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Working in Germany - Advice & Tips

Germany

Expatriate Affairs Consultant Nannette Ripmeester tells you below what it takes to get a job in one of Europe’s major markets. Although the German economy is currently not the power house it used to be – the many different regions and sectors still offer opportunities for foreign job seekers.

Job hunting in Germany

Apprenticeships ('Praktika') are a good way of acquiring practical work experience. And having experience is one of the main selection criteria for German employers. The 'Praktika' are also open for foreign students and graduates. Please note that German companies train their university graduates in-company for approximately two to three years before they attain managerial status. The German application process is highly formal compared to some other European countries. German employers want to have a clear idea of the candidate’s academic and vocational qualifications and experience (you need to send in a full package of information) before making their first selection. Therefore, you need to send copies of diplomas, references from former employers and certificates of professional training with your CV and covering letter. The resulting package is a weighty document of 8 to even 15 pages, bound in a tidy folder. This folder (‘die Mappe’) is something characteristic for the German speaking areas.

Make sure you place your letter on top, followed by your CV and next the annexes such as copies of degrees, letters of reference, etc. Make sure you follow the order of your CV. If you have chosen for a reversed chronological order, put what is acquired last on top, etc. It is a rather expensive application to send, but German employers (usually) return the whole package after use, except the covering letter.

The Application Letter

In general a letter of application should create enough interest to make the potential employer want to look at your application in more detail and hopefully invite you for an interview. Your application letter, however, should not provide too much information about experience and qualifications; this will be provided in your CV.

Application letters are typed, with the sole exception of some traditional professions, such as medicine, where a hand-written letter is preferred. The letter should give a complete and precise description of the position(s) previously held. Do some thorough research on the company you want to work for, because your motivation for a prospective employer is more important nowadays in Germany than it was 5 years ago.

German recruiters prefer a conservative style to a highly original eye-catching one. Mention a possible starting date. It is not uncommon to give an indication of the salary you would like to earn. Start your letter with the name and title of the person who is dealing with the applications (please note the importance of titles in Germany - phone in advance if necessary). The letter should start with an attention-grabbing sentence. Write for instance something about why you have opted for this job vacancy or what makes you a good candidate. Whatever you chose is open to you, but make sure it raises the interest of the recruiter reading it (do bear in mind Germans do not appreciate people who are over-the-top though!). Your letter should answer questions relating to why this company, why this vacancy, what makes you a good candidate, what extra qualifications or skills do you bring? Try to write in your own style but be concise and accurate. One page A4 will usually do for an application letter in Germany. You should certainly avoid repeating what is written in your CV.

Speculative applications were never a feature of the German graduate labour market. But due to the high unemployment rates open applications are no longer uncommon. Do remember the formal style of the application process.

The Curriculum Vitae

The German CV is always in strict chronological order (‘Tabellarischer Lebenslauf’), with a photo (put your details on the back of the picture) attached with a paper clip to the right above corner. If you have the possibility you may also scan the picture and place it in the right top corner. Nowadays it is common to use the reversed chronological order with the most recent activity first. Usually a recruiter spends only a few minutes looking at an application and if he or she has to search for the latest activity somewhere on page 3 the chances of not attracting any attention is rather high.

Something which is very typical for Germany is that you have to sign your CV at the bottom. Sign below the text on the right, next to the place and date in the left corner – that is the most common layout. However, you will also find CVs that hold a signature on the left with the date and place right below.

It is common to mention your civil status (including children), your school results and whether you have a driving license. Previously, the marital status rubric also contained parents' names and professions and your religion, but this is no longer very common. Your personal details are followed by your education including the results and work experience (do not forget to mention apprenticeships). Make sure there are no gaps in your CV, hence the importance of mentioning your complete education. However, if there are gaps, ensure you mention the reason, even report periods of unemployment. Hobbies are only mentioned when relevant for the job. Language skills and areas of interest are given in a German CV.

The Application Procedure

In general, two job interviews are held. The first is with the personnel department, in which the personality of the candidate plays a major role. The second interview is with the field management, sometimes accompanied by certain specialists, who test your technical and professional knowledge. Prepare yourself for questions regarding your current activities, what you would like to earn and on the activities of the company. It is likely that you will be asked to solve a problem, which might occur in your future job. The candidate is expected to answer questions with precision. Do not try to impress the recruiter with tales of spectacular professional exploits. He or she wants someone with experience and a steady track record! In general students have the tendency to underestimate the importance of student jobs. However, if you are able to explain what you have learned or gained in professional business terms an employer is likely to take this for solid experience.

Psychological and aptitude tests are common. For management positions and management trainee jobs, assessment centres are usually used. In fact, assessment centres have become extremely popular lately and are even used for strategic positions in public administration.

On-line applications are nowadays getting more and more common in Germany. Particularly large employers use on-line job databases. If an employer publishes their vacancies on-line, do complete the job application form on-line.

If we got you thinking on Germany – think about ordering the guide 'Looking for work in Germany'.

About the author

Looking for work in GermanyNannette Ripmeester is the expatriate affairs consultant to several multinational companies, which she advises regarding the strategy of international assignments and the practical implementation around expat issues.  Ripmeester started her international career at the European Commission, has worked on a project basis in 17 countries and is founder and Managing Director of Expertise in Labour Mobility (www.labourmobility.com).
She is co-author of a series of country-specific guides, the guide "Looking for work in Germany", (ISBN-13: 978-90-5896-057-3) is part of that series of guides. To order this guide or other guides that will help you to secure the international job you want, visit our website: www.labourmobility.com.  As a reader of Eurograduate we offer you a 10% discount if you are your copy here.