Tips and Tricks: Navigating a German Job Application

In an ideal applicant’s world we would be fending off job offers from headhunters who engage in a mad bidding war for our services, driving our salary into the stratosphere.

Let’s face it – most of us are not going to be headhunted, so what’s left are job applications. Best then to get them right and learn what’s expected in a German application to maximize your chances of success.

What to expect from a German job application.

Germany has its own rules, when it comes to job applications and interviews. Joachim Graff, co-author of, “Mind your manners: Tips for business professionals visiting Germany” has researched the application process and says that applying for a job in Germany, you should stick to the German style. “Do not assume that the application style of your home country is acceptable,” advises Graff. The first step in the application process is to gather the documents required to apply. In Germany, this means that in most cases you will have to include references from you previous employers, copies of school and university diplomas, proof of any training courses, a cover letter and a C.V. A high quality photo, larger than passport size, can be placed on top of your C.V. or on an extra sheet with your contact details.

According to Graff, one of the most significant documents in the application process in Germany is the job reference certificate of former employers. It is common practice to receive a certificate from your employer when you leave the company, detailing your tasks and how satisfied your superiors were with your work. Though unusual in other countries, this is crucial to most jobs in Germany. Reference letters in the United States fulfill a similar purpose. In the cover letter use a formal style and stress that your skills and qualifications match those required for the job. 

“A perfect photo is a must in a serious job application,” says Graff. Although employers cannot force you to send a photo, you should be aware that including a photo is the norm in Germany. As first impressions are important, it is well worth investing some money in having a professional take your photo. Remember, a friendly smile can go a long way. 

The interview 

If you pass the first hurdle and are invited to an interview, go for a formal and conservative outfit. Graff says, “A dark suit with a light colored or white shirt or blouse is always your best bet, whereas pinstripes could be seen as arrogant depending on the company or the department.” 

In an interview situation, the interviewee should demonstrate an interest in the job and the company without being too forward. Don’t enter the office or sit down before you’ve been asked to do so. Much importance is placed upon shaking hands in Germany and the interviewee should remember to greet everyone present with a firm handshake. 

In some companies you may find that they hold an assessment center. These are designed, so that applicants can show their true personalities and social abilities. They are usually not country-specific, but are standardized affairs which combine oral tasks, such as presentation exercises, with written performance, intelligence and personality tests. According to Graff, often either a part of or the entire assessment center is carried out in English, depending on the job in question. 

Several interview rounds with people on different hierarchy levels are the norm in Germany. At some stage, you might also be taken on a small tour to meet your potential colleagues. For some jobs, it is also common to be set a task which has to be completed within a certain time frame or from home. Writing tasks from home are common for jobs in journalism and translation, for instance. Consultants are often asked to solve a case study during their interview. 

Job searches 

Be aware that many German firms save themselves the cost of advertising by posting positions on their own websites, so be sure to check out individual companies’ websites that you are interested in. Apart from the traditional newspaper ad, announcements in online job portals (see links) have become the standard way of offering a job.