How to get a job in Germany
5 Things you must know about job-hunting in Germany
Have you just landed in Germany? Are you planning to apply for a German job?
Finally, have you ever wondered whether to include a photo on your German CV!?
If you settle in Germany without „bringing“ a job in your luggage, you will certainly be confronted to specific recruitment processes that may differ from what you experienced in other countries.
It means you should be thoroughly prepared before applying.
This article is based on my own experience as an engineer applying for a job in Germany. I have lived and worked in several EU countries. I have gone through various job interviews during my first year in Germany.
In this article, I will tell you how to properly submit an application for a job in Germany. I will then give you information on what to expect when a company decides to take you through its recruitment process.
Step #1: Make sure you got all the official documents
Depending on where you are from, there is a number of official documents you should have when you apply for a German job.
You are applying from abroad? Then you can get these documents later on.
What sorts of documents am I talking about?
- If you are from a non-EU country, make sure you have a valid visa that allows you to work in Germany. Apply for a German visa.
- It is very important register (Anmeldung) at your local city hall (Bürgeramt), or ‘registration office’. How to register.
- Once registered, you will receive your Tax ID (Steuer ID) by post.
These steps are very important. Why? The German employer will need these documents before you can start your first day at work!
#2 What you need for your German job dossier, or „Bewerbung“
Want to write your German job application?
This the first big difference when it comes to comparing Germany to other countries: the so-called “Bewerbungsmappe” (application dossier).
Most German companies require 1 PDF file that includes all your application documents. It must include the following:
– Cover letter
– Copies of Diploma and certifications
– Reference letters of previous employers
So yeah, your PDF file can include 10 to 15 pages…
It is mandatory that you include a copy of your main diploma. Some companies would not even consider your application, if you forget it ! Anyway they usually remind you of the the required documents at the end of a job advertisement.
It is important that you ask support your previous employers for support. You need to provide references and testimonies of your past experience. So you must have references talking about your performance in previous jobs. You cannot get a letter of reference? In this case, provide the company with a contact list of your former employers/managers, who are willing to assess you by telephone. Only include people who you have previously agreed to be contacted!
Usually your references will not be contacted by HR or hiring managers. However, it can be an advantage to have them in your dossier. Indeed, it can be a convincing element that will make the company you wish to work for, call you for the first step of the recruiting process.
#3 How to write a German CV or „Lebenslauf“
The German CV is similar to the UK or EU one. The advice I got from professionals is to put the most relevant information on the first page:
Title, full name, contact details, Professional experience, key skills/ languages.
On the second page you can showcase your education background, the different projects/internships you did to obtain your degree. At the end you can list your interests and other activities.
In Germany, the candidate must date and sign the CV at the end ! This may sound strange but it is what you do. It confirms the date and time of the CV. I have only met this strange habit in Germany.
#4 Should I put a photo on my German CV?!
I have created an extra section for this question.
As far as I understand, whether or not to put your photo on a German CV is heatedly debated! It is a controversial topic, indeed!
All German companies used to require a picture of you on the CV. An anti-discriminatory law was passed in 2006, which said that companies are no longer allowed to require a picture of you.
Nevertheless it is still very common in Germany that you attach a picture on your CV. If you wish to do so, the picture must be done in a professional way.
What kind of a photo do I put on my German CV?
It is very important that it is professional. It can be colour, or black and white. Either is fine. Definitely do not use an ID picture, or a cut-out from holidays or weddings! If you do not have a good photo that presents you in such a way that your future employer wants to see you – then leave it out!
If you have a good camera, ask a friend to help you. You must look confident and be dressed according to the company culture and the position you apply. Sometimes German CV have 3 pages, the first page being designed only for your picture and contact details. You can find many examples of that on the internet.
Some companies will even request a separate upload of your professional picture – despite the anti-discriminatory law… And then again, some companies will not consider you if you attach a picture …
So my tip: Research the company a little and find out what their preferred method is! For this, check the company profile and the required documents. Then judge, if it is necessary. If it is a traditional German company, it is likely they will ask for a picture or that you include it naturally on your CV.
If it is an international company, it is unlikely they will ask you for one. Finally, if it is a UK or US company, do not put your picture at all (and try to avoid marital status)!
#5 Write a German cover letter or „Motivationsschreiben“
Once again, you think recruiters only read your CV and have a quick run on your cover letter? Not so in Germany.
In 99% of the cases I experienced, recruiters read your cover letter and all your documents thoroughly. Based on this they decide whether to invite you to the first step of the recruitment process.
How to write your CV and Cover letter for your German job application?
Be simple and clear. Respect the one-page standard. This applies to everywhere in Germany. Bear in mind: You write the cover letter to obtain an interview, not the job… !! So be strategic.
The cover letter gives you a chance to clarify some aspects of your CV, and elaborate on some things. Also try to explain your individual situation and what may seem ‘unusual’:
e.g. „my last experience lasted only 6 months because my wife was relocated. As such, I had to resign early in agreement with the management to transfer smoothly all my tasks. I negotiated a short 6 months project with another company before moving to Berlin“
I got many questions about this last work experience during phone interviews. I felt like I missed chances to get to the first step because from an employer’s perception it was weird that I had only worked for 6 months at the last company. The solution: I decided then to clearly stated the reasons behind it on the cover letter and I had no more question about it!
I think it is great that German recruiters read everything in the cover letter. Why? This way, in the interview, we go straight to the point: talking about the job role, the added value you can bring, etc.
The recruiter will expect you to do the same work on your side i.e. read the job advertisement, know details about the company (financial data, core activities, workforce…).
The disadvantage of producing such detailed cover letters and CVs is that it may take long for recruiters to read them.
#6 What’s the German recruitment process like?
You manage to submit a proper „German“ application and you have been invited to the first step of a recruitment process! Congratulations!
However, this is just the beginning. Be sure to be very patient all along from the application submission to the end. All in all, the job application process may take weeks or sometimes even months. In my case it took 5 months! Bear in mind, that this is written from the perspective of an engineer! The steps may vary depending on the job you apply for, naturally!!
Step 1: The phone interview
After you sent off your written application, the first step is usually a phone call or a skype interview. Bear in mind that you probably are in the top 5/8 when you have the phone call. This is the opportunity for the recruiter to give you further information about the expected role, ask you questions about your CV, and experiences in which they have a particular interest. As I mentioned: they rarely ask you to introduce yourself because they have read the cover letter! They will have identified the weak points of your CV – so be ready to answer questions about your weak points!
Ultimately, in this phone interview, they will check if you fit the role. You must be convincing to reach the next level!
Step 2: Computer test
The second step, sometimes, consists of a computer test you take at home (verbal, numerical, etc…). It depends really on the HR policy but in big companies it is highly probably you have to do it!
Step 3 Face-to-face interview
If you have been successful in the first steps, they will invite you one last time for a face to face interview or an assessment day. This is usually the last step !
You usually meet several potential colleagues, managers etc. And they will all have a very specific way of conducting the interview. Not much small talk. They will have prepared a folder with very specific questions or case studies. Answer them confidently. Also be ready to refer to your past work experience. You have to demonstrate how you reacted, solved and overcame conflict situations in the past. Check the so-called “STAR technique” on Google to find out more! They will then write down your answer in their folder. It is a very strange exercise. Why? Because it does not feel like a dialogue but as a Q&A exercise.
Sometimes the interview ends without the opportunity for you to ask further questions !! So be sure you have asked your main questions during the phone interview!
Step 4 Assessment day (optional)
In case you have an assessment day, you will meet other competing candidates! Be sure to take advantage of informal waiting periods with managers to raise important points that have not been talked during the interviews.
Step 5 Waiting…
You are still waiting for a reply? No worries. It is normal that many weeks or even months can pass before your hear back. Be patient once again. Do not forget to ask when you will get a feedback (usually 1 to 3 weeks after each step). In any case do not call HR or the manager before the deadline expires. After that, if there are still no news, feel free to call them.
#7 What’s next?
Scenario 1 … You are hired! It is done! Congratulations!!
Now all you need to do is… get all the administrative paperwork sorted before starting your new job!
These steps include getting your social security number, your public health insurance etc etc it usually takes 2 weeks to get all these documents. But relax, the company’s HR will support you. You can get the documents in step number 1 (see above) even before you are hired. Everything else is usually only possible once you have a job offer (for example, public health insurance!).
Scenario 2… They do not hire you!
Do not worry. Just keep applying! Next time sell yourself even better! Just be patient. You may take this opportunity to learn a new skill? Perhaps improve your German?
Learning German shows your interest in the local culture. It is well appreciated by many potential employers.
You will not be able to apply in German. But if you reach A2.2 you will be able to write at least emails in German to the HR or the manager. Saying this, you may attach your application in English but write the email in German. In my case, they reacted positively to this effort!
After B1.2 level you should be able to write your cover letter in German.
The better your German, the better your chances at getting a job in Germany! This is even the case when the working language is English! Your colleagues or boss may still chat in German during breaks etc, so make sure you can join the conversation!
This article was written by Olivier, who is an expat living in Germany, and has French and Hongkong citizenship. He is an Aerospace Engineer with experience in studying, living and working in UK, Denmark, Czech Republic, France and Germany.
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