How to put together a German application portfolio ‘die Mappe’, German-style CV and cover letter – plus German job interview tips to increase your chance of getting a job in Germany.
Once you find a job in Germany, you’ll need to think about how to adapt your CV to match German business culture, as well as your job interview techniques. If you make sure these are in line with what German employers expect, you’ll have a better chance of getting a job in Germany.
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Applying for a job in Germany
German or English?
In most cases, you’ll need to be able to speak and understand German to get a job in Germany, unless the job specifically requires you to speak another language. If you can speak and write in German, then make your application in German even if your language skills aren’t perfect. You can always ask a native speaker to check it through for you before sending submitting it.
If you don’t speak German well (or at all), then apply in English rather than getting your CV and cover letter translated, as it could cause problems at interview stage if the interviewer is expecting a German speaker.
Whichever language you apply in, make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors in either the CV or cover letter.
Application portfolio – die Mappe
German companies often ask candidates to submit an application folder or portfolio (die Mappe), which includes:
- a covering letter (anschreiben)
- a CV (lebenslauf)
- copies of educational certificates
- copies of testimonials/references
- passport photos
The folder should be high quality and in pristine condition, and the documents printed on high quality paper. The cover letter goes on top of the folder, not inside, and it’s all placed, unfolded, in an A4 envelope – with the correct postage!
Increasingly, companies are happy to receive applications online in a PDF file. Online or by post, the information and documents for an application portfoliio are the same.
German-style covering letter
Your cover letter or anschreiben should be written in a concise and clear style, on a computer rather than by hand, and limited to one side of A4.
Start with the name and title of whoever will be dealing with your application. Titles are important in Germany so phone the company to find out if you don’t know what it is. If the application is speculative, use Personalabteilung under the company name.
Then open with the formal Sehr geehrte(r) Frau/Herr (last name) or Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, if you don’t know the name. End with Mit freundlichen Grußen.
Briefly explain what your current or most recent position is and why you are seeking this job, what interests you about it and why you are the best person for it. Be persuasive but avoid repeating what you’ve written in your CV and keep it relevant and concise.
Don’t include information about personal motivation, as this is isn’t as important as experience in Germany.
It’s important that your CV or résumé – or lebenslauf, as it’s called in Germany – is written in the way that German employers expect, otherwise it might get thrown into the bin. The lebenslauf is like a data sheet set out as a two-columned table over a maximum of two pages.
In the left hand column, write the headings:
- personal details
- professional experience
- education and training (this comes above professional experience if you’re a new graduate)
- language skills
- special aptitudes and interests
In the right hand column, list the information for each heading, in reverse chronological order (i.e. most recent first), with the exact dates for each detailed in the left hand column.
Tips for writing a German-style CV:
- Under personal details include your name, address and contact details, as well as place of birth and nationality. It is traditional to Include marital status but not compulsory.
- For professional experience, include the company name and details, your job title, and key, relevant aspects of your role.
- Education courses should include the details of the institution and course, as well as final grades, any vocational training or continuing education.
- Give the level of any language skills: Muttersprache (native tongue), verhandlungssicher or business fluent (excellent), fließend (sound knowledge) and Grundkenntnisse (beginner).
- German employers aren’t interested in seeing hobbies or personal qualities on a CV unless they’re relevant to the job (for example, you might include sports that show teamwork skills but omit reading and travel). Include membership of voluntary organisations and remember to give full details of computer skills.
- Make sure the CV is completely up-to-date and complete – with no gaps. A few months between university and starting work is fine, but otherwise account for every period, even if it’s unemployment.
- Only include what’s relevant – omit everything else.
- Scan and print a recent photo, or glue or staple a photo to the top right hand corner.
- Finish off with the place, date and your signature – this is important.
You can also get your CV checked by TopCV who will help you on your way to finding that perfect job.
Send copies (not originals) of the most relevant certificates and references with your application. You may need to have documents certified (authenticated by the issuing bodies) or translated into German.
German phrases for writing a letter
- To whom it may concern: Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren
- Dear Sir/Madam: Damen und Herren Sehr geehrter Herr
- Dear Mr/Mrs: Sehr geehrter Herr / Sehr geehrte Frau
- Dear [first name]: Lieber
- Should you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me: Für weitere Informationen stehe ich Ihnen gerne zur Verfügung.
- I look forward to hearing from you soon: Ich würde mich freuen, bald von Ihnen zu hören.
- Regards: Viele Grüße
- Kind/Best regards: Herzliche Grüße
- Yours faithfully: Mit freundlichen Grüßen (recipient name unknown)
- Yours sincerely: Mit freundlichen Grüßen (recipient name known)
German letters on a keyboard (Alt + codes)
- Ö/ö:153 / 148
- Ü/ü: 154 /129
- ß: 223
- €: 0128
German job interviews and the selection procedure
Congratulations if you’ve got as far as the interview stage! You’ll probably meet with the personnel manager and line manager. Prepare yourself to answer questions about what you do in your current job, and what salary you expect in the new job. Do your homework and find out as much as possible about the company – you will be asked questions during your interview. You may also be asked questions about why you want to work in Germany.
Interview tips for German jobs
- Wear appropriate clothing, usually that’s a trouser or dress suit for women and suit with shirt and tie for men.
- Be punctual.
- Shake hands firmly and introduce yourself.
- Don’t sit down until you’re invited.
- Look interested and ask questions.
- Speak with precision in a German interview – no waffle please.
- Stay calm and stick to the facts, resist the urge to big things up.
- Don’t criticise current or former employers.
- Provide examples to demonstrate your achievements.