The German Job Application Process: Expert Advice, Tips & FAQ
Have you ever wanted to pick an expert’s brain about all things relating to successful German job applications? Well, we did this for you and put those burning questions you may have had to Christian Scherer, PR and Marketing Manager from richtiggutbewerben.de.
Grab yourself a coffee and your favourite note taking App because there are some fantastic tips in here!
What are the most common reasons why a job application lands in the trash?
In Germany, a job application still first and foremost lands in the waste paper basket because of spelling and grammar mistakes. These are a surefire way to kill off a German job application.
The other most common mistake is not tailoring the application specifically to the position for which the candidate is applying. By this I don’t mean that the person is unqualified for the job, rather that the applicant is using something akin to a one-size-fits-all application and just hoping that if they shoot enough bullets, one will hit the target.
Whereas in the English-speaking world, a CV is often sufficient for the first phase of a job application (assessment centres are much more common in the US and the UK for example), in Germany a much stronger emphasis is placed on the cover letter. HR professionals and hiring managers want to see that applicants have familiarised themselves with the company and the open position, and an individual has reflected on why exactly he/she is the right candidate for the role. Yes, it’s time consuming and intensive, but it’s a necessary evil if you want to see results I’m afraid.
How can the services offered by richtiggutbewerben.de help improve a candidate’s chances of success?
richtiggutbewerben.de offers the possibility of a complete application to be written by ghost writers. Our experts are not only talented copy writers but also have some specific industry knowledge and tips and tricks from the world of HR and job applications. They can write a tailor-made application, even a CV, specifically for the position(s) you are applying for. Everything will be completed according to a uniform and professional design within 4 working days.
Furthermore, our copy editors also guarantee that these documents are free of any typos or grammatical errors.
An important consideration is the subtle differences between the application process in an applicant’s home country vs. what is the norm here in Germany. If somebody already has a CV and a basic cover letter or reference, can you modify this to be fit for the German jobs market? By this we don’t mean modifying the actual content, rather just tailoring it to a German format and to deal with the specific requirements of the German application process.
Our experts certainly understand the differences between job applications in specific foreign languages (for example English, French and Spanish) vs. a German application. Anyone who provides documents from their native country in one of the above languages can be assured that we will not only translate them but also consider the necessary requirements and formatting to adapt these documents to be successful in the German employment market. If necessary, we would re-write certain aspects to ensure that the content looks original.
Let’s also not forget that in the German-speaking countries there are also minor differences, for example between applying for a job in Germany as opposed to Swiss or Austrian applications.
Let’s assume someone speaks German but not confidently enough to handle a job interview. Many applicants may consider it a fraud if they send applications in German but then obviously cannot speak fluently enough to conduct the interview.
Would you say it is better to write an application in English with a remark in the cover letter that you have a working knowledge of German (perhaps with a certificate from a language school or online course)?
Or best to give the whole thing to a translator?
This really depends upon the individual case. Many expats who have been in Germany for some time may be able to speak good German but still struggle with the formal written language. Certain idiomatic expressions and customary content in a cover letter may be completely alien to applicants who are inexperienced in the German workplace and jobs market. To ask for help in these situations would be both advisable and also completely understandable: Many German applicants also use their network of friends, family and professional contacts to ensure they submit the best possible application.
For somebody who speaks none or only basic level German, i.e. anything below B1, they should definitely consider applying in English. Nonetheless, one still needs to understand the unique cultural requirements of the application process in Germany and include the supporting documents, just as you would for a German language application.
In the English-speaking countries, references are very seldom handed to employees when they leave a position. I have got round this problem in the past by attaching a PDF file in any online applications, with a short text explaining that my previous employers are willing to provide references and listing the contacts. Is this best practice or would you suggest an alternative approach?
You can do that for sure but nowadays, many German HR professionals are aware that job references are less common in foreign countries. There are other ways to get around this. As you suggested, it is becoming ever more common to give a list of contact persons whom potential employers may contact to obtain a reference.
Another solution is an open testimonial. Even though references are less well-known in foreign countries, one can request a testimonial and submit this instead of an employer reference. Note – this could be a smart option if you do not have much relevant work experience, but instead could easily ask a university professor, for example, to write a character testimonial.
Otherwise, anyone who seeks a close alternative can contact richtiggutbewerben.de and our experts will ghost write an employer reference. Clients would provide details pertaining to their former position, for example core tasks and accomplishments, and we write a reference in the German style. The client then sends this to their former employer and just asks them to check and sign / stamp it on the company’s letterhead. In this instance, it is possible to avoid references becoming an issue and at the same time have the right documents on hand for any future applications.
In the UK and the US, salary range is usually a key element of an open job posting. Why is it different here? And is it normal to check with HR whether you are over- or under-qualified with regard to your salary expectations for the open position?
Of course there is always the option to ask their HR department before submitting a job application (or to ask the headhunter if they are recruiting on a company’s behalf). It’s possible then to get some useful insight. The anticipated salary, however, is not usually specified in job advertisements. In Germany, salary is open to negotiation. Often employers request applicants to state their salary expectations in their cover letter. If a candidate is shortlisted for interview, this will form part of the discussion.
Unfilled open positions and skills shortages are the most acute within small and medium-sized businesses. But then these are exactly the types of companies which are traditionally more risk-averse when it comes to considering hiring foreign talent. Can you give a few tips for success if applying to these types of companies rather than large corporations?
Expats who apply to small and medium-sized companies need to do their homework. First and foremost, one must assume that fluent German is a prerequisite and that the language in the office is also German. Applicants need to show initiative here. Whoever can prove through language courses or other certification that they have the necessary language skills, as well as the specific job-related skills and qualifications to do the job and the willingness to improve on their language or technical to develop into the role, has a better chance of convincing an otherwise conservative employer. So while it may not be easy, it’s really all about disproving any potential reasons they could have for not considering your application.
How important is (professional) social media for attracting potential German employers? For example, would you deem it necessary to have a profile on XING in addition to any presence on LinkedIn? Or are the same headhunters and HR Managers active on both networks?
Large corporations are obviously active on both platforms and use them to search for candidates. Nonetheless, for foreign professionals who want to improve their chances of being successful in the German jobs market, it is advisable to set up a German language XING profile in addition to anything they have on LinkedIn. It can only help you, so why would you not do it? If anyone requires support to set up on an online business networking presence, they can both do this and even to optimise or set up their XING profile with us from scratch.
Would you say that most candidates don’t do a good enough job of selling themselves in their application? Or rather they are applying for the wrong positions in the first place?
In actual fact from our experience we usually find that most candidates are sensitised to the roles they should be applying for, when considering their qualifications and work experience. It really is quite rare that we have to go back to applicants and give them a bit of a reality check.
The former is usually the case. Many candidates don’t sell themselves optimally, underestimate their strengths and often lack a healthy dose of self-confidence! Also, sometimes they just don’t follow basic steps and common protocol and in doing so, they unnecessarily shoot themselves in the foot.
Finally, if you could give 3 general tips on a Post-It note to foreign job applicants trying to gain employment in Germany, what would they be?
1. Take immediate action whenever you see an interesting opportunity.
2. Do your homework on, and adapt to, the German job application process.
3. Seek out support from native German speakers.
About the Interviewee:
Translation from original German text to English by James from Live Work Germany.