How To Prepare My CV – The German Way (Lebenslauf)
Last updated: 17 April 2020 / by Jack Harper
A well-made CV (Lebenslauf) is your golden ticket to securing a job in Germany. Getting it right, however, isn’t all that easy. Employers usually take around 10 seconds of reading a CV to decide if the candidate is viable.
Your CV must, therefore, stand out while remaining short and simple. German employers value facts over fluff so that a successful CV will list skills and experience without the use of jargon or embellishment.
There is no single correct way to craft a German CV, but here are some tips to get you on the right track.
First impressions count for everything, and the visual design of your CV will be the first thing that the recruiter notices. You don’t need fancy formatting or a unique layout. These should be actively avoided. The most important thing is that the document is easily readable.
- Stick to a simple top to bottom page layout. The recruiter won’t enjoy having to navigate a dodgy layout just to find any relevant information
- Use a font size of 11-12, as this is standard for a German CV format
- Avoid fancy fonts
- Use bold texts and underlines where appropriate, but don’t overdo it
- Avoid using colored text
- Avoid large, dense bodies of text
Use bullet points wherever possible
- CVs will vary in length, but they should be no longer than two pages.
To make things easier, you can download one of these free German CV templates.
There are a few different ways of arranging the sections of your CV, but we recommend the following order:
The first part of any CV should outline the candidate’s details. It should include:
- First and last name
- Contact information
- Date of birth + age
- Marital status
It is also common for German CVs to contain a picture. If you do include a picture, it should be of high quality, passport sized, and professional-looking – no holiday pics!
In terms of the address, you should follow this German address format:
Street name and number, postal code, country (if outside of Germany).
EXAMPLE: Kronostraße 19, 10969 Berlin
Professional summary/ profile (optional)
It is highly recommended that you include a professional summary or profile section, known as a profil. This should briefly introduce your professional experience and skills. If done right, it can be an effective introduction to the rest of your CV.
Your previous work experience will be the meat of your CV. It should be listed in reverse chronological order, starting with your current or most recent employment.
For each position, include the company name, the dates you worked there, your job title, and a list of three to six bullet points outlining your key responsibilities. Try to keep it factual, outlining any achievements, and tailoring it to the job in question wherever possible.
The employer will want to be familiar with your educational background. Start with your most recent education and work in reverse, going back to secondary school.
You should include the name of each institution, dates you attended, programs you studied, and grades you achieved. You might also want to mention specific modules, especially if they are relevant to the position.
This section provides an excellent opportunity for you to illustrate your viability for the role further. Here you can outline any skills, training, or proficiencies you have, be them in technology, language, or anything else.
You may also use this section to list any accomplishments outside of work and education, giving the recruiter a better sense of your achievements.
Interests and hobbies (optional)
Though most hiring managers in Germany will be uninterested in your extra-curricular activities, it might be worth mentioning a hobby or two if they are relevant to the role. Otherwise, this is a section that you can safely leave out.
Germany has a somewhat unique and specific work culture. Some countries, such as America, are inclined towards CVs written with flare. To impress an American recruiter, you would probably pad your resume with various sentiments of a less factual nature. An American CV is akin to self-marketing – the louder it sings, the more it’ll stand out.
This is not the case in Germany. Though CVs are an international idea, a German CV must adapt to the Deutschland way of doing things.
A Lebenslauf should be designed as more of a factual document than a marketing product. It should outline tangible accomplishments and measurable skills rather than abstract sentiments.
This is also why German CVs don’t contain any form of ‘aspirations’ section. Any mention of hopes, goals, and ambitions should be left for the cover letter.
On your Lebenslauf, focus instead on what you have achieved in your working and academic life up to this point, with minimal embellishment. Business jargon, buzzwords, or fluffy language won’t land well with German recruiters.
When listing your previous work experience, it isn’t necessary to present your entire work history. For instance, that paper round job you had when you were 15 isn’t going to help convince the hiring manager that you’re right for the accountancy job.
If you do choose to mention all previous jobs held, there’s no need to go into any detail on the older, more irrelevant ones. By pruning your CV, you can optimize its relevance to the role and make it more digestible.
On the topic of relevance, it’s also essential to tailor your CV to specific applications. Unfortunately, it’s rarely the case that one size fits all. Recruiters are usually able to spot a CV that attempts to appeal to a number of different jobs and companies.
Researching a company and tailoring your CV to suit its needs can become rather time-consuming, but it might give you the edge you need to land an interview.
The language used when describing your professional activity, and work experiences should be active rather than passive. Companies want people who are proactive go-getters rather than passive responders.
Finally, your CV should be thoroughly proofread. Sending a CV that’s riddled with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes is a sure-fire way to turn off a recruiter instantly. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – four eyes see far more than two.
English or German?
If the job doesn’t require an advanced command of the German language, then it’s perfectly OK to send a CV written in English. The job post will usually specify whether or not they need CVs to be written in German.
Attempting to translate your CV into German where it is not necessary, can actually hinder your chances rather than help them. The German language has many rules, nuances, and tricks which can make it rather challenging to grasp.
A direct translation done by the likes of Google won’t be good enough – grammar will collapse and meanings will be distorted. Most German recruiters will be instantly put off by dodgy linguistics.
It would be best to seek a professional translation service if you are not yet suitably familiar with the German language. But again, in many cases, it simply isn’t worth it.
Of course, if you do possess the language ability to translate your CV into German successfully, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. It demonstrates a commitment to German working life and essentially doubles your employability.
Germany’s work culture is driven by efficiency, and your Lebeslauf should reflect just that. Employers will appreciate a CV that is well-organized, sufficiently formatted, clear, and direct. Keep in simple, and the interviews will come rolling in.