When you are applying for a graduate job or internship in Germany, the CV you hand in will be one of the first important documents that employers use to assess your qualifications for the job. Therefore, it helps to know a few tricks to fit your CV to the local standards. Obviously you will still have to tailor your CV individually to each particular position. However, especially in regulation-loving Germany there are some general standards you should adjust your CV to in order to convince German HR departments.
In case you have no experience in writing a CV at all, you may first want to check out some more basic information on how to prepare one here, before diving into the intricacies of adjusting it to a certain country norm.
Tip 1: Language
If you would like to show off your German language skills, the CV is definitely a good place to do so. However, in case you don’t feel comfortable having a job interview in German yet, you should refrain from having your CV translated into a “Lebenslauf” - because an employer will then assume that you are also able to speak the language (fluently). Furthermore (and even though this counts for CVs anywhere), Germans tend to be extremely nit-picky when it comes to spelling mistakes, typos and interpunctuation. Hence, triple check your texts to be on the safe side.
Tip 2: Format
Nowadays, a CV in Germany contains the standard sections ‘personal data’ (“Persönliche Angaben”), ‘work experience’ (“Berufserfahrung”), ‘education’ (“Ausbildung”), ‘skills’ and ‘extracurricular activities’ (“Qualifikationen und Kenntnisse”) as well as ‘hobbies’ and ‘personal interests’ (“Private Interessen”). It is advisable to adhere to this format and ignore older templates that still suggest a chronological order.
As a university graduate who may have some work experience from previous internships your CV should not exceed two pages. However, it is perfectly acceptable to fully use the space on those two pages, if you choose a lofty layout that enhances readability - no need to squeeze everything into one page.
Additionally, keep your CV simple and well-structured in regards to colour, font and size. You may highlight sections with bold headings, but stay away from intense and different colours or fonts (a German CV is generally not the best place to live out your creativity).
Note that German CVs rarely contain a section with ‘career objectives’ or other similar statements - your motivation and ambitions for a job are usually outlined at full length in the cover letter.
Tip 3: Picture and personal data
As in many other countries, Germany’s equal opportunity employment laws make it illegal for companies to make hiring decisions based on the gender, age, race, sexual orientation or political affiliations of an applicant. Consequently, the personal data you are legally required to state is pretty much reduced to your name and your address - though, most Germans still include at least their birthday and place of birth in their CV.
In the same vein, your application cannot simply be refused if you do not provide a picture of yourself in your CV, but it is still very common for applicants to include a headshot (“Bewerbungsfoto”) anyway. If you choose to include a picture of yourself, it should be professional looking and be a good representation of yourself in a working environment. In case the only pictures you have at your disposal are wobbly selfies, holiday pictures or biometric passport headshots, it’s better not to include a picture.
Tip 4: Education and grades
The ‘education’ section on a German CV includes all university degree courses you have attended - even if you ended up dropping out. It is also common to include the part of high school education through which you have earned your university qualifying degree (which in Germany is called “Abitur”, in other countries the equivalent may be called, for example, A-levels, High School Diploma, Matura or Studentereksamen).
For every part of your completed education it is common to state your final grade point average (GPA). There is not much point in trying to hide a bad grade as you will often be required to hand in your grade transcripts with your application, even though it’s mostly just a formality. It is recommended that you either transfer your GPA to the German grading scale, which ranges from 1 (best) to 4 (worst possible passing grade), or include information about the grading scale your grade is based on.
Tip 5: Work experience and references
As in other countries, the work experience you outline in your CV should be expressed in a way that it reflects on the job you are currently applying for. German employers still tend to favour “gapless” CVs - meaning that from the moment you graduated high school your time should be accounted for by either education, stays abroad or work.
Yet, students and graduates don’t necessarily have to list any internship or student job they have ever worked in. If you cannot find any way to relate a former position to the job you are applying for, it’s better to leave it out and just refer to your education instead - but think twice, most of the time there is something you’ve learned from a past job that you can also use in the next one.
Note that it is rather uncommon to give the contact details of a former employer as a reference and that you cannot count on a German HR department to check up on those references. That’s because in Germany references usually come in a written form (“Arbeitszeugnis”) which every employee is entitled to receive from a company when they finish a job. Therefore, it is recommended to request a written recommendation letter from your past workplaces, if you are still in contact with them.
Once you have restructured your CV to fit the German format, you are already one step closer to the job interview - and if you get invited to one, expect to be asked in detail about the information you have provided. Also remember to include written documentation of your past work experience and education in your application (you can find a list of the documents that are usually expected from you here).