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10 ways to optimize your application in the German job market

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10 ways to optimize your application in the German job market
Photo: A man looking at a CV.
14:44 CET+01:00
While there are similarities between applying for jobs in Germany and in other countries, there are differences too. Here’s what you need to know about German language applications to help you nab the job you’ve always wanted in ‘Schland.

1. Tailor your CV and cover letter

Though this point might already be common knowledge, a “lack of appreciation” in investing the time to tailor an application is “probably the most common mistake” candidates looking to enter the German job market make, according to business management consultant based in Düsseldorf, Chris Pyak.

Pyak suggests candidates do their homework, research their potential employer and show this in the form of a well-prepared application in which a candidate has also reflected on why he or she is the right person for the role.

The website LiveWorkGermany.com calls this “time consuming and intensive” process a “necessary evil if you want to see results.”

2. Keep your cover letter to one page

An application’s cover letter is usually only one page and must get straight to the point, Nadine, a former HR specialist at Volkswagen, told The Local.  

Whereas English job applications sometimes focus more on the CV, the cover letter is the most important component of a German job application, according to Hamburg-based translation company tolingo.

Tolingo advise not only to make sure your cover letter gives a short yet thorough overview of your experiences, skills and motivations, it should also be clear, informative, convincing and free of mistakes.

In Germany - as in many other countries - grammar and spelling mistakes found anywhere in an application are a no-go.

Having said that though, I personally have friends and acquaintances who have nabbed jobs with typos in their applications. So don’t fret if you’ve pressed send only to realize afterward there were minor mistakes in your CV. We’re all only human, after all.

Photo: A curriculum vitae (CV).

3. Avoid words which seem soft like could (könnte) or would (würde), but don’t brag

Choose decisive words and use strong sentence structure instead, suggests Nadine. Overuse of words like could or would can make an application difficult to grasp.

At the same time, though, keep in mind that Germans tend to consider some information on an English CV to be superfluous or even egotistical.

While this doesn’t mean you should leave out descriptions of personal interests and hobbies (which show how you stand out from other candidates) in your German CV, it could mean that in your choice of wording you strike a fine balance between showing confidence and refraining from bragging.

4. Make sure that there are no gaps in your CV

No surprise here - Germans don’t like uncertainty. So be honest about the dates you worked at jobs and what you did between jobs, says Pyak.

Similar to English CVs but perhaps more crucial in German CVs, any gaps in an application will look incomplete and recruiters might think you have something to hide.

With this in mind, don’t feel like recruiters won’t be impressed if you took a sabbatical to go travelling, time off to pursue further education or simply explore personal projects. Relevant experience doesn’t always have to correspond to time spent employed, for instance, by a company.

5. Include copies of relevant degrees, transcripts, reference letters, etc.

Whereas in English applications including copies of things like your college certificate or your Bachelor programme transcript are often optional, in German applications, your best bet is to include copies of all documents relevant to the job.

Some companies might even request a certified original copy of these documents if you are taken on board.

Germans take showing proof of studies and work experience very seriously. In fact, one acquaintance of mine actually held back on applying for job postings because he was waiting on a few reference letters from previous employers.

And one company that a friend of mine recently applied to asked him to show proof of his 2010-2011 work and travel year abroad in Australia, which he had listed in his CV. He then had to scrounge around to find his old passport, and then scanned and sent the company copies of the pages in it which showed proof of his flights to and from Australia.

6. Consider the German grading system and translate accordingly

Bear in mind the marking structure in Germany may be different to what you’re used to. For instance, if you’ve completed a Masters programme in the UK with an average mark of 75 percent, this would be about a 3.3 in the German grading system. In this case, you could describe your grade on your German CV as befriedigend, or satisfactory.

If for example you graduated from an American university with a GPA (grade point average) of 3.3, this would translate to a completely different mark in the German grading system. A 3.3 GPA is equivalent to a 2.3 in Germany, and can be described on a CV as gut, or good.

7. Include a professional photo of yourself

This is one of the major differences between applying for jobs in Germany versus applying for jobs in English-speaking countries like Canada, where a candidate’s “physical attributes have no place” on your CV.

Though it’s no longer really mandatory, in Germany, including a photograph of yourself (either uploaded as an attachment or placed on the front page of your CV) is common practice.

If you choose to include one, make sure the photo is taken by a professional photographer rather than in an amateur fashion.

A German CV with a photograph on it. Photo: DPA.

Photographer Christine Blohmann from Berlin deals with application photos on a daily basis. She advises candidates to have a friendly and determined expression.

Sascha Theisen from StepStone adds that applicants should bear in mind how they might dress in their desired job and consider the environment - whether it’s more conventional, laid-back, funky, etc.

Regardless of any profession, clothing with striking logos or prints are not advisable for the photo.

8. Keep in mind German CVs usually include a candidate’s date of birth, etc.

Traditionally, CVs in applications for jobs in the German market have included things that English CVs don’t normally include, such as marital status, nationality and date of birth.

Nowadays though, while mentioning your marital status or nationality might not be as common on a German CV, including your date of birth still is.

Depending on the nature of your industry or your personal preference, decide for yourself whether you’d like to mention these points.

9. Consider whether to organize your CV in reverse chronological order (or not)

It’s best to list your activities and experiences on your CV starting with the most recent, according to career advisors.

Germans call this style of organizing one’s CV an “American CV,” which is now considered the standard.

The advantage of using this structure is that recruiters are immediately aware of the candidate’s most up-to-date experience.

But it's not always advisable. If for instance you’re fresh out of university or are unemployed, it might be best not to highlight a lack of experience and a chronological CV could be the way to go.

10. Get a native German speaker to proofread your application

This goes without saying, especially if your native language isn’t German. Though it may be tempting to quickly send off your application after you've tailored and edited it to the best of your ability, a second pair of eyes may be able to catch mistakes you've made.

The person who proofreads your application could even suggest ways for you to improve it before you hit send; having it proofread could make all the difference. As the saying goes, the devil's in the details.

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