A Definitive Guide On How To Write A German Cover Letter – Looking for a job in Germany right now, applying for tons of positions, and finding that you’re not getting any responses? It happens to the best of us, even for those who work in highly demanded professions like software developers, marketing professionals, economists, etc.
Searching for a job, especially for a job that’s right for you, is a massive task that takes a lot of work, patience, and perseverance. When you add looking for a job in a foreign country like Germany into the mix, it’s even harder. You’re probably not familiar with the country’s norms when it comes to creating job applications and could unknowingly be making mistakes. What’s more, a lot of the information out there about how to write a German cover letter is often outdated and created by people who have no experience in recruiting.
The Berlin Life is here to help you move to Berlin and find work. As such, we’ve created a series of guides to take you through the process of creating a job application that will land you a job in Germany. To start, we recommend completing research on the company to which you’re applying and the next step is creating a German cover letter.
A Definitive Guide On How To Write A German Cover Letter
As you’re searching for a job in Berlin, or anywhere in Germany for that matter, have you asked yourself this question, “Do I need to write a German cover letter when I ‘m applying for jobs?” Other questions that people commonly ask? Are cover letters relevant when my CV already tells my story? Does anyone even read them? Should I work hard on personalizing one? These are all very valid thoughts to ponder.
I remember working for one company when a member of senior management asked “Why do people write cover letters? I never read them. I only want to see their CV and if it’s interesting, I’ll get in touch. I’m way too busy to read both cover letters and CVs.” A very fair point. His pain was also my pain, as I was reviewing several job applications each day, looking at people we could potentially add to our team. It was time-consuming and tedious to look at all of the applications, ensuring all those who applied were given a fair shot.
In an ideal world, the standard recruitment process would look very different than what it does right now. I could wax poetic about how much change is sorely needed to eliminate bias but alas, systemic change doesn’t happen overnight and we’re required to work within the constraints of the system we’re in at the moment.
So do you need a German cover letter? Yes, most definitely. Cover letters are relevant when you are applying for jobs in Berlin or elsewhere in Deutschland.
Not every single recruiter or hiring manager will read it (like that manager at my old company), but a lot of them will, with many even expecting to see one. There’s actually a small chance that not submitting a cover letter at all will result in an immediate rejection. A recruiter or hiring manager may think that if you didn’t put in the effort to make a cover letter, why should they even consider you for the job?
Some HR software scans submitted documents looking for certain keywords. A well crafted cover letter could help you bubble to the top of the candidate pool where you’re more likely to get noticed.
Also called a motivation letter in Germany (Motivationsschreiben), a cover letter is your chance to shine. You can tell the company why you want to work for them, explain how you are uniquely qualified for that role, and really make your personality come through. This is why personalizing the cover letter is really important. They need to see the real you and that you were thoughtful in your job application. If a cover letter is simply a regurgitation of the job description or a generic copy and paste text that you’ve used for every single job application ever, it will show and that company will be way less likely to contact you.
Think of it like this – when you go to the theatre to watch a movie, you’ll see trailers for upcoming flicks. They only last one or two minutes, but if the trailer is really good, they’ve hooked you, and eventually you’re going to watch that movie. Your cover letter letter is just like that movie trailer. It’s a little preview of your CV and you as a person. The main intention (aka call to action) of a cover letter is to make the person reading it want to know more. They’ll spend time reviewing your CV and hopefully, contact you for that first interview.
They want to see an effort from your side, are interested in why you want to work for them, learn why you’re the person for that job, and if you’re passionate about what you do. The cover letter should encompass all of these things and if it’s done well, will motivate the employer to contact you for an interview. Bottomline, the cover letter should tell a story that’s framed as a well written and compelling narrative.
So, write that cover letter! Most people do actually read them and a good cover letter will make potential employers want to take a closer look at your profile.
Essential German Cover Letter Tips
What are the most important things you need to think about when writing a German cover letter? Here’s our top tips to consider when you’re writing a cover letter.
1) Know How To Structure A German Cover Letter
Following a set structure helps make writing a cover letter way easier. Always include these key elements in a cover letter:
Salutation – Many job descriptions in Germany have a contact listed. Address your cover letter to that person using formal German greetings such as “Dear Herr Müller” or “Dear Frau Schmidt”. If no contact is listed or you’re unsure about which greeting to use (you don’t want to address someone as Herr when they’re a Frau for example), use a generic greeting such as “Dear hiring manager” or “To whom it may concern”.
Intro – Make your cover letter personal and not a generic cut and paste. Tell them about why you want to work there and be specific. Show you did your company research. i.e. You can say you’re impressed with the company culture or that you identify with their mission of sustainability and want to be part of their journey.
About You – You’ve told the company about why you want to work for them. What’s next? Use the job description to tell a story about why you’re uniquely qualified for the position using personal examples. Again, don’t regurgitate the job description and don’t write a novel – give them a preview, but not the whole story. Make them interested and leave them wanting to know more. Enough to contact you for an interview.
Closing – Let them know you would welcome a chance to discuss things further in an interview, tell them about your availability, and how to best get in touch.
2) Customize Your Cover Letter For Each Job Application
Yes, we know. It’s a lot of work to create a new cover letter every time you apply for a job, but sending the same cover letter out just won’t do anymore. You need to show employers you took time to research their company, tell them why you want to work there, and why they should hire you. Anything less makes it look like you’re not really interested in the role and could see your job application land in the recruiter’s NO pile.
3) Keep Your Cover Letter Short And To The Point
Keep the cover letter to a single page and not more than two to three paragraphs. Be succinct (i.e. avoid long wordy sentences or overuse of adjectives) and summarize, summarize, summarize. Pick key points to use from your CV or job description but don’t repeat things verbatim.
4) Tell The Truth On Your Cover Letter
Be humble and honest about things, like your education, work experience, level of German etc. It’s easy to lie or over exaggerate when you really want a job. We’ve all been told to fake it until we make it, and in many cases, it can work in your favour. But really – behaviour like this is completely unprofessional, not to mention unethical.
Not too long ago, I was shocked to read the LinkedIn profile of a former colleague who claimed to have led a high profile project for our company. That project wasn’t even started until after that person left. This colleague was taking credit for other people’s work and blatantly lying.
Such false claims could come back to haunt you. Berlin is small and people know each other – a potential employer may know someone at one of your former companies and informally reach out to them for information about you. It could cost you the job (even your reputation) if it becomes widely known that you’ve over exaggerated or lied about things.
Of course, be confident in your accomplishments and don’t undersell yourself. Just make sure you’re telling the truth.
5) Write Your Cover Letter In German
Writing the cover letter in German may help you get noticed by HR software or LinkedIn search engine algorithms.
Be careful and use your best judgement here though. It may backfire when they discover that your actual level of German doesn’t match your cover letter communication.
I talked to a recruiter once who shared a story about finding a dream candidate for a position. This person was applying from abroad and had submitted both their CV and cover letter in German. The first interview was scheduled and during the call, the recruiter was surprised to find the candidate didn’t know any German at all. They’d paid someone to translate their documents for them. Needless to say, the candidate was rejected for their false claims of knowing German.
If you decide to write your cover letter in German, in the very least, indicate your language level (like B1 or C1) very prominently on your CV and in your cover letter. Then the decision will be left with the employer if they still want to contact you.
6) Show Your Personality
Get creative and have fun with your cover letter. This may also mean breaking some of the “rules” we’ve outlined here.
Take unique approaches – perhaps give them a link to a video you made telling them why you want to work there. Share a sample of what you can do for them by sharing some insight on how you’d approach your job. Invite them to check out your social media.
The sky’s the limit. A unique cover letter will really help you stand apart from other candidates.
7) Make Your German Cover Letter Look Nice
You could just type of bunch of text into a Google document and send it off. But how about making your cover letter look nice using websites like Canva, where you can find beautiful and professional templates for free.
Other basic tips? Use a large and readable font (consider accessibility here), don’t make your paragraphs too long, and use sensible spacing to make your cover letter easier to read.
Your German CV should have a similar look and feel. This way, the cover letter and CV will appear as one fluid job application package.
8) Do A Final Quality Check
Make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors, get the company name and other details right, and if you can, have a second or third pair of eyes to review your cover letter. This can be a friend or someone you pay. This sounds really obvious and a point that shouldn’t even need to be made, but trust me, I’ve seen tons of job applications with errors on them.
My top tip? Join my Facebook community of more than 8,000 people and ask someone there for a cover letter exchange. Another person can review your cover letter and give you feedback and you can do the same for them.
Also, make sure the narrative in the letter flows well and it doesn’t appear as if it were written by a robot. i.e. You’ve listed a bunch of keywords and just thrown in them in for the sake of getting noticed vs putting together a well written letter.
9) Don’t Use Automatic Text Generators
You need to write your own cover letters – or in the very least, hire a professional to help. While there are some awesome text generators out there (i.e. Speedwrite), it doesn’t make any sense at all to use such a tool for cover letters.
First and foremost, a lot of these generators yield text that just doesn’t make sense. It will read as if it were written by a robot and not only that, not sound like you. A cover letter should be a reflection of you and how you communicate.
Most importantly, a cover letter needs to be unique and not unique in the sense that a tool spits out an alternative text that says exactly the same thing but in a slightly different way. You need to tell the employer why you like their company and show you did your research, by looking at Glassdoor reviews, browsing through their website, reading their press releases etc. You then need to show why you’re fit for that position, by drawing on points from their job description and backing it up with examples from your experience, education, and more.
While there are some elements of a cover letter that you can use over and over, we don’t recommend using such tools.
Buy our detailed step-by-step cover letter eBook, outlining exactly how to structure a cover letter for the German job market. We also provide a unique framework for you to follow that will work for any cover letter you ever write.
Bottomline, a well written cover letter that tells a short story about why you want to work for that company and how you’re uniquely qualified for that job is going to get you noticed.
How The Berlin Life Can Help You
1) If you like this post, check out some of our other free guides about working in Berlin:
- The Reality Of Finding Work In Berlin In 2021 – Is it easy to find work in Berlin? Learn about some the realities of finding a job in Berlin during normal times, never mind during COVID-19.
- What Are The Best Berlin Job Search Websites? – Many people feel overwhelmed knowing where to search for jobs in Berlin. Bookmark our best Berlin job search websites list to get started.
- Why Knowing Salary Ranges In Germany Is Essential – Know salary ranges in Germany for your profession, as it’s one of the first things companies will ask about during the recruitment process.
2) Get support from our growing community on Facebook – connect with other job seekers, be invited to career workshops, ask questions, be alerted to new job opportunities, and more.
3) Start building your professional network in Berlin on LinkedIn, by adding yourself to our connection list.
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