What Do I Include in a Job Application in Germany?
Did you know that when Germans apply for jobs, they may submit an entire folder with dozens of pages of application documents, called a Bewerbungsmappe?
The minimum documents needed in the application folder are a CV and cover letter. What else you add inside will vary depending on your experience and the job you’re applying for, but below is a great list to get you started.
Reference letters from past employers are called “Zeugnisse”. It’s typical in Germany to collect a reference letter from every job you leave, so an experienced German professional may have a handful to apply with. But don’t worry — recruiters in Germany know it’s not usual for professionals from other countries to have a letter from every job. If you can get one or two detailed letters from your most recent jobs or satisfied clients, that is enough to include. Avoid writing “references available upon request”, on your CV and just add them in from the start.
Copies of degrees, certificates, or training courses
Germans also add copies of university degrees and certificates into their application packet, for example, computer training, language courses, special professional courses, etc. Add in any other certificates that may apply to your job as well, like teaching qualifications or business workshops.
Sample portfolio of work
Finally, for jobs like designers and artists, it’s common to include a small portfolio with samples of your work. Alternatively, include a link to your online portfolio in your cover letter and application email. Again — don’t wait to be asked, just include it from the first application in order to stand out!
Resources for Finding Your Dream Job
Now that you have your application packet ready, it’s time to search for jobs. The first step is to spend a few days creating a targeted database of companies you are interested in.
Don’t just apply to the most popular or well-known companies — they will have thousands of other very qualified applicants. You should also seek out smaller or newer companies with less global recognition but that are still doing good work.
Coming up, we'll cover one of the most important methods of finding your dream job — networking! We'll go over how to build out your network, create a strong online presence, and find events where you can meet people and learn more about your industry in Germany.
Before You Start
Prior to networking, we recommend taking stock of your online presence. Think about what types of social media you use (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) and what information about you is available to potential employers.
Employers DO want to see if you look friendly, creative, articulate, and a good fit for their company culture. They do NOT want to see drug and alcohol use, profanity, information about your sex life, or bad spelling and grammar.
If there is anything on your social media you don’t want a potential employer to see, you could consider changing your privacy settings on any social media sites you use so that non-friends cannot see your profile, or anonymize your user name so that an employer cannot easily find you by searching for your name.
Start Up Map Berlin
A great place to start searching for interesting companies in Berlin, for example, is the Startup Map Berlin. Here you can filter companies by market, size, business model, and more.
Of course, you can add larger companies to your list too — but keep in mind they are well-known and will also likely have the most applicants.
Make sure you have a complete and professional LinkedIn profile. This is the go-to site for recruiters and human resource professionals to connect with job seekers (you!). Treat your profile just like your CV or resume — with a professional photo, full employment and education experience, no typos, and a bit of personality.
Use LinkedIn’s extensive profile section to add an introduction to summarize your skills and ideal position. You can pin particular posts, media, or websites you want to highlight.
You should also ask past employers or clients to endorse you for skills, or by writing a recommendation.
LinkedIn also features many Groups you can join for networking. You can join the Group “Jobs in Germany DE”, or look for Groups related to a particular city, like “Berlin Jobs for English speakers”, or “Munich Jobs”. You can also search for groups related to your industry or profession.
And finally — follow each and every company you apply for! You can also turn on the “Job Alert” button to receive postings that suit you.
If you work in a creative field or want to work freelance or self-employed, we recommend making your own online portfolio or website — even a very simple free one. For an online portfolio, you can try Behance or Dribbble.
Or, just ensure you’ve got a professional, work-related Instagram.
For simple, free websites you can check out resources like About.me, WordPress, or Wix.
Now that you’ve got a solid and professional web presence, it’s time to start networking!
Facebook has local job pages for most large German cities. For example, Berlin has “English-Speaking Jobs Berlin”, “Jobs in Berlin”, “Berlin Startup Jobs”, etc. In addition, there are groups like “Berlin Expats”, “International Families Berlin”, “Americans in Berlin”, “Aussies in Berlin”, “Canadians in Berlin”, and more. By joining these groups, you can talk to other people already living here, even before you move.
Once you are here in person, networking is even easier — you can find regular events to attend via organizations like Meetup. Meetup features different groups meeting around hundreds of topics, so you can choose a few that align with your professional and personal interests.
Make yourself a small goal, like “I’m going to add three people on LinkedIn after this event”, and be sure to follow up on it! Try inviting networking contacts to meet for a coffee or lunch so you can ask how they got started in their career and ask for useful advice and tips on your job search.
Just be clear you’re interested in their advice so they don’t think you’re fishing for a job, or a date!
In Person Activities/Hobbies
Remember, networking doesn’t have to be directly business-related.
If you like yoga, find an English yoga group in your city. If there isn’t one, try to start one. Locate where “your” people are. Whether your people means artists, Italians, bikers, or bakers — meet up and go to their events.
The more people you talk to, the better. Chances are you’ll meet someone with helpful experience and ideas for your job search, or even a hot lead on a great company that’s hiring.
Watch Our Workshop on How to Get a Job in Germany
How to Submit an Application
Sending speculative, or unsolicited, applications is totally normal. So even if you don’t see a job advertisement for your dream role, you can still apply for it by contacting the company directly.
Once you have your list of companies to apply to ready, go to the careers page of the company’s website to find out how to apply. You may find the email of the recruiting team or a link to how to apply online. And again, we always recommend following the company on LinkedIn.
If you don’t see an opening advertised for the kind of role you want, be sure to state in your cover letter that this is a speculative application and what kind of role, or roles, you are looking for.
To cover all your bases, we’d recommend adding that you’re happy to be considered for any other similar roles, and would like to stay in their applicant database until a suitable position becomes available.
Applying in Person
When applying in person, bring a physical copy of your application.
It’s not so common to apply this way anymore, but you can if the place you want to work is open to the public, like a café bar or restaurant, language school, shop, etc. In that case, print a clean copy of your CV and cover letter and go around to the places you’d like to work.
Choose a time when they’re likely less busy, dress as if you’re attending an interview for the role, and ask to speak to the hiring manager. Don’t be surprised if they are not available — just leave your CV there with the polite request to give it to the hiring manager.
Then, ask the name of the hiring manager and the best way to follow up with them. And be sure to actually follow up. Persistence can make a huge difference in competitive roles.
No matter how you apply, keep a record of when you contacted the company, who you addressed your application to, how and when they said you could follow up, and any other important information. This will help you organize your follow-up calls and emails.
The Interview Process
Interviews will vary greatly depending on the job you're applying for and your level of experience. Here are a few golden rules to keep in mind when preparing for an interview in Germany.
Formal vs Informal
Interviews in Germany aren’t so different from how you might imagine. Some are quite informal, like at a start-up in Berlin, whereas other settings are quite formal and traditional, like at a large bank.
You could land a job at a café after a ten-minute conversation, or for more professional roles you may go through four or five rounds of interviews.
To get a feel for how to dress, look at the company’s website and see how employees are dressed. If they are all wearing suits, take that as a guideline for an interview.
Otherwise, you can aim for business casual. A button-down shirt or blouse and jacket, very nice jeans or trousers, and nice shoes (no sneakers) should work across the board.
You can also gauge how formal or informal the company is by checking its German website. If they address the public or applicants using “Du” instead of the formal “Sie” it’s likely to be a more casual environment.
Be Ready for the Expected and the Unexpected
Make good eye contact and have a nice handshake — not too strong, not too weak, and not sweaty.
Be sure you have thoroughly researched the company and job and have well-thought-out questions to pose to the interviewer.
Have strong answers with specific examples to answer the questions “Why are you right for this job?” and “Why do you want to work for this company?”
Be prepared for unusual questions like “What animal would you be and why?” Remember, there is no “correct” answer. The company wants to see that you don’t freak out when thrown into a strange situation, that you can explain how you would approach the question at hand, and that you have good reasons for your answer.
Finally, even if you don’t want the job, be sure to say thank you. Ask when a decision should be reached and what’s the best way to follow up if you don’t hear back from the interviewer.
And one last tip: If you really want the job, send a thank you email the next day, or even a thank-you postcard in the mail, to confirm how interested you are in the role.
You’re ready. Get out there!