The seven principles of writing a German CV

How to write a german CV?

Well, a CV is after all a document detailing the academic and professional accomplishments of one ’s self. How different can it be writing a CV in Germany? How difficult can it be get it ‘point on’? As a matter of fact, it can be quite precise if you bear in mind the following guidelines.

Germans could be perceived as being a little strange. (Hmm…being a German myself, I would be dangerously close to ‘treading on thin ice’ if I’m to refer to my fellow countrymen as being ‘strange’!. It’s tough to explain, exactly how to develop your CV in German without sounding general.

A German Recruiter has quite a few requirements in mind. These do not necessarily meet the standard EU-europass layout for a CV. And to know what exactly these requirements are and how exactly you are to customise your CV to meet these expectations is definitely worth being aware of.

And it all starts with a CV- and I do hope that you have yours ready. In which language it is currently in, is not a cause of worry. Well, at least not at this stage ;)). But what is important is that your CV in Germany is in accord with the following 7 ‘laws’:

Principle no. 1: A single page long CV in Germany is NOT long enough!

A single page CV is not only futile, but also a no-go in a job hunt in Germany. It doesn’t work in your favour. It’s different to  to the USA or Canada where a one page is generally accepted.

A two-page CV is the norm here.

But as always, there can be exceptions here. In describing how your skills, abilities and work experiences makes you the ‘Right fit’ for the desired Position, a longer CV might be justified. Alternatively, a list of Projects worked on if you are an IT professional e.g, can be attached to the job application.

And for the rest of us out here in the Job Applicant Universe? For us  the CV should be simple, legible and easy to understand.  Go for a ‘simple look’!

Principle no. 2: Go for a simple yet elegant design for your German CV!

In today’s world, with the advent of internet, the opportunity to customise the layout of the CV is absolutely enormous, It varies from fancy/colourful/extravagant to ones with a lot of graphic content. The possibilities are endless. And so are the chances of the CV being more of a distraction rather than being productive.

Quite frankly, it’s nonsense.

The use of different colours, graphic elements and other nick-knacks are for Party Invites. Definitely not for a CV, unless you are a Graphic artist/designer.

For the rest of us out here in the Job Applicant Universe, the CV should be simple, legible and easy to understand.  Go for a ‘simple look’!

Principle no.3: Provide substantial evidence of your skills

There is no doubt that the content of your German CV takes centre stage.

It is not just about show-casing all your skills, but highlighting the relevant ones which reveals to the Recruiters that your Skill Set matches their requirement.

Therefore, it is advantageous to know and keep in mind the job requirements. Such as the desired skills, strengths, work experience etc.

It is not always necessary that you meet 100% of the desired skill set but the criteria that are met should be emphasized in the CV. The motive here is to convince the recruiter about your skills for the specific job you apply.

It is much more advantageous when the German Recruiter is able to recognise that you have been promoted (because you have delivered outstanding results). Or provided timely solutions to the customers (which in turn represents that you are allowed to undertake meetings with customers). Or that just after 6 months in the job, you are entrusted with independently representing your company abroad (this demonstrates your self-sufficiency and also the confidence that your employer has in your abilities).

Principle no. 4: Clarity

The recruiters can afford to spend only 2-3 minutes per job application and your German CV. Therefore they indulge only a glance through. Their objective is to quickly assimilate the relevant information ASAP. Without labouring for it.

Hence, proofread your CV to understand how difficult you have made this to the recruiter based on the following guideline questions:

  • … does the recruiter need to decrypt the icons and graphics to determine your skills/competencies ?!
  • … does the recruiter need to assemble the information regarding your academic qualification & area(s) of specialization, projects and thesis because you have placed it under/ in different sections ?!
  • … does the recruiter need to gather the information with regard to one single workstation such as job responsibilities, rewards and recognitions out of various categories?!

Of course, it is entirely your personal choice which information is to be included/left out. And it’s up to you how you group them together. Just always ask yourself- “What is the desired effect of my CV on the German reader?”

Principle no. 5: No gaps in your academic/professional Timeline

A German recruiter first and foremost strives to figure out what has been your activities after completion of schooling. But having gaps in the timeline of your German CV creates ambiguity for them. That’s one reason why a-one-page-CV does not work as a CV in Germany.

But of course, I’m quite confident that you have done (been upto) something! 😉

However, you may not have mentioned everything, because:

  • that one year when you had worked as a Maths teacher has now no connection with your current higher educational qualification OR
  • that one year between your schooling and further studies, where you were still trying to figure out which line of career you wanted to pursue OR
  • the ‘load’ of odd jobs that you had done to support yourself OR
  • while at the University, on your Student Job, you had made (only) PPTs for your Professor OR … OR…

Gaps can raise uncertainty

Make no mistake though, you can choose what information to include or Mention. BUT:   When there is 1-2 or more years of break in your CV, it does raise uncertainty in the mind of the German HR Managers. Their thoughts could be something along the lines of- “What has happened during this time period? What could be the worst-case scenarios? Was the candidate sick? Were drugs involved?!”

But when the reason for the break in timeline, is quite harmless, they could think- “Is this candidate not goal-oriented? OR isn’t she/he not career oriented? …. and if the candidate is not goal-oriented, she/he may not take the job responsibilities seriously!”

These are some of the grounds on which the recruiters may feel the requirement for- “this needs more consideration”. And out goes your job application! All those nights spent burning the midnight oil preparing the German CV, reviewing with your German friend(s) goes to waste!

Principle no. 6: Consistency in your German CV –  the “red thread”

The CV in Germany provides a picture of the suitability of the candidate for the advertised position.

It’s just as a lawyer bases his arguments to show the innocence of his Client. Same is the case with a CV. The current/previously held position (in her/his career), work experience, skills and competencies supports your candidacy for this one job you apply. Having said that, it is not recommended to turn your CV into a detailed account of one’s professional activities!

Play to your strengths! Include the major roles/responsibilities. Find the element that binds everything together so as to create a smooth flow of events (just like in a great suspense thriller)- a story that speaks to the heart of the matter- that you are best fit for the advertised position.

Principle no. 7: The photo on the German CV

Hmm…there is no ‘work-around’ this one.

This is indeed a critical element of the job application and your German CV. Unless of course you happen to be an incredibly specialised IT Professional. In that case, you might as well have rainbow coloured application! 😀

The photo is not intended for the audition of Germany’s Next Top Model. It serves the function of advertising yourself to potential employers, that you are professional and competent and – well – a nice person to work with.

For foreigners wishing to work in Germany, it’s all the more important. If I can put a face to the seemingly unfamiliar name😊, it becomes more engaging. So no points for guessing! I am indeed a staunch supporter of having a professional photo in the CV. When I see a professional photo, I immediately take note if its been taken/executed by a professional Photographer, if its apt for the German labour market etc. The lighting, exposure and background speaks volume about the professionality of the photo.

Unfortunately, I am not a believer of one of those ‘professional photos’ taken with a mobile phone. I do not advocate them nor value them. The applicant incurs only negative points.

Here we go again

When you keep the above seven principles in mind, then could you expertly modify your exiting CV into the German way! Having said that, I am also of the opinion that a CV cannot be ever “finished”. It can always be worked upon, improved and perfected further! 😉

I would like to wish you all the very best and that you enjoy time spent developing your CV in the German way!

I would love to hear from you on other challenges you have faced with adapting your CV into German. What tips do you have for your fellow-jobseekers?

Best Regards &  viele Grüße


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *