The German job application process has some key differences compared to English speaking countries. As a general rule, personal qualities count for less, while qualifications and references matter more. You’ll also need to include a photograph with your application, and be prepared to do some negotiating…
If this sounds like a lot, then don’t worry.
We break down everything you need to know in five easy steps below. Don’t miss out on your dream job interview because you don’t understand these small but very significant differences!
If you’re interested in how to find English speaking jobs in Germany, we’ve covered this already in much more detail.
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5 Key Tips for Applying for Jobs in Germany
Rule 1: Include a Photo on Your CV
I know, I know. This would be extremely uncommon in the UK, Ireland and Australia and would be illegal in the US and Canada. This is perfectly normal when applying for jobs in Germany and is not something to be unduly worried about.
By doing this, employers aren’t looking to filter out employees because of age, sex or ethnicity (this is most definitely illegal, although that’s not to say there aren’t employers out there who discreetly do this), and it is certainly not a sneaky way for creepy bosses to hire attractive staff.
It’s more a way of ensuring that potential applicants are well-groomed and have made the effort to look smart for their application: Usually being dressed in standard business attire and photographed by a professional studio.
Consider this another form of pre-screening to avoid the potential employer inviting somebody to interview who wouldn’t fit the company culture.
Photo studios offering job application photos (Bewerbungsfotos) are everywhere in Germany and typically cost between €10 and €15 for 3 or 4 images.
Rule 2: Definitely Include All Relevant Qualifications
German employers value academic qualifications. In general, Germans put a disproportionate emphasis on academic titles and formal education over practical, on-the-job experience.
That official first-aid course you were arm-twisted into doing 5 years ago? Pop it on your CV if you have space.
You’ll also need to give a brief explanation of your school qualifications if they’re still relevant, especially if your work experience is somewhat thin on the ground. If you have 10+ years of work experience or a postgraduate qualification then it is not necessary.
Your academic qualifications, such as a Bachelors and Masters Degrees, are self explanatory now under the unified European system, although the grading is somewhat different in German speaking countries.
The Germans grade degrees from 1 to 5 (precisely to 1 decimal place!), with 1 being the best and 5 being barely worth the paper it is written on.
Peculiarities of the Anglo-Saxon university education system such as “major”, “minor” and “joint honours” will also need to be explained, as will the meaning of a 2:1 or 2:2 for anyone with a degree from a British university.
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Rule 3: Go Easy on the “About Me” and Hobbies & Interests
Applying for jobs in Germany is a pretty straight-to-the-point process. They view job competence over personality and extra-curricular activities.
While American and British employers want to know they’re employing somebody of a sunny disposition who is optimistic and enthusiastic about the world and all it has to offer, German recruiters often couldn’t care less!
By all means include a couple of sentences at the top explaining your mindset and what you see as your strengths.
Also definitely include membership of sports clubs, charitable work or other notable achievements, as this shows a sense of community and goal-orientation which is highly regarded in German society.
But definitely don’t put things such as socialising, fashion and travel as “hobbies & interests”.
Everyone gets drunk, goes on holiday and buys clothes. Your potential future employer won’t be impressed!
Steer clear of citing any religious or political affiliations too, for obvious reasons.
Rule 4: A Covering Letter Should Complement Your CV
German job applications almost always include a covering letter. This should be no more than one side of A4. It should also complement your CV. What it definitely should NOT be is a regurgitation of your CV in a different format.
Your CV will typically concentrate on a concise description of your academic qualifications and employment history, with a focus on hard, factual achievements.
Your covering letter will go into more detail around why you want the position and what you feel is your unique selling point. If 10 people apply for the same job and have similar qualifications and experiences, what is it that makes you stand out?
This is where you sell yourself within your covering letter! Some of the “about me” stuff which is (hopefully) absent from your CV after you read Rule 3 may actually have a place here.
The final paragraph of your covering letter should indicate your expectations regarding salary and benefits, plus your notice period with your current employer.
Rule 5: Include any Employer / Academic References
This is another difference with the German job application system. When you leave a position in Germany, it’s normal to be handed a reference from your employer as part of your processing-out procedure.
Of course, if you’re applying for jobs in Germany directly from a working life in the UK, US, Canada or Australia, you are unlikely to have this document.
You have two possibilities to get around this. If you can, do both of these as it will only strengthen your application.
Option 1: Contact a previous employer and ask their HR department if they can provide a one-page summary of your roles, responsibilities, key achievements and time in service.
Option 2: Write a short affidavit explaining that written employer references are not a commonplace practice in your country, but your potential future employer is welcome to contact your current HR department for a reference.
The Job Interview Process
Before the interview
The German job interview for most professional positions typically consists of a first interview by phone. This is usually conducted by an HR person with the objective of pre-screening a list of candidates, and whittling it down to a shortlist.
Some cultural nuances may persist, especially a greater focus on your academic history, particularly if you don’t have a long history of experience in the field of work you’re applying for.
Assuming you make it through to the second interview, phase two is usually a face-to-face discussion with the person who is likely to be your future boss. The head of department and / or the HR Director might also be present.
When applying from abroad, this interview may possibly be conducted as a video conference. There is no hard and fast rule here. It really depends on the industry.
The interview itself
The actual interview won’t be all that different to the process in an English speaking country. Although there may be some questions which are slightly more personal than you are used to.
Don’t take offence at these: They are often used to gauge suitability for the position and possible necessary requirements for relocation i.e. do you have school-age children?
If you feel you are being asked something unnecessarily personal which you suspect may be used against you in a discriminatory manner, just politely refuse to answer it.
The final question in a job interview is usually around salary, notice period and perks.
German employers typically don’t advertise the salary they are willing to pay, and thus it becomes something of a game of poker:
If you’re too greedy you risk not being invited to interview. If you’re too conservative then you may be selling yourself short.
It’s a lot easier to negotiate a good salary upon joining the company than it is to negotiate a bumper pay rise once you’re there.
If you’re unsure of what salary to ask for, before applying for the job, contact their HR department and ask them for a ballpark figure. They will usually tell you a salary range and it will save a lot of wasted time sending applications for jobs you’re overqualified for.
As a rule of thumb, I have found that asking for a slightly higher salary than what they claim they are willing to pay rarely damages my chances of being invited to interview.