von Martin Stappen

The CV, here Lebenslauf, is the most important part of your application papers. Busy HR-employees will likely skip over often badly written letters of motivation (at first) to go directly for the facts. This greatly decreases the time needed for weeding out candidates. There is no official norm for the Lebenslauf.

Usually, the rule of thumb is: What makes you and your usefulness quick to grasp is great, while whatever complicates things is not. Most things that are true in other languages are also true in a German CV: Keep it simple and to the point. Keep it as short as feasible. Stay honest, as not to trip yourself up in the interview or when starting out. Remember that you aren’t writing for yourself but creating a decision tool others will be working with. Have other eyes look at your final product to judge if it indeed speaks for itself.

If you are working on a first Lebenslauf, here are some specifics to keep in mind:

  1. Almost every Lebenslauf includes a business photo of the applicant. While there is no obligation, being one of the few omitting a picture would make you look like you are holding back. If you chose to include a picture, pay the price to have a professional take it. Dress like you would at a job-interview. And get feedback from people with experience, if possible.
  2. Lots of Germans seem quite concerned with data protection, but much less so when it comes to the Lebenslauf! Asides from the picture, it is common to give much more personal information on top of contact details, including the date and place of birth, marital status or even the number and ages of children. At least mentioning religious affiliation and the parents’ professions isn’t a thing anymore today. As always, it is your decision what to share but don’t be too surprised if helpful German friends suggest announcing your age or that you are unmarried.
  3. Most German CVs don’t start with a profile. I’d suggest you do it anyway! It directly helps you stand out and gives readers a context before you get into the finer details.
  4. Naming references is also quite uncommon in Germany (as we use the work report card called Arbeitszeugnis instead). As with the profile, you can name some references anyway. It would help you stand out, especially if you can’t attach an Arbeitszeugnis
  5. Usually, the language should match the vacancy announcement: If language isn’t mentioned, apply to positions posted in German in German, to positions posted in English in English.
  6. The usual date format for German documents is day-month-year as in 12.2023. When noting down your previous positions, it is fine to limit yourself to month and year, as in 10.2021 – 11.2023.
  7. When naming your former employers, give a bit more detail. You should, for one, name the city you worked in. If it is outside of Germany, also add the country. Assume that less people will then know the company. For this reason, you can include a single line summarizing the firm (listing maybe it’s industry and size).

As mentioned above, your CV is the most important piece of your documents. Give it the care needed. Most often when applying to a vacancy, this paper will be the main reason you get ignored or called.