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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Reader question: Is it ever legally too hot to work from home in Germany?

Germany has regulations on working during a heatwave - but does that also apply to people who work remotely? We take a look.

Reader question: Is it ever legally too hot to work from home in Germany?

The number of people working from home shot up during the Covid pandemic, and though employees no longer have the right to work remotely by law, many have chosen to stick with more flexible arrangements and set up a home office at least part of the week.

This is great news for people who enjoy a lie-in more than a long commute, but there are some downsides. One major issue is that it’s not always clear how Germany’s strict employee protection rules actually apply in a home setting. The rules for working during a heatwave are a good example of this.

How does Germany regulate working in extreme heat? 

By law in Germany, employers are responsible for creating a safe environment for their workers. This means that they should try and keep the temperature below 26C at all times and are legally obliged to take action if the temperature goes above 30C. 

That could include putting blinds on the windows to prevent the glare of the sun, installing air conditioning systems or purchasing fans. In some cases – such as outdoor manual labour – it could also involve starting and finishing earlier in the day. 

And in really high temperatures, employers may simply decide to call the whole thing off and give their employees a ‘hitzefrei’ day – basically a heat-induced day off – to go and cool down in a lake. However, business owners are generally given free rein to decide how hot is too hot in this instance (except in the case of vulnerable workers). 

READ ALSO: Hitzefrei: Is it ever legally too hot to go to work or school in Germany?

Do the heat rules apply to ‘home office?’

Unfortunately not. In most cases in Germany, the company isn’t directly involved in setting up the workspace for an employee that works from home, aside from possibly providing a laptop or phone for remote use. 

“The occupational health and safety regulations regarding room temperature do not apply in this case,” labour law expert Meike Brecklinghaus told German business publication T3N. “This is because the employer does not have direct access to the employee’s workplace and in this respect cannot take remedial action.”

That means that on hot days, it’s the employee’s own responsibility to make sure the environment is suitable for working in. 

woman works from home in Germany

A woman works in her living room at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Naupold

One duty employers do have, however, is to instruct their workers about the best way to set up a healthy work environment at home, for example by giving guidance on how to regulate the temperature. 

“In the end, it is the employee’s responsibility to maintain his or her workplace in a condition in which he or she can perform his or her work without the threat of health impairments,” Brecklinghaus explained.

What can home office workers do in hot weather?

There are plenty of ways to keep flats cooler in the summer months, including purchasing your own fan, keeping curtains or blinds drawn and ventilating the rooms in the evening or early morning when the weather is cooler.

However, if heat is really becoming a problem, it’s a good idea to communicate this to your employer. This is especially important if you have a health condition that makes it more dangerous to work in hot weather. 

In some cases, you might be able to negotiate for the employer to pay for the purchase of a fan or mobile air conditioner as goodwill gesture. If possible, you could also arrange to travel to the office where the temperature should be better regulated.

Another option for early birds or night owls is to arrange more flexible working hours so you can avoid sweltering at your desk in the midday sun, although this of course depends on operational factors. 

READ ASO: Jobs in Germany: Should foreign workers join a union?