How to write a Job Application (Bewerbung) in German
With a huge number of well-paid and interesting positions in numerous companies and organizations, Germany is a popular destination for professionals. Due to increasing internationalization and demographic change, employers are always on the lookout for skilled applicants with an expat background. In Germany, the process of applying is called „Bewerben“ and the application documents are briefly referred to as „Bewerbung“. Essentially, an application in Germany often differs significantly from the documents and process known the US or the UK. These differences should be considered in order to lay the foundation for an invitation to a job interview in Germany or in another German-speaking country such as Austria or Switzerland. Workplace interactions moreover have their own distinctive features, and they are often overridingly goal-oriented and regulated. Since language is a powerful social tool that also reflects an applicant’s values and the ability to address complex matters, the success of your application partly is based on the appropriate choice of words and conventions. In what follows we would like to explain to you what the German application looks like in detail, and how you can easily prepare a convincing application that reflects your skills, experience and goals. To facilitate your application journey in Germany, you can moreover find free templates on TT Bewerbungsservice.
Table of Contents
The structure of a German application (Aufbau einer Bewerbung)
„The German application has a clear-cut structure, although some elements may be optional depending on the situation. Unsurprisingly, corporate environments differ−and it is wise to adjust the structure according to the requirements.“
Depending on the application situation and the workplace environment, a certain structure has evolved in Germany over the past few years.
The following structure is quite common and deviations are usually not welcomed:
- Deckblatt: cover page, optional
- Anschreiben: cover letter
- Lebenslauf: CV / resume
- Zeugnisanlage: attachments
The terms for the documents however vary to some extent:
- „The Deckblatt“ is sometimes also called „Titelblatt“ or „Bewerbungsdeckblatt“.
- The letter of application is sometimes labelled „Bewerbungsschreiben“, „Bewerbungsanschreiben“ or „Bewerbungsbrief“.
- The Lebenslauf appears as „Resume“ or „Curriculum Vitae“, the latter term is being used more frequently in Europe. „Resume“ is more frequently used in American applications.
- The Zeugnisanlage can also be simply called „Anlagen“ or „Certificates“.
The cover page might be useful when applying with an application portfolio („Bewerbungsmappe“). In this the case of, it is your first page of your entire PD documents you intend to apply with. Larger companies mostly use extended platforms for their entire application process. This allows you to upload your documents individually, and no cover page will be necessary. Please keep in mind that the structure of unsolicited applications (Initiativbewerbungen respectively initiative applications) may vary. In either case, it is highly recommendable to first have a look at the requirements stated by the desired employer. Most companies have put together useful information on what they actually expect. Just in case a „Kurzbewerbung“ is mentioned, you can indeed omit your attachment in the first step and simply hand in your CV and cover letter.
Writing the application in Germany: A structured approach
„Applications take time, lots of time. You may need more time than expected when drafting your documents. It is best to start as soon as possible. Also, you should consider getting your documents checked and revised.“
From our perspective and after helping 3,500+ applicants pursue their goal, we can recommend the following procedure to draft convincing application documents („Bewerbungsunterlagen“):
- Collect testimonials, certificates and former job descriptions that verify and reflect your professional career.
- Create an attachment that has a breakdown of information which makes it easy to follow.
- Use these documents to create your resume.
- Use your resume and a job advert of your choice as a sound basis for drafting your cover letter.
- If you decide to opt for a cover page, this should now be created.
- When your documents are ready as in really ready, you should create one or more PDF files for the upload.
- The last step is to send your application documents.
Please remember that is quite uncommon in Germany to be approached or even invited immediately. Things may take time. Therefore, it makes sense to apply for several jobs with different employers concurrently. Four up to five applications are suitable, as this allows you to keep track. The online application is by far the most common way to apply in Germany with few exceptions i.e. in the public service. Let’s now move on to the individual parts of the application, and how to successfully create them!
Prepare your references (Zeugnisanlage)
„In Germany, a Zeugnisanlage is always expected when applying for a job−unlike for example in the UK. The scans of the documents should be of suitable resolution.“
Putting together the Zeugnisanlage of a German job application is a good start and of rather undemanding nature. In Germany, employers want to see supporting documents for the information given in your resume. Naming reference persons who can confirm the information in your documents is still not that common in Germany compared to English-speaking countries−but always a good idea. Essentially, including your attachments in an application is mandatory.
The procedure is as follows:
- Search for all relevant testimonials, certificates and other evidence for the job and scan them. Mind the quality.
- Create a brief table of contents to share an overview of all the you intend to include.
- Sort them to ensure the correct order.
Order of attachments:
- Table of contents
- Employer references
- Highest degree plus graduation certificate
- Highest school leaving certificate
- Further certificates of qualifications in order of importance and, if possible, in reverse chronological order.
How to prepare a resume for a job application in Germany
„If you draft your CV for your application in Germany, take a look which norms apply to it and create a resembling document. The structure always depends on your personal experience, professional background and future goals. Note that in an IT context, the overall structure is sometimes more international and you can skip information on nationality, marriage status or a photo.“
The CV („Lebenslauf“) could be described as the very heart of your application in Germany, hence it should be carefully prepared. So, it is best you create a blueprint that you can easily adapt. Moreover, you can easily update your resume in the future and almost use it again immediately with minor adjustments. Quite importantly, the German resume differs from CVs in other countries. Such differences may show in many ways:
- Whilst displaying a lot of information and years of expertise, you end up with two and sometimes three pages. Text written out fully instead of concise bullet points is rather unpopular with recruiters in Germany. A maximum of two pages should be aspired.
- The layout for a German CV should be tabular. A reverse chronological order is expected. Content columns such as „education“ or „professional experience“ are best to ensure a clear-cut structure.
- Unless the job advertisement explicitly states otherwise, it is expected to send an application photo with your application in Germany−either in the optional cover page or in the resume. Please opt for a business portrait and not for any kind of informal photo.
- Language use differs: With less use of action verbs, the tone is far more matter-of-fact like in a German CV. Factual information beats excessive self-promotion.
Here you can see how a typical German CV looks like with one page:
And here is a resume (Lebenslauf) with two pages:
The trick with a concise resume is to include only relevant information while not leaving out anything of importance. You need to get to the heart of your career and the document needs to be relevant to the job opening. Letting go of peripheral information is essential. The structure is in tabular form and in reverse chronological order („tabellarisch und antichronologisch“).
German resume – structure
- Personal data: name and surname, date and place of birth, nationality, marital status) and address (but can also be inserted in a custom letterhead).
- Work experience: names of current and preceding employer, place of work, job title and bullet points with descriptions of your jobs and, if possible, selected achievements.
- Education including university, vocational training, and further education.
- Additional skills (IT skills, languages, qualifications, certificates, etc.).
- Other sections such as voluntary work and engagement, internships, military service or international experience.
- Place, date, scanned signature and full name.
There are no strict rules and much will depend on your personal background, but some information is considered to be mandatory. When you write the dates of your work experience, please always include the month and the year.
And here comes a brief compilation of the most important tips for the resume of the German application:
10 tips for a professional resume
- Pay attention to spelling, grammar and punctuation.
- Use a consistent design with a clear structure. Make it AI friendly and skip icons.
- Do not leave any gaps in the resume in terms of time.
- A business portrait will literally pay off.
- Stick to a tabular structure with reverse chronological order.
- Only information that is of relevance should be included in the CV. Thus, you may need to adapt it accordingly when you find a new job advert.
- Do not elaborate on periods without employment−rather use this space for information with added value.
- List your previous employers with complete and correct titles.
- Do not create a CV that is cluttered with information and avoid information overload.
- Prepare a concise professional summary or profile to give an overview. This is mostly called „Kurzprofil“ in a German application and has increased in popularity. This is especially helpful when no cover letter is expected.
Writing the cover letter in German (Anschreiben)
„The cover letter of a German-language application is the ultimate task. Undoubtedly, a successful one contributes to a good first impression.“
Writing a cover letter for an application is not only difficult for applicants whose native language is English, but also for Germans. There are many questions regarding the formal structure as well as the concrete content of the cover letter. It might be wise to once in a while think about the actual purpose of a cover letter. For many applicants, it is quite unclear how to establish a link between their interpersonal skills, professional background and the requirements of the job advertisement. Whatever you choose to concentrate on in your cover letter, please avoid empty phrases such as „I am highly motivated and reliable“. Generic phrases that can be found in the majority of cover letters provide hardly any value or interesting information. Rather than relying on standard phrases, it would be recommendable if you link your achievements and skills to direct examples. An individual wording that expresses your enthusiasm and also what in particular interests you when working in this new position is key. The formal structure of your cover letter resembles the style of a formal business letter. Clearly, the register of choice is thus formal, not informal−and yes, we often make use of short WhatsApp messages and informal emails without even thinking about it. It is a good example of the fact that we use different expressions and registers to achieve communicative goals. Conventions emerge because they fulfill certain purposes.
The following structure is recommendable:
- Header with full name, address and contact details.
- Address of company (plus contact person)
- Place and date
- Subject line including the full job title plus job ID
- Appropriate greeting „Sehr geehrte Frau …“, „Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren“
- Main paragraphs
- Concluding your cover letter with an appropriate closure „Mit freundlichen Grüßen“
- Your signature followed by name
- If applicable, a reference to attachments (curriculum vitae, references).
The reference to attachments can usually be omitted.
Here are some further important tips on what you should pay attention to when writing:
The 10 best tips for a good Anschreiben
- Only start writing your cover letter when you have your resume available and always take a close look at the chosen job advertisement when doing so.
- When structuring your cover letter like a classic business letter, you do not necessarily have to stick to the guidelines depicted in the German Industrial Standard DIN 5008. The font should not be too playful and you should also find a suitable compromise between space and legibility in terms of font size. Suitable fonts and font sizes are for instance Calibri 11 pt or Century Gothic 10 pt.
- Make sure that you address the correct contact person at the company, and make sure you always address this person directly and correctly in case these details are known to you (e.g. „Sehr geehrte Frau Beispiel, […]“).
- Use several paragraphs in the cover letter−the optimum number of paragraphs is four to five.
- An appropriate language use/register that suits you and the position you are applying for is essential. Use it to describe your previous work experience, your skills and knowledge, and your motivation for applying.
- Explain why you chose this particular company and use the information you have previously obtained through closely looking at their website. What kind of language and images do they use?
- Never be tempted to elaborate on negative events in your letter of application−in essence, it is about what you can do and find solutions and not at all about possible problems or difficulties.
- Try to explain your aspired change from a positive perspective and skip negative talk about former colleagues or superiors.
- If the job advertisement asks you to name the earliest possible starting date and/or your desired salary, this information should be stated in your letter of application, preferably in the last paragraph.
- Please remember to include the current date and a scanned signature in your letter of application.
As mentioned before: do not rely on templates and generic content. A well-written cover letter takes time but it is a rewarding endeavor. You may first note down some bullet points which are important to you. Make use of certain keywords in order to make sure AI finds them!
Your documents are ready? Let’s move on to the online application!
„The online application has facilitated the entire application process.“
If you made it this far, your application only needs some minor adjustment. This means that you should proofread and check the formatting. It is best to let someone else do this for you or you can also use fresh eyes. Apart from that, you could also use a different font and a different screen to spot mistakes. Software that reads text out loud is also a good option. Bear in mind that most translation tools often lack context and do not necessarily reflect your stances and values. You may have guessed by now that values are indeed important. After that, there is a single task left: creating your files for the online application. In Germany, there are two options when it comes to applications:
- The application via an online application tool or platform.
- The application by e-mail.
While you will often find the first option with larger employers, the email application is often used by smaller companies that cannot afford an online application system or other than that have established different procedures. In any case you will need PDF documents. These files should not exceed a total file size of 2 or 3 MB. The graphic quality must still be nice.
„In Germany, you are expected to submit your application documents in the form of PDFs as part of the online application process. Other than that, there are numerous HR platforms that allow for a copy & paste option.“
10 tips on how to apply online im Germany
- Create PDF files for your application that do not exceed the size the company mentions. Find out in advance about it for instance in the job advertisement or on the website.
- Draft and edit your application documents according to the requirements−and keep in mind that you will need time and a quiet place for that.
- If you choose to include a photo in your application, make sure it is of high quality. Also, go for JPEG files format as this represents the best compromise between quality and size.
- Name your PDF files for your application (e.g. „Application_John_Doe_IT Consultant_ID12345.pdf“ or „Cover letter – Max Mustermann.pdf“) so that the recipient sees you are well-organized. It moreover helps you to avoid any possibility of confusion when you apply for more than one job.
- When applying by e-mail, you can combine your application documents into a single PDF file (mind the size).
- HR platforms usually allow you to upload separate PDF files, some may also leave space for a copy & paste option.
- Take care of the quality of your scans. Creases and dog-ears make a very bad impression, even in a PDF application.
- Do not forget to check the details of your PDF application files before emailing them or uploading them to an online application portal. Not every author name is suitable.
- When applying by email, don not be tempted to compress your application to a ZIP file to evade the file size limits.
- On online application portals, only upload the PDF documents that are actually required by the employer. Follow the guidelines and make sure the given information is in line with those given in your application documents.
Making mistakes in emails however is easy. Please always include your name and also the job title and reference number you are applying for in the subject line of your email. Use a professional email address and make sure your email gets to the point.
The Business Portrait in Germany (Bewerbungsfoto)
As already mentioned, it is still rather common in Germany to have a professional portrait taken when applying for a job. Please always make sure that you submit a high-quality picture and have it taken by a professional photographer. Photos taken with a mobile phone are not suitable for such a formal context.
- Avoid passport pictures (Passfotos) but instead look out for business portraits (Bewerbungsfoto).
- Find a photographer of your choice in advance. Browse through the images first to see whether the style is in line with the portraits you see on the company’s website. Resemblance is good.
- Take time for getting your portrait taken (especially in Covid-times) and choose your clothes wisely. Again, it is best to have a look at how your future employer presents himself. Is it a conservative workplace culture? Which colors are chosen?
- Blue or burgundy backgrounds, especially with patterns, often seem old-fashioned. Create contrasts: a dark background is ideal for light hair, a light background for darker hair. Dark hair, dark background and dark clothes may not be a good choice, whereas blonde hair, white clothes and a bright background create no contrast. An experienced photographer knows what works best.
- You are always well advised with a black and white image; redness and blemishes do not stand out too much.
- Full body portraits are unsuitable in an application context.
- A good portrait is a good investment. Do not expect them to be cheap. It is worth the money.
- Usually photographers also make a retouch before handing out the JPEG files to their clients. Do not edit them any further unless you are an expert. Please pay attention to copyright when using your application photos. Ask your photographer how the pictures may be used.
Avoid typical mistakes in the German job application
Even if they are easy to avoid, some mistakes just stick. Names are not written correctly, the wrong files were uploaded and it remains unclear which job an applicant actually applies for. There are things recruiters do not like at all. Now imagine yourself in their shoes! What would you like to know when someone sends you an application? What kind of people do you enjoy working with and what makes it difficult?
- If someone says they will get back to you, give them space and time. It is not well received if you call or email them every day. Some decisions or processes may be more complex than expected.
- If it is hard to reach you at all, recruiters will not be happy about it. And yes, it might be difficult taking a phone call when you are still with your old job. Check your spam folder regularly.
- Avoid general sentences with no reference to the open position and the employer. Avoid anything that might lead to the conclusion that this job is just an option or temporary or second choice. When applicants act unappreciative or like they know everything already, chances are low.
- We have seen CVs with more than 40 pages (true!), and it is almost offensive to expect other people to read this. In case you are a very experienced professional, you can also refer to your LinkedIn profile or have a separate list of projects ready for a job interview. Additional information or samples of your recent may be welcome or even asked for. So keep it at hand.
- Be on time. And yes, online interviews via zoom or skype are a thing these days. Make sure you create a professional background. If in doubt, choose a plant, some books and avoid any disturbances, distractions or loud noises as far as possible. This includes electronic devices. Focus on professional attire, even if it is too much and the recruiter wears a simple shirt. You can always adapt your style when you get the job but effort is appreciated. This effort includes checking your gear (microphone, camera) as well.
- That being said: Be prepared. Print out your documents and the job advert. Questions such as „Why should we hire you“ or „What do you want this job“ can be expected, so think about them in advance. Do your research on the company’s website and beyond. Find the time to prepare some questions about the actual work you are supposed to do as well.
- Know yourself and know your worth. „I will take any job in your company“ is not a good place to start. Candidates who rely on pity or come up with a dramatic story (which may be true or not) are not favored.
General ideas on language in applications and job interviews
Generally speaking, job interviews place quite a high demand on candidates when it comes to the linguistic skills that are required. There not only is the need to demonstrate relevant experience and qualifications, but also do candidates need to align themselves to conventions and expectations. The right level of formality is important and so is the notion of establishing a good relationship with the interviewer. This also raises the issue of structural difficulties an applicant faces when entering a professional community and the challenges of access to economic opportunities in a different cultural context.
In any case, there are some ideas to facilitate your writing in any language:
- Look at the four key maxims introduced by Grice (1975) and at the way they might help to engage in a job interview:
- The maxim of quantity: do not give out too much or too little information; be informative in your communication.
- The maxim of quality: do not talk about things that are not true and be honest. A B1 level of French for instance is not fluent.
- The maxim of relation: let your communication be relevant.
- The maxim of manner: be clear in your communication.
Serving as guidelines for successful communication, these maxims are helpful, but reality is of course more complicated. Bear in mind that language is a powerful social tool which essentially is about appropriateness and adaptability. Information has to be tailored to the remit. We mostly take our own cultural practices as the norm and often forget that they are not at all universal: British culture prefers several expressions of gratitude within everyday service encounters, whilst in Germany the excessive use of „thank you“ or „yes please“ may be seen differently. Hence, communicative competence is not merely a matter of getting grammar and lexis right but rather about the most appropriate way to make yourself understood, and also about handling directness and indirectness. Conversely to many other cultures and without placing any judgment on what is „right“ or „wrong“, German culture is often more direct and matter-of-fact. There is less emphasis on so-called „phatic communion“, a term introduced by the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (1923) to describe the interpersonal function of talk (read: binding people together). This may lead to slight confusion in cross-cultural environments.
More information about Expat Life in Germany
„Germany is an interesting country and a well-written application can be your ticket to an exciting life as an expat.“
On TT Bewerbungsservice you will find more tips and a large number of free templates for your application and Germany. There is also additional information on insurance in Germany and what to keep in mind as some are mandatory. There is also an article on how to apply for an apartment in Germany as it becomes increasingly difficult to get a nice flat. Check back on our site as we continue to expand our English content. Good luck with your application in German!
Lisa has been working for TTBS since 2013 and combines her professional experience from different corporate cultures with her interest in languages. Studying at a British university allowed her to gain a deeper understanding of language as a social tool. With her focus on intercultural communication and the rise of machine translation, Lisa now regularly contributes to our expat section.