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What are the key steps involved in changing jobs?

Leaving one company for another is a mere formality for most people. For expats, the task can be more complicated, especially with some of the regulations that govern the labour market in Switzerland.

1. Job-seeking

Looking for a new job can be a long and tedious process. To make things easier, you should prepare your application carefully and to tailor it to the job requirements. This also involves highlighting specific skills depending on the position you are applying for.

Switzerland is an unusual labour market combining many international organisations and companies as well as a high number of SMEs (around 600,000 SMEs employ nearly 3,000,000 people1). While the recruitment process can be very formal and transparent for large companies, the hiring process for SMEs is often more direct and based on mutual trust. It is important to keep networking, because an opportunity may be just around the corner.

2. Resignation letter and notice of termination

Your employment contract, whether permanent or fixed-term2, normally sets out the rules for termination. You must submit a letter of resignation to your supervisor and the human resources department.

Once your letter is delivered, you must still work out your notice period, which varies according to your level and/or length of service. This period is normally specified in your employment contract. If this is not the case, you must refer to the Code of Obligations which contains, the following provisions for minimum notice periods based on the length of time you have been with the company:

  • Seven days for the trial period
  • One month for the first year of employment
  • Two months for the second year of employment
  • Three months for the tenth year of employment

The notice period takes effect at the end of a month and is normally counted in completed months, in other words,
If you have been with the company for four years and you resign on 17 March, you must continue working until 31 May because the notice period will begin on 1 April and lasts for two months.

It is always possible to plan your departure in the case of remaining annual leave or by amicable arrangement with your employer. The employer may also decide to release you from your notice obligation.

The letter of resignation does not need to address any specific points but must set out the effective date of termination of the contract.

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To ensure that your notice is received on time and before the end of the month, you are advised to send your letter by registered post or to hand-deliver it.

3. Work certificate

Once you have handed in your resignation, your employer is required to provide you with a work certificate at the end of your notice period.

Somewhat unique to the Swiss labour market, this document is very useful when changing jobs as it offers the new employer proof of the professional skills used in the previous position. Not only that, it also provides information on personal and interpersonal skills, which can often be construed differently from employer to employer.

In terms of content, a work certificate is generally not negative, but it goes without saying that an absence of superlatives or kind words about you may suggest some shortcomings to a prospective employer. It is therefore important to show outstanding behaviour throughout your employment and not to neglect the last few days as you risk having a less glowing work certificate.

In principle, the certificate must comment on the quality of the work done as well as the employee’s behaviour. It should be formulated in a kind manner while also being comprehensive and truthful. It should mention any negative points if they are important. At the employee’s express request, the certificate may cover only the nature and duration of the employment relationship.

Work certificates are systematically requested by prospective employers. Their importance is such that an employer can legally bring a claim against the previous employer if the latter failed to mention a predisposition in the work certificate that could be detrimental to the new employer.

If you change managers or positions during your contract, it is quite usual to request an interim certificate from the HR department.

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When you arrive from abroad

When you arrive from abroad as an expat for your first job in Switzerland, you will not be in a position to furnish a work certificate since this practice is specific to the Swiss market. You could ask your employer for a reference or similar document, something that is more common to the international labour market. This may reassure a prospective employer about your skills.

You have the right to review the content of your work certificate and the option of notifying your future former employer of omissions that could have a significant impact on the final content.

4. Conditions and benefits

As the saying goes, when you change jobs: "Nothing ventured, nothing gained".

Before you accept an offer from a new employer, it is crucial to clarify and compare the benefits you will receive. There is the salary of course but other less obvious conditions can be a real long-term advantage.

Examples include the BVG (second pillar) where the employer's share can as much as double, contributions towards health insurance premiums, subsistence costs or other expenses related to your position.

You should also take into account the possibilities of teleworking or the number of paid holidays. It is a matter of weighing up the pros and cons so as not to lose out if you do change jobs.

1. SME portal for small and medium enterprises (2017). SMEs companies and jobs in figures. See

2. CDI = permanent contract/CDD = fixed-term contract

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