzerland, the home of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, has one of the highest research and development levels in the world, and is committed to supporting high-tech industry.
Bolstered by the quality of research at Zurich University, ETH Zurich, the Zurich University of Applied Sciences and the University of St Gallen, major multinationals such as Bayer and Pfizer have a presence in the city, as do many Swiss-owned and international pharmaceutical and speciality chemicals companies.
And less than one hour outside the city is the Paul Scherrer Institute, which is the largest research institute for natural and engineering sciences within Switzerland.
For others with technical backgrounds, the Swiss-Swedish multinational ABB has its headquarters in Zurich, as do the automotive manufacturers Volvo, Renault and Fiat and electronics firms such as Microsoft, IBM and Google.
Engineering and IT have been areas of skills shortage for the city in recent times, promising great opportunities for qualified candidates hoping to fly through Switzerland’s immigration system and find work in Zurich.
4/ A creative hub
The creative economy is another area of high demand in the city, with particular strength and growth potential in the fields of architecture, design, music and game design.
Zurich’s creative sector employs over 30,000 people in over 5,000 companies, and is a source of new thinking and innovation for the economy more broadly, exemplified in initiatives such as CreativeEconomies and Creative Zurich.
The city also boasts an expanding startup scene, with software engineers in high demand. Accelerators such as the Swiss Startup Factory and events like HackZurich – billed as “Europe’s biggest hackathon” – are putting Switzerland’s economic capital on the digital map.
There are plenty of jobs for those with creative backgrounds, or for new graduates in computer science and related technical fields.
Zurich has a long track record of attracting creative genius, being the adopted home of James Joyce and Thomas Mann, the city of Carl Jung and Bruno Ganz, and a place of exile for Richard Wagner. It is also, for that matter, a city of disruption and radical thought, harbouring Vladimir Lenin, and with its theologians having been at the vanguard of the Protestant Reformation.
Switzerland, despite its reputation for sitting on the fence, is a natural destination for innovators and the independent-minded.
5/ A city on a lake
Of course, there is more to life in Switzerland’s biggest city than work.
While Zurich will often be found near the top of the world’s ‘Most Expensive Cities’ lists, it is also a staple of ‘Quality of Life’ rankings, consistently hitting either top spot or going close on Mercer Consulting’s oft-cited ‘Quality of Living City Ranking’ (it was number 2 in 2018, behind Vienna).
Thanks in part to the city’s strength in technical professions and scientific industries, ‘Cleantech’ and environmentally-friendly investment are among the world’s most progressive.
Regular recycling is a well-entrenched part of life, and its citizens voted overwhelmingly for a ‘2000-watt society’ in 2008, meaning the city must reduce its energy consumption to no more than 1 tonne of CO2 per person by 2050.
The Zurich public transport system is widely used and greatly envied, with many commuters opting for the bus or tram – and with the city investing heavily in improving cycling infrastructure in recent times.
In such a well-functioning city, there is plenty of time for extra-curricular activities.
With the alps in sight, many residents of Zurich take to outdoor sports such as skiing, and it is common for people to take a dip in Lake Zurich (in all seasons). There is also a dynamic art scene and busy cultural calendar keeping the locals entertained.