How to be seen as the best candidate for that job in Germany

Some German companies receive hundreds - or even thousands - of applications for a position. How can you stand out? Careers columnist Chris Pyak explains.

How to be seen as the best candidate for that job in Germany
A man holding a 'Bewerbung' or job application. Photo: depositphotos/racorn

The light is so bright, it nearly blinds the presenter. For a moment she takes the whole scene in: The huge auditorium, full of celebrities, each of them full of anxiety – will she pull their name out of the envelope? She takes a breath, opens the envelope and starts to talk:

“The job goes to…”

When you apply for a job in Germany, you are one of the people in the audience. You hope that your name is in the envelope, that you will be called on to the stage to receive your award: “Best candidate for this job.”

Woman holding a 'Bewerbung' or job application. Photo: depositphotos/alexraths

Here is your challenge. You are not alone. There might be a hundred, even a thousand of you in the room. They all hope to win the award – get the job. They are as competent and well educated as you are.

How do you beat them?

A while ago, I interviewed Saurabh Paramveer for the Immigrant Spirit Podcast. Saurabh is Product Owner for the new project at Zalando. They have no problem finding candidates.

Thousands of software developers apply for jobs with Zalando every year. Saurabh can afford to look for real stars – those who would win the Oscar – and hire the very best.

SEE ALSO: Why it's a myth you need to know German to get a job in Germany

But what exactly makes you “the best”?

Here is the solution to your challenge. You see, the Oscar is not about “The Best”. They are always about “The Best” in categories: “Best supporting actor”, “Best Makeup and Hairstyling”, even “Best short subject, two reel”.

Sorry, what was that last one?

“Best short subject, two reel”.

That's a very specific category. 

Turns out, hiring managers think in these extremely specific categories, too. When Saurabh says that he wants to hire the best candidate for the job, he means a candidate who is not only a very good coder, but also has experience developing systems that work seamless with the software of other companies.

In Saurabh's project the “customers” are big manufacturers. “The best” candidate for Saurabh is someone who has experience with the specific demands that these integrations create.

It's the combination of two unrelated skills that makes you the number one in your field: “Great software developer, who also understands integration with…”, “Excellent anti-fraud specialist, who also speaks fluent Russian”, “Outstanding automotive Engineer, who also is very strong in software integration.”

Here is one thing that you can do today:

Take a blank sheet of paper and a pen. Find a quiet environment and 30 minutes of time. Think about the last three jobs that you had:

1. Which of your tasks / projects created the biggest value for the employer? Be as specific as possible.

2. What helped you the most to achieve these outcomes? Again: Be as detailed as possible.

3. Combination of which skills/abilities/attitudes made this possible?

Zalando's chairmen at a press conference for the companies new headquarters in Berlin's Friedrichshain in February 2019. Photo: DPA

Now you need to be brave.

Give a call or write an email to your last three supervisors. Ask them, which of your tasks/projects created the biggest value for them, and why? Compare results.

If you hope to compete with thousands of other candidates for the same job, my advice is: Don't.

Find the employers, who want exactly the combination of two or three abilities that make you unique. You are sure to win the Oscar if you compete in your category.

FIND A JOB: Browse thousands of English-speaking jobs in Germany


Chris Pyak is the Author of “How To Win Jobs & Influence Germans“. The managing director of Immigrant Spirit GmbH has worked in four different cultures and lived in five different countries.

Chris returned to Germany in 2011. His mission: Bring the Immigrant Spirit to his home country. Chris introduces international professionals to employers in Germany.

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7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

Taking the decision to go it alone and freelance in Germany can be a daunting prospect. But, if you do it right, it can be an exciting and liberating path. Here are some of our top tips on how to survive.

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

1. Get a tax advisor

The German tax system is complicated, even for Germans. All the associated paperwork uses the Amtsprache (authority language) which is more like legalese than ‘normal’ German, and mistakes when filling out tax forms can cause you, at best, a massive headache and, at worst, a costly fine. So it’s best that you employ someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.

That person is called a Steuerberater (tax advisor) in Germany. They will help you register with the tax office, correspond with them and submit your tax declarations.

Be aware that, in Germany, different deadlines apply for tax returns depending on whether you employ an official tax advisor or not. If you are doing the tax return on your own, the deadline for submitting your annual tax return is earlier than if you use a tax advisor’s services. 

READ ALSO: What NOT to do when you’re freelancing in Germany

When looking for a tax advisor, a top tip is to use your network to get recommendations. Ideally, you want someone who will do more than just fill in the forms for you, but who will actually advise you on how best to manage your business finances so that you can make tax savings.

2. Keep your accounting in order

The better you keep your own accounts in order, the easier it will be for your tax advisor to compile your tax declarations and therefore the cheaper their services will be.

As a freelancer, there are a lot of costs you can deduct from your taxes – from train tickets, working materials, to meals out – so it’s best to keep hold of all your receipts and to keep them in good order.

2 euros and 50 cents lie on a receipt in a beer garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In Germany, you’re obliged to keep hold of receipts for two years, in case of a tax inspection, so it’s a good idea to photocopy the type of machine-printed receipts you get from restaurants so that they stay legible for a long time.

There are also a few things to be aware of when writing your own invoices. Firstly, make sure that you include your tax number. This isn’t the 11-digit Steueridentifikationsnummer that everyone gets when registering in Germany, but the 10-digit Steuernummer you get from the Finanzamt after registering yourself as a freelancer. 

Most companies won’t pay you if you don’t have this on your invoices so make sure you include it.

You should also make sure that you number your invoices properly – ideally in ascending order so that you can easily keep track of them. You are not allowed to issue two invoices with the same number and if you do so and the finance office notices, you could face an inspection of your whole accounting system.

There are numerous great accounting software programmes you can use to help you, such as Lexoffice and Sevdesk and, even if you have to pay for them, the costs will be tax deductible!

3. Find out if you’re eligible for financial support

In Germany, there are several opportunities for freelancers to gain financial support and to cut their outgoings, and its worth finding out if you’re eligible for them.

If you’re claiming unemployment benefits under ALG 1 and are thinking about becoming a freelancer, the employment office offers a special type of financial support to help you to get your freelance business off the ground.

Called the Grundungszuschuss (“foundation grant”) the payment is a six-month grant equalling your monthly entitlement under ALG 1 plus €300 towards your insurance costs can be applied for those in receipt of this unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

If you are engaged in some form of artistic profession in Germany – which can include journalism to pottery – you may be entitled to membership to the Kunstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance).

Being a member of the KSK means you only have to pay half of your health insurance and pension contributions, and the KSK will pay the rest.

4. Work out how much you think you will earn

As with starting any business, you need to have some idea of your expected earnings from the outset.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or have some freelance gigs on the side of an employment position, then it might be worth considering registering yourself as a Kleinunternehmer (“small business”).

As a Kleinunternehmer, you can currently earn up to €22.000 per year without having to charge VAT and having to submit only yearly tax declarations. 

An income tax declaration form lies on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hans-Jürgen Wiedl

Be aware that if you are registered as this kind of freelancer, you must include the following sentence in your invoices: ‘Gemäß § 19 UStG wird keine Umsatzsteuer berechnet’ which means ‘In accordance with Paragrah19 of the German VAT law, no VAT has been added to this invoice.’

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

If you think you will earn more than €22.000 per year, you will need to pay Umsatzsteuer (VAT) and will have to submit tax declarations in advance and more often. Depending on how much you earn, this could be every month or every quarter. 

5. Get your insurance in order

In Germany, it’s a legal requirement to have health insurance.

If you’ve just made the move from employment to being a freelancer and want to keep the same health insurer, you should get in contact with your health insurance provider straight away to tell them about your change of circumstances. They will ask you to re-register and to tell them your projected freelance earnings for the year, so they can amend your monthly fees.

If you don’t keep your health insurer provider updated, you could continue to be charged the higher rate that you had from your previous salary.

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

It’s not just health insurance you need to think about as a freelancer. It’s also wise to think about protecting yourself from any sort of claims that could arise as a result of any working mishaps. 

If, for example, you lose your laptop which contains confidential client information, you need to be protected against claims.

That’s why it’s good to have both Betriebshaftversicherung (business liability insurance) and Rechtschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance).

6. Plan your time wisely

All of these bureaucratic obligations take time. So it’s really important that you take account of that when planning your time. For example, planning half a day a week to deal with your invoices, filing, emails to clients, and conversations with authorities can be really beneficial when scheduling your working time. 

7. Grow your network

As a freelancer, networking is absolutely crucial to success. 

Keep an up-to-date profile on websites like LinkedIn and German equivalent XING and keep in contact with anyone you’ve ever worked with, no matter how brief the contact was. 

Having a network is not only about getting more clients, but also about building a support network in your field to exchange advice, tips and generally for your own enrichment. 

Participating in workshops related to your field, going to seminars, and meet-ups, can be great ways of broadening your network.