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How is the work experience outside Germany counted in public salary decisions? What if someone got their PhD outside Germany, for instance?

Some context for my own case:

I am hired as a scientist at a public research institute. I did not know much about how these salary scales work, and I received a letter from HR telling me that only my previous postdoc in Germany (which was a stipend contract and I wasn't even paid by Germany) was considered for the decision, so it is basically 1 year. It's E-14 level 2.

I did my studies in another country where PhD positions are mostly not paid so people work in industry. I have more than 10 years of experience, all in relevant roles to my current research topic, and I also have experience in team management and third party funding. I am pretty sure the hiring decision was highly affected by this experience.

I am not even sure if the PI/head of department was involved or they should have been involved in the decision, but if the decision is made based on my experience, salary should be decided based on my experience, too.

I don't care much about my current salary, but this decision will affect the rest of my career in Germany, if I will have one. So this is bugging me very much, and I need some information on how this works here.

3 Answers 3

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These decisions have a large degree of randomness to them. That is because they are made by administrative staff who may or may not have adequate understanding of your individual case, and what should count as relevant experience.

It is generally possible that you can influence the decision by making a strong case why your previous experience is relevant. They may or may not understand your arguments (or pretend they don't). Of course, such a case should be made before you sign the job contract.

It is also generally possible that the hiring PI and/or department head can influence the decision. The institutional setup may or may not be such that the PI or department head has formal influence. It's also possible that the administrative staff is more willing to listen to them, due to their perceived status. If the administrators don't listen to your arguments, asking the PI to make a case for you is a reasonable thing to do.

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    @groove: I am pretty sure that it’s nonsense that you cannot change the level once you are in the system. For example, if HR made a blatant mistake, they have to retroactively amend it. Of course, it’s more difficult. Since you already started the position (IIUC), you have less leverage and somebody somewhere has to acknowledge that they made a mistake.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Sep 18, 2023 at 20:00
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    @groove Possible yes - in the ideal scenario, you have an HR person who agrees to your assessment, or a PI who really wants to hire you and can influence the HR person. Sep 18, 2023 at 20:06
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    @groove If you plan to become professor in Germany, that's a totally different game anyways, salary-wise. It's not even the same broader category of employment, as you will be a "Beamter" instead of "Arbeitnehmer im öffentlichen Dienst". Sep 18, 2023 at 20:12
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    @groove: I just want to learn if I ruined my possible career in Germany since I didn't try to negotiate. – You didn’t ruin much. If you stay at this position for fourteen years, we are talking about a difference of 37 k€ gross salary here (while you earn about 1 M€ in total). And before that happens, you are very likely to get a different position, be it as a professor or something else, which will likely obviate any difference.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Sep 18, 2023 at 21:21
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    @groove: I decided to go for it and take the risk of pissing them off and get fired. – Firing somebody from public service in Germany is very difficult. You might get fired within probation time if your supervisor is really unhappy with you, but usually academic employments end if your contract doesn’t get extended. Getting fired for arguing (politely) with HR would be totally outlandish. It’s the kind of situation that would actually get somebody fired from public service, namely the HR people responsible for this.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Sep 18, 2023 at 21:26
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First, it is not necessarily true that your experience is relevant - it must be relevant to a job in paygrade E14, and not just in some vague way to your job. There is lots of room for interpretation. The only thing which is definitely relevant is another job in the same paygrade - so if your previous experience way, say, as a PhD student, this might with good reason not be counted towards E14-experience. Note that there are clear definitions what E14 involves as a minimum (AFAIR, E13 requires an academic degree > bachelor, and E14 adds responsibility for other people to it (as a team leader etc.). For instance, PhD students would never get E14, and most places also hire postdocs only on E13.)

Now, the PI has generally some say - how much depends on the institution, but it is certainly a good idea to ask them. For sure, they would have to write some text why other experience is counted, and without such a text, it is almost certain that the administration will not upgrade you, so you will have to rely on his support and them writing such an explanation.

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  • So experience in industry and/or in other countries doesn't count? Because I led teams of master's and phd studens in industry, not their thesis work, but we did projects on topics relevant to my current research, for instance. And I got research grants on top of that. If that experience influenced the decision to hire me, it should influence the salary too to be fair, shouldn't it? And today I also learned that experience as a PhD student in Germany counted as experience in E14, so a fresh PhD graduate working as a postdoc is making more money than me.
    – groove
    Sep 18, 2023 at 20:16
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    "And today I also learned that experience as a PhD student in Germany counted as experience in E14": That depends on the place, and I would say it is really stretching the rules. If it is in the same place where you are, you might have a good argument. But again, get the support from your PI - if they bend the rules, the administration will have to add some explanation to their files, and they are not the ones who can judge the relevance of your experience and write this text.
    – user151413
    Sep 18, 2023 at 20:30
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    I know PhD students that were E14 and lead other, less experienced PhD students. Never say never.
    – usr1234567
    Sep 19, 2023 at 8:24
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First of all, the relevant rule here is § 16(2) Bund or a similar rule of a similar tariff contract (translation mine):

¹Bei Einstellung werden die Beschäftigten der Stufe 1 zugeordnet, sofern keine einschlägige Berufserfahrung vorliegt. ²Verfügt die/der Beschäftigte über eine einschlägige Berufserfahrung von mindestens einem Jahr, erfolgt die Einstel­lung in die Stufe 2; verfügt sie/er über eine einschlägige Berufserfahrung von mindestens drei Jahren, erfolgt bei Einstellung in der Regel eine Zuordnung zur Stufe 3. ³Unabhängig davon kann der Arbeitgeber bei Neueinstellungen zur De­ckung des Personalbedarfs Zeiten einer vorherigen beruflichen Tätigkeit ganz oder teilweise für die Stufenzuordnung berücksichtigen, wenn diese Tätigkeit für die vorgesehene Tätigkeit förderlich ist.


¹On hiring, an employee is assigned Level 1 unless they have relevant work experience. ²If the employee has a relevant work experience of at least a year, they are hired at Level 2; if they have a relevant work experience of at least three years, they are assigned Level 3. ³Irrespective of this, for purposes of finding personnel, the employer may completely or partially recognise times of previous work for assigning levels, if this work is beneficial for the designated employment.

So up to Level 3, there are no constraints on where you obtained your work experience. (Note however, that experience within Germany’s public service can get you hired at levels higher than three as per §16(2), 3 or § 16(3).)

However, there is a large wiggle room as to what counts as a relevant work experience. This is where Lighthouse Keeper’s answer comes in: You have to convince some bureaucrats what your previous work experience is worth. In particular, I am not surprised that they won’t count industry experience.

That being said, your situation is somewhat special: The vast majority of positions from PhD positions to staff scientists are Group 13. However, you got one of those very rare Group 14 positions. That means that you get more salary than a regular postdoc (Group 13) with the same experience. In particular, starting at Group 14, Level 2, your accumulated salary will always be higher than if you had started at Group 13, Level 3 (see below why this is a relevant comparison). On the other hand, this is a good argument for not counting typical PhD and postdoc positions, since those are not a Group 14 experience. On yet another hand, you say you have team-management experience, and team management is exactly what usually elevates Group 14 from Group 13.

Therefore I expect that arguing for Level 3 in your situation will be difficult, though not impossible.

Sidenote: Why some experience does count for Group 14

You may wonder why you got any experience accounted for at all (starting at Level 2 instead of Level 1) and you also report:

I understood that their experience as a PhD student on E13 counted in E14 as a postdoc

The reason for this is that being hired into a higher group cannot be disadvantageous for you. If you had been hired in Group 13, you would very likely have started at Level 3 (the highest non-exceptional entry level as per the above). The salary of Group 14 Level 1 would be lower than that, and thus you were hired at Level 2.

The same likely applies to those PhD students you know: If they previously were employed at Group 13 Level 3 (on account of their experience during their PhD studies), they could not be hired at Group 14 Level 1, because it would have been detrimental. Thus their experience as a PhD student did count.

However, to achieve Group 14 Level 3 by the same mechanism, they would have to have reached Group 13 Level 4 as a PhD students, i.e., they would have to have worked on their PhD for six years. That’s already quite some experience and also only possible to obtain within the German system or by invoking the exception from Sentence 3 of the above law.

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  • I couldn't understand the comparison with E13 level 3, and how I am getting more than a regular postdoc with the same experience. How is the experience considered here, that's the main question actually. I was hired especially to supervise PhD students and probably write a proposal as a continuation, so my experience must have played a role in my employment. Another thing is, I know postdocs who are recent graduates with a PhD degree from Germany, on E14, also at a better level than mine (or at least the same).
    – groove
    Sep 18, 2023 at 20:30
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    There are some places which hire postdocs regularly in E14.
    – user151413
    Sep 18, 2023 at 20:31
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    @groove Question is whether it counted fully. One could well argue that e.g. only the experience in the last year of the PhD is relevant.
    – user151413
    Sep 18, 2023 at 20:39
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    @groove: See my edit as to why PhD experience may count and why it does not have the effect you think it does.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Sep 18, 2023 at 21:13
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    @groove: That’s what the cited paragraph says: It describes how previous experience can get you up to Level 3 and then it stops (sentence 2). Sentence 3 is about how you can get every level if this helps finding personnel. (Don’t ask me when exactly this exception can get invoked – I have no clue.)
    – Wrzlprmft
    Sep 18, 2023 at 21:35

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