Job applications

How to apply for a job in Germany

Germany is quite a bureaucratic country; this generalisation also tends to be true for the job application process. You may be required to provide more than a CV (curriculum vitae/résumé) and cover letter common to applications in many countries (referred to in German as a ( Kurzbewerbung).

In most cases, you also need to include the following:

  • copies of school and university diplomas or leaving certificates (if possible translated)
  • proof of any professional training or further training courses
  • references from previous employers
  • passport photo placed in upper right corner of the CV

This comprehensive application is called a Vollständige Bewerbung. Some positions may require an Aussagefähige Bewerbung, which also include information specific to the position like patents held, publications, or samples from a work portfolio.

Unless applying for a position that does not require German, you should always submit your cover letter and CV in German. Get a friend or a professional to help you with your written application. Wait a week or two after sending an application, then call to check is has been received.

Your Curriculum vitae - Lebenslauf

By convention a CV should have a passport-sized photo showing the head and upper torso. It can help to invest in a high-quality photo taken by a professional, as many employers consider photo-booth pictures unprofessional. The photograph should be pasted on the upper right side of the first page of the CV, next to the first section (personal details).

A German CV is often longer than in other countries, but should not exceed two pages. There are some peculiarities to bear in mind, we have listed some of the most important points you should consider below:

Order: Traditionally CVs were written in chronological order. However, this has changed and you should organise it in tabular form with different subsections for work experience, education and language skills. Information should be placed in reverse chronological order, most recent first. For dates, you don't need to include the day, but should put the month.

Heading: Put Lebenslauf (Curriculum vitae) in the heading of the CV.

Personal details ( Persönliche Daten): This is the first part of the CV. It should contain your name, address, telephone numbers, and e-mail address. You should also include your date and place of birth, marital status and number of children. You need to state your age or your CV will be considered incomplete.

Professional Experience ( Berufserfahrung): Company name, sector, city and the position(s) you held. Specify what you achieved in every job, as this is an important factor for your future employer.

Education ( Ausbildung): Start with university (Studium) if appropriate. You should include all titles, university name(s), cities, dates of study, final grade average, honours and experience studying abroad. Then list secondary/high school studies ( Schulausbildung). You should always get some information on what would be an equivalent degree in Germany and state it, as many employers may not understand foreign degrees.

Language skills ( Sprachkenntnisse): List all languages and the level of ability you have: fluent (fließend), high ( gut), medium (durchschnittlich) or low (Basiskenntnisse). Depending on your abilities, it can help to separate written (schriftlich) and verbal skills (verbal) skills. Don't exaggerate your skills in another level as fluency in another language means just that. If you are tested in an interview and you ability doesn't correspond with your CV you probably will not get the job.

Miscellaneous ( Sonstiges): Supplementary information, including:

  • Computer skills: programs, applications, word processing, spreadsheets, databases etc. Don't put "Internet skills" meaning you know how to use a Internet browser and e-mail, as this is not a differentiating ability.
  • Publications and other professional articles.
  • Hobbies: Your personal hobbies are just as important as your professional information, since they give some impression about you as a person. Most employers like "active" hobbies (such as sport and music) or social engagements. Watching TV or chatting with friends is not considered to be a hobby and will make you appear like a "couch potato".

Date and signature: In Germany, it is very common to date and to sign your CV at the bottom of the last page.

The cover letter

Your cover letter should state your specific interest in the position you are applying for and why you are qualified for it. The letter should be straightforward and not include a lot of diplomatic wording. Remember, most employers receive many applications a day so appreciate brevity. Even though this doesn't sound very poetic, it is common to start a cover letter the phrase, "Hiermit bewerbe ich mich als .." (I hereby apply as ..).

Make a clear statement on why you are the right person for the position. Avoid general platitudes like, "I always wanted to work in your industry, and am impressed by the good reputation your company has obtained in its sector." Keep focussed and try to make yourself stand out with something original.

How to look nice - the application folder

In addition to a cover letter and a CV, most German applications also include copies of qualifications and references of former employers. It is advisable to provide copies of all certificate to support each item in your CV. A complete application can therefore become quite long, with 20-30 pages not being uncommon. Many people bind their application in a Bewerbungsmappe (application folder), which can be bought in most stationary stores. This will make it easier for people to find the documents and can help to create a better impression.

Professional help with CVs and cover letters

Unless you have excellent German skills, consider using professional help to write your first application. There are consultants that will optimize your CV and cover letter for a fee, for example at www.bewerbungsbuero.com or www.profibewerbung.de.

A cheaper option is to look at German CV samples and use the design and the wording as a base for your own CV. You can find a wide range of samples (PDF and Word) at www.bewerbungsbeispiele.com. For more tips on CVs, job applications and interviews in Germany, visit our website on expat employment, ExpatJobMarket.com.

The interview

The next step in your application process will normally be an interview. Unless you're applying for a special job in a foreign company, this will probably be conducted in German. Get practicing as soon as possible and if you speak only a little of the language, bear in mind that even a few phrases will be appreciated.

Do not be late, Germans are punctual people and tardiness for an interview will not be a good start. Dress conservatively: for men, suit (dark, well-tailored) and tie; for women, a tailored suit or dress. Research the company and be prepared to discuss your skills and abilities.

Interviews are typically formal and straightforward. It will begin with an introduction, handshake and exchange of business cards. There may be a few minutes of casual conversation to start with, but quickly the formal interview will start.

Respond to questions openly, honestly and courteously. Don't interrupt. Emphasise how you are able and qualified to fill the position and how you can contribute to the company. Feel free to ask relevant questions about areas such as operational structure, reporting lines and colleagues.

You may be asked a few more personal questions than expected. Legally, an employer can only ask questions relevant to the position being interviewed for. If asked whether you're pregnant, you have grounds for complaint.

Further reading

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