An expat survival guide to German CVs
If you’re new to the German job market, and you’re actively looking for employment, then I would seriously advise you to think long and hard over your CV, or perhaps even to get a professional CV writer to help you out (yes, that is a thing).
This will save you a lot of time learning about this German peculiarity from scratch - which is no picnic, I can assure you.
German CVs: Leave the personality at home
I found this out the hard way, back in the days when I was naive, thinking that highlighting my extensive experience in many different fields, coupled with having a “personality” and “standing out”, would put me a step ahead of the other applicants.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. In order to save you some blushes in front of your prospective employers, I’ve compiled a list of things that should give you a nudge in the right direction when it comes to German CVs, or at least help you avoid the big mistakes I made when applying for jobs.
Follow the rules
Forget trying to bring out your personality; this is frowned upon in this country. Instead, concentrate on the general format the Germans use for their CVs. Make sure you follow it to the letter.
Keep it specific
Your CV should be written like a personal data sheet (yes, it’s as exciting as it sounds), listing every task you did in your previous job, down to the most boring one. This should be done in bullet-point format.
Keep it relevant
Do not bring in your work experience from other industries, unless relevant to the job, or specifically asked for in the job description. This is viewed the same way as having gaps in your CV; jumping between different industry sectors will only put you at a disadvantage.
Include a photo
Your photo should always be serious and “boring”. You can put on an “inner smile”, but showing your teeth is a no-no.
Mind the gap
Having a gap in your CV is akin to having the word “prison” written on it. At least, that’s how it’s viewed here.
List your hobbies
Put two or three hobbies at the end. Less than that will make it sound like you’re a hermit, and more than three could be misconstrued as you preferring your hobbies to the actual work (not a thing you want to admit, at least not officially).
Your CV must be in German, for obvious reasons.
Leave the personality out
You do not need to write a paragraph about your personality and boast about how “dedicated” or “flexible” you are. There is time and place for that - ahem - somewhere.
Decoding German job adverts
Knowing how to present your best side to potential employers in Germany is one thing. Being able to decode the job advert to decide if the role suits your qualifications and career aspirations is another.
Having worked in all corners of the media industry, I would like to share my experience of how to interpret certain word choices in job descriptions and what they actually mean - albeit with a bit of exaggeration. Here’s my read-between-the-lines guide to German job descriptions:
- Flexible: Be prepared to work long hours and weekends.
- Highly motivated: Your pay is going to be pants, so you’ll need to have other motivational factors for getting out of bed.
- Team player: You will need to be loyal and follow rules and regulations set by the company without questioning them.
- Hands-on approach: You’ll have to do lots of other tasks that are not part of your job description.
- Young professional: You’ve just come out of university, and have absolutely no blinking clue - about anything.
- Flat organisational structure: Our company bosses are following in the footsteps of startup companies, wanting to appear fresh, cool and empowering. The smallish size of the company allows that - for now - but the bosses still get to call the shots as they see fit.
Happy job hunting!