When applying for a job in Germany, your Curriculum Vitae (or CV for short) is somewhat like a brochure describing your skills and qualifications. It’s somewhat like a resume in other parts of the world. The German CV (Lebenslauf) is very important, and having a badly-written or badly-formatted one will cause your job application to immediately go in the trash bin.
Germans are very particular about their CVs. Learn how to create the perfect German CV to secure that job in Germany!
German CV Sections
As stated, the German CV is somewhat like a resume. It will sometimes have a cover letter, though those are optional. The German CV is divided into separate sections. They are all important, so make sure each one is complete. Of course, be sure to check for any errors before you send it off to any potential employers.
The first section is the Personal Information section. As you may have guessed, it will list your basic personal information, including your name, age, location, birthdate, marriage status, nationality, place of birth (city and country), address, phone number, and e-mail address.
Additionally, the right-hand corner should have a passport-size photo of you. Make sure you keep the photo, and the rest of your CV, current. Update it as needed whenever something changes.
In this section, succinctly describe yourself and what you do. Avoid cookie-cutter terms like “team player” and “creative”. Give concrete examples of your traits. Describe your specific skills, experience, and fields of study.
Don’t beat around the bush and try to make your writing flowery. Germans value directness and will respond to concrete examples and direct terms. Your Profile section will give them their first idea of your professional history and story.
In this section, describe your education and studies. Start with your attendance dates, then the name of the study program, then the name of the university you attended. Include which degree you received and your final grade. Note any special area of study within your school’s program, if applicable.
For example, if the degree is in Marketing, but you specialised in Social Media Marketing, be sure to note that. It will help employers narrow down what areas you’ll be most knowledgeable in. Also include the name of your high school and which dates you attended.
Leave out any irrelevant information. If you’re applying for a marketing job, but you happen to have a degree in Medieval British Literature, don’t include that in your CV. Your German CV should be tailored to the specific job you’re applying for. Save the useless information and use that space to include information that is relevant to the job you’re applying for.
In addition to stating your education, make sure to be clear how it will be useful in the job you’re applying for. Describe how your particular education will help you do better at this job than anyone else. Be clear how this education makes you the best candidate.
If you did not go to a German school, note that their grading school is opposite of what it common in the United States. In German schools, 1 is the best grade and 4 is the worst. You can either transfer your GPA to the German standard, or note in your CV that the grading scale is different where you graduated.
List your previous jobs in reverse chronological order. Include the dates you worked there, which position you held, and the name of the company you worked for. Write a simple description of your duties in that job. Keep your descriptions succinct. You don’t need to make it flowery or include buzzwords or fancy jargon. In general, a German CV should be all facts and no fluff.
Depending on your work history, it may be necessary to pare down your employment history. List positions that are the most relevant to what you’re applying for now. Customise your German CV based on what job you’re applying for now. As expected, Germans appreciate it when applications are direct and leave out any unnecessary information.
You may include this section if there’s anything extra you want to add. This section is for listing things such as technical certifications, second (or more) language skills, traveling abroad you’ve done, or other miscellaneous skills you believe may be relevant. This section gives you an extra opportunity to stand out from all the other applicants applying for this job. Also, you should include if you received any special scholarships or if you’ve done any significant volunteer work.
It’s common in Germany to include references from former employers with your German CV. Make sure you have at least three. They should not be related to you. Make sure you include the phone numbers for all of your references, their address, and their occupation.
Your references must have knowledge of you professionally and know your character. Have your references describe you as a worker, paying special attention to details that will be relevant to the job you’re applying for now.
It’s quite normal in Germany for employers to give their former employees written reference letters when they stop working there. These are what you will include as references in your job application. You should request a written recommendation letter from your former workplaces. Be sure the job is relevant to the job you’re applying for now.
German CV Photo
You will need to attach a small passport-size photo in the top right corner of your CV. It helps potential employers attach a face to your name. It is their first physical impression of you. Keep your photo professional, with neat clothes and a simple background.
Make sure the picture is only from your shoulders up. It is taboo in Germany to include a holiday picture or a personal picture in your German CV. Always keep your photo professional, and no selfies!
Applications without a photo, or with a poor photo, will likely be rejected right away. If you don’t have any professional-looking photos, you may want to invest in getting one taken. It will help you look more professional in the eyes of prospective employers, and the investment will pay for itself when you get a job. Specifically, the dimensions should be 40 x 60 or 50 x 70 mm.
That being said, some job postings will specifically request that you do NOT include a photo. Pay attention to this, as it could cause your application to be thrown out if you do not follow the submission instructions. If you are asked not to send a photo, don’t include one. If you do, it will demonstrate that you are unable to follow directions.
German or English?
Opinions are mixed on whether your German CV should be in German or English, depending on what your native language is. This will generally depend on the job you’re applying for. If the employer specifically states the job requires fluency in German, then the employer would be pleased with a CV written in fluent German.
If your German isn’t very fluent yet, write your CV in English. Just be sure to follow the traditional German CV format.
Should you choose to submit your CV in German, be sure to have a native German-speaker check it for you just in case you missed anything. It’s better safe than sorry, so don’t be shy about enlisting a friend as a proofreader.
German CV Format
Make sure your German CV adheres to standard layout, is neat, and has no errors or typos. Keep the font simple and clean, and a decent size. It can’t be too big, but it also can’t be too small to read. Your name should be clearly printed at the top of each page of your CV. The current date and your present location should be in the bottom left corner.
If you want to highlight something, use bold or italics. Don’t try to be too creative with your German CV, or use any odd fonts or colours. Keep it simple, and prospective employers will appreciate it.
German CV Length
Your German CV should be no longer than 2 pages. Being able to keep it concise is one way that prospective employers can judge your ability – are you able to concisely pare down everything that shapes you professionally, and pick out just the important information?
Not only that, but do it well? This shows your ability to prioritise. If it doesn’t add relevant value to your CV, perhaps you should just delete it and make room for something relevant.
Does crafting your own German CV from scratch sound a bit too overwhelming? That’s perfectly alright! There are several online templates and services that will help you craft a Curriculum Vitae. You simply select your format and fill in the details. Other ones you download and alter to fit your needs.
Here are several websites to get you started:
German CV Submission
Your prospective employer will likely have a way they would personally like the receive your application, likely noted wherever the job was posted. They will give instructions for you to follow to submit your application. They may want a hard copy, sent via e-mail, or via an online application form. Make sure you only send the company copies of all your documents. You will likely not get any originals back.
If the company would like the application by email, be sure it is in the right file format. If they want it in PDF form, don’t send it as a Word document. This will make a poor impression of you from the start as someone who can’t follow basic instructions. If the job posting wasn’t clear, be sure to contact the company and clarify how they would like the documentation to be submitted.
If you are submitting your application as a hard copy, be sure it looks neat and professional. Print in on quality DIN A4 100g/sqm (min.) paper. Place your materials in a quality folder. Be sure the folder is clean. Your cover letter should be on top of the folder, not inside it.
Make sure you sign and date all documents, and write your present location with your signature. Don’t submit your application in something like a paperclip or a plastic folder or binder, as this looks unprofessional. If you are mailing the application via snail mail, make sure you pay right amount for postage and that the address is right.
The German CV is perhaps the most important document in your journey to finding a job in Germany. It is not hard to craft one, but is a very specific task that must be done correctly. Your CV is how you will be judged by your prospective employers, and it is the first impression you make.
It must be thorough but concise, and get the point across without being too wordy or irrelevant. Germans value a CV that is informative, but straight to the point. You now have the tools you need to create the perfect Curriculum Vitae to get a job in Germany. Do read about how to create a kick-ass German Cover Letter to help your CV give the right impact.
Also read about the details about the German job seeker visa here. This can also help you to find your way to the German shores and live a great life ahead.