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Ask Hans-Torsten: Applying for jobs in Germany

Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected].

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Dear Hans:

I’m fresh off the boat from the US of A, speak okay German, have an EU passport and am trying to score an office admin job in the start-up/tech sector. I’ve been networking like crazy, submitting my CV to every company I encounter, but am not getting invited to any interviews. I have mad organisational and people skills, but the Germans seem to shy away from my outgoing nature. Any tips on how to get work/apply for jobs/do well in a job interview in this country?


Dear Jen:

You’ve probably Googled the hell out of this issue. So have I! But I am a real German, so I’ve gleaned a few nuggets from the mountain of online information on the subject. First, put a photo on your CV. Really. I know it’s discriminatory. I know it enables racists and size-ists and sleazy bosses hoping for a sexy assistant etc. But it’s what’s done here. No two ways about it. Photo-less CVs could get binned. Your cover letter and CV should be flawless: no typos, no bad grammar. If it’s in German, ask a well-educated native speaker to read through it for you. Don’t ramble on in your cover letter – keep it concise, structured and persuasive. Present yourself in a serious, credible way, addressing the most important requirements listed in the job ad. Avoid irony, overly informal language or quirky humour. Try not to toot your own horn: boasting about your “incredible organisational skills” or calling yourself an “outgoing, flexible, devoted team player” might be a little too much. Don’t write too much about your “personal motivation” or “passion”. What counts is hard facts – experience and education – so have your diplomas and certificates (including language courses) in order and ready. The interview itself is probably going to be more formal than it would be in your home country. Even at a supposedly cool start-up or chilled out café, it’s important to give a serious, reliable first impression. So: Show up exactly 10 minutes early, no earlier. Shake hands firmly and introduce yourself (first and surname). Always address the interviewer with Herr or Frau, never their first name, unless you’re invited to. Similarly, don’t sit down until you’re invited. Don’t be passive: look interested, and ask questions of your potential employer without sucking up. Remember, you’re also there to find out for yourself if you want to work for them. Speak with precision, stay calm and, again, stick to the facts – resist the urge to big things up. Don’t interrupt your interviewer or criticise current or former employers. Provide examples to demonstrate your achievements. Prepare to answer questions about challenges you had in previous jobs and credible explanations for gaps in your CV. Make eye contact… and don’t forget to smile!

Finally, for my readers, here are five New Year’s resolutions to help you integrate better into German life:

1. Watch Tatort (an insanely popular cop show set in a different German city every week) religiously in a bar every Sunday night.

2. If you’re over 25, sign up for a Riester-Rente (state-subsidised private pension plan).

3. Put on a pullover and slippers and turn down the heat by five degrees. Open up a Sparkonto with the savings.

4. Practice more precise Mülltrennung (and use that word in conversation): correctly separate and dispose of the individual plastic, paper and foil parts of every yoghurt cup.

5. Book your summer holiday now… for 2017!

Originally published in issue #145, January 2016.