Tips for Writing a German CV
If you’re applying for a job at a German company in your home country, you will, in most cases, need to create a CV in German. While each country has different rules for what makes an effective CV, the first prerequisite is, of course, that you have a good command of the German language. But what else do you need to pay attention to? Here are a number of tips for writing a strong German CV.
Unless otherwise specified in the job description, it’s a good idea to write your CV in German. Even if the company language is English, employers will appreciate the effort as it demonstrates that you’re willing to go the extra effort.
When is a CV in German not necessary?
If you’re not going to be using German in the position you’re applying for, you don’t need to write your CV in German. Instead, you can send it in English.
This also applies if your language skills aren’t up to scratch. To avoid misleading the employer that your German is better than it actually is, your best bet is to send your CV in English.
This is because there’s a good chance that the employer will conduct the interview in the same language as the language on your CV. In that case, it’s better to send your CV in English to avoid an uncomfortable situation during the job interview.
German CV headings
While there’s no set template for writing a German CV, CVs tend to take the following structure:
- Personal information = Persönliche Daten
- Education = Ausbildung
- Work experience = Berufliche Laufbahn
- Internships = Praktika
- Languages = Sprachen (NB. Language Knowledge = Sprachkenntnisse)
- Other = Sonstiges:
- Hobbies and Interests = Hobbys und Interessen
- (Computer) skills = Fähigkeiten
- Extracurricular activities = Auβerschulische Aktivitäten
- Driving licences = Fürherscheine
- Certificates = Zertifikate
Make sure that you don’t include terms in your German CV that you’re unsure about!
Instead, look up terms online or have them checked by a translator or someone who speaks German as a native language.
If you create your CV on Jobseeker, you can convert the headings of the sections on your CV into German, at the touch of a button. You then fill in the explanation for each section in German yourself.
German CV order
You’ll need to include start and end dates, as well as the name of the employer/academic institution. However, even if a German CV is fact-based, you don’t need to list every single job you’ve ever had.
In fact, while gaps should be explained where possible, you only need to include information relevant to the vacancy.
Sign your CV
It’s customary in Germany to end your CV with your location, date and signature.
The date and place go on the bottom left of your CV and your signature on the bottom right. For the signature, it suffices to include with a scan of your original signature that you add to the document as an image. Otherwise, there are PDF editing tools online which allow you to add a digital signature.
A German CV is part of a ‘vollständige Bewerbung’ (complete application)
A German application requires much more than just a CV and a cover letter. When applying in Germany, it’s also customary to enclose your certificates and references from previous employers and copies of diplomas and/or certificates with your CV.
The CV itself has a standard maximum length of two A4 pages, but with all those extra documents, you end up with a ‘Bewerbungsmappe’ (application dossier). If you’re invited to an interview, this is what you’ll need to bring along.
Therefore, it’s recommended that you buy a folder in which you can neatly organise your documents: CV, cover letter, diplomas/certificates and reference letters.
Include a photo
While employers aren’t allowed to request that a photo be included in your CV, the expectation is that you will include one (in the upper, right-hand corner of your CV). This is so that they can put a face to your CV and get a sense of what you’re like as a person.
We recommend that you have this photo taken by a professional photographer as this looks far more business-like than a selfie or a snap taken into a photo booth.
Many German photographers offer services for ‘Bewerbungsfotos’ (application photos) and will be able to provide directions on posture, smiling and suitable attire.
How to mention language skills on a German CV
Even if you’re applying for a job in English or another language, most employers will want to know how well you speak and write German.
You can use the following terms to indicate how well you master a language:
Muttersprache = mother tongue
flieβend = smooth
gut = good
durchschnittlich = average
International standards for language skills
You can also indicate your ability in a language by referring to the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference), which uses letters to describe different language proficiency levels: A (basic), B (intermediate) and C (advanced):
- A – Basic user
- A1 – Breakthrough or beginner
- A2 – Waystage or elementary
- B – Independent user
- B1 – Threshold or intermediate
- B2 – Vantage or upper intermediate
- C – Proficient user
- C1 – Effective operational efficiency
- C2 – Mastery or proficiency
Breaking down your skills this way will help employers to understand whether you are able to use your language skills in a professional environment.
While it can be tempting to exaggerate or overestimate your language skills, don’t do it. Employers or recruiters can easily test your language skills during the hiring process. If it turns out that your language ability is much lower than stated on your CV, you’re likely to damage your credibility and be fired, even long after you’ve been hired.
Keep it factual
Unlike in other countries, German CVs are factual and not sales documents. This means that you need to list your experience, skills and education without embellishing them and without buzzwords.
Do a language check
Even if you master the German language, make sure you proofread your CV before sending it. Germans, in particular, are sticklers for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, so it’s crucial that your CV is flawless.
You could use an online grammar checker such as Duden or LanguageTool, which will flag basic errors in gender agreements, verb endings, etc.
Better still get a professional translator or native speaker to look over your CV to make absolutely sure that your CV is error-free.
- Use bullet points rather than long paragraphs to keep your CV short and concise.
- Include your nationality so that the employer knows whether you’ll need a visa or not to work in Germany.
- Including date of birth in the personal details section is optional, but will help recruiters to get a full picture of you.
- A German CV is called a ‘Lebenslauf’. It’s up to you whether you add this heading at the top of your CV.
- If you’re currently living abroad, include the country code with your phone number.