HOW TO WRITE A GERMAN CV THAT WILL GET YOU INTERVIEWS
Many foreigners applying for jobs in Germany from abroad or those who are already in Germany looking for work often find themselves not getting any responses to their job applications.
This can happen for several reasons, but among them are people being unfamiliar with German CV standards, following outdated practices and bad advice, having a poor CV design, and a myriad of other mistakes.
We’re here to take the mystery out of writing a German CV, teach you how to craft a stand-out CV on your own, and share best practices.
Recommended reading: A Definitive Guide On How To Write A German Cover Letter
LET’S WRITE A GERMAN CV TOGETHER
The Difference Between A CV And A Resume
What’s the difference between a CV and a resume?
We get this question from our community a lot! For as long as I’ve been in Germany, I thought they were the same thing due to people using both words interchangeably in conversations. However similar, there is a textbook difference according to online sources.
1) CV – A CV (curriculum vitae) is a long-form document spanning multiple pages that presents an exceptionally detailed view of your experience, education, skills, and achievements. These long-form CVs are used more in academia than anywhere else. More common are “CV summaries,” where you condense your CV into a short one or two-page brief. CVs tend to be extremely direct and to the point, using fact-based sentences without excessive use of adjectives or flowery language.
2) Resume – Resumes, common in places like the United States, are more of a personal marketing brochure intentionally designed to advertise a person’s experience, education, skills, and experience. As these documents are usually heavy on self-promotion, you may observe a higher frequency of buzzwords, longer sentences, and slight exaggerations.
Neither format is better than the other, and in our opinion, a combination of the two is the perfect blend when you’re writing your German CV. You need to convey factual information about yourself while hyping yourself up at the same time. As such, this is the approach we advocate in this CV guide.
How To Format A German CV
One of the first things you need to think about when putting together your German CV is the format:
In the small column, you can include any of these CV elements:
1) Contact Information
5) Training & Certifications
6) Visa Status
7) Web Site(s)
8) Social Profiles
The wider column can then be used for detailing your professional experience and related accomplishments.
The example on the left should give you a rough idea of what your CV could look like.
Design Considerations For German CVs
There are other things that you need to consider when designing a German CV:
1) Use an attractive design that looks professional and something which you took care and time to complete. A German CV should never look like it’s something that was thrown hastily together, as it will seem that you didn’t put much thought or effort into crafting the document. When job hunting, first impressions matter a lot and a well-designed CV is vital to help create that first positive view of you as a potential employee.
There are numerous CV builders out there and our favorites include:
All of these services are free or budget-friendly. There’s no need to spend much money to create a visually appealing CV.
2) When writing a German CV, you must consider accessibility and how easy your CV is to read. Using the correct font size is essential, as is using an appropriate font.
According to Indeed, these are the best fonts for CVs:
- Times New Roman
In terms of font size, they recommend using a 10 – 12 size font.
3) You can add more style to your CV by using upper case, bolding, italicizing, or underlining. Bulleted and numbered lists are also suitable for CVs. Whatever style you choose, be sure to apply it consistently. i.e., If you bold a heading and use a slightly larger font size, do this for all headings.
You may read in some publications that Germans don’t like to see style applied to CVs. It’s an unfortunately false stereotype that I see perpetuated all too often. While content matters, so is having a nice-looking CV.
That said, don’t go overboard on your design to the point where it overpowers your content. The last thing you want is for the reader to miss out on valuable information about you because they find it hard to read.
Be aware that some applicant tracking systems (ATS) can’t read CVs when using tools like Canva. Keep your CV as simple and minimal as possible – don’t include graphics and use readable and large enough fonts.
The Length Of a German CV
German CVs tend to be one to two pages maximum. Our advice to help keep your CV brief and to the point:
1) Avoid wordy descriptions and the excessive use of adjectives.
2) Don’t repeat the same responsibilities over and over if you’ve held the same role in more than one company. Read more about this topic in the professional experience section down below. 👇 👇 👇
3) Only list relevant certifications, trainings, and conferences, and even then, no more than a handful. It’s quality vs quantity here. If you feel like to want to show employers a more detailed view, link to your website or LinkedIn profile instead, so those interested can go there to learn more.
4) If you’ve had a longer career, skip listing what you did at those first jobs and only detail what you did in your more recent (and relevant) positions. You can even omit those first jobs you had, as well as irrelevant jobs.
For example, before I started university I worked at a fast food restaurant, during university as a bartender, and fresh out of school as an administrative assistant for an HR consulting company. It was only a couple of years into my working life that I established myself as a project manager. As that’s since been my main career. I never include any of these first jobs on my current CV.
5) As with cover letters, don’t write a novel and summarize, summarize, summarize.
6) You may read in some publications that CVs spanning multiple pages are acceptable. I personally don’t believe this to be true, as it will be rare for a recruiter or hiring manager to spend more than a few minutes looking at your CV. In fact, industry stats say that recruiters typically only a handful of seconds on your CV.
In other words, brevity is your friend here. Detailed information can always be provided or uncovered later on during the recruitment process in interviews or workshops.
The main purpose of the CV is to make them interested enough to take you to the next stage which is the first interview.
An About Me Blurb On Your CV
An “About Me” blurb is one of the most important elements on your CV:
Start your CV with a few sentences that tell the world about who you are, professionally speaking. Think of it as a sort of “in the nutshell summary”. This is where you can truly show off your personality. A well-written “About Me” statement can make you stand apart from the crowd and like a cover letter, it acts as a teaser that leaves employers curious to know more.
It should be two to three sentences long and explain what you do for a living, things you’re passionate about, and the value you can deliver to companies.
I work as an Agile Coach, and this is my current “About Me” blurb:
An IT project manager turned enthusiastic Scrum Master and then passionate Agile Coach. A servant leader supporting organizations in their agile journey, guiding departments, teams, and individuals to develop to their fullest potential.
This statement covers my career journey and deep experience (IT project manager to Agile Coach), articulates the value I bring (supporting organizations in their agile journey), and what I love doing as a professional (guiding departments, teams, and individuals to develop to their fullest potential).
Some people will tell you that this CV element is optional, but I strongly disagree with this point. If a recruiter or hiring manager is only going to spend a few seconds looking at your CV, you want to give them a summary and feature it prominently at the top of your CV, compelling them to read it right away.
Professional Experience On A German CV
For each place you’ve worked, include:
- Your company name
- Title or role
- Start and end dates
- Responsibilities and/or accomplishments
- What the company does in one or two sentences (optional)
- URL to the company website (optional)
What to consider when listing out your professional experience:
1) Your points should never be a list of common job duties or responsibilities. For example, when I worked as a Scrum Master, one of my responsibilities was to facilitate agile rituals with my team. As this is a universal part of any Scrum Master’s job, you need to build on that more. I could take it further and say:
Facilitated agile rituals with my teams, including regular planning, grooming, and retrospective sessions, continually improving their effectiveness.
The more specific you can be the better, especially if you can qualify it with numbers. As a Scrum Master, you typically work with software engineers to ship new features to the company’s websites, apps, etc. So a Scrum Master could say something like this:
Led a team of 8 engineers to deliver a rebranded company website that resulted in a 25% increase in sales and 1,000 new registered users.
2) It’s not uncommon for people who’ve held the same role at more than one company to repeat the same responsibilities multiple times throughout their CV. For example, a person who works as a team lead usually holds regular “one on one” meetings with the people they manage. This person may have been a team lead at three different companies and in such a case, there’s no need to repeat this responsibility three different times. Find a way to convey the points differently or highlight another aspect of your job as a team lead instead.
3) What’s better is finding a way to showcase your responsibilities and accomplishments in a single point. Continuing with the team lead example, you could say something more specific like:
Worked with my employee to develop a personal growth roadmap that led to her becoming a team lead within one year.
See how much better that reads? It implies regular meetings with the employee and shows how the team lead worked with that individual to grow into a similar role.
4) Start all of your bullet points with action or power verbs such as led, oversaw, created, developed, etc. Check out this useful list of Synonyms For Common Resume Power Verbs for more inspiration.
Some other things to think about:
– Try not to use the same words too many times.
– Make sure the verbs are in the correct tense. All past jobs should be in the past tense and any current work in the present tense.
An example in the past tense:
Authored and maintained technical documents for all feature releases.
An example of the present tense:
Author and maintain technical documents for all feature releases.
– Use verbs that convey authority and come across more strongly. Take the following examples:
Facilitated regular onboarding workshops for all newbies to the company.
Led regular onboarding workshops for all newbies to the company.
While both of the above sentences are true, using the verb led is more impactful to the reader.
When You Don’t Have Experience Just Yet
‘How can you make your German CV stronger when you’re just starting out?
If you’re fresh out of school or have minimal experience, there are other things you can do to strengthen your German CV. You can highlight:
- Projects you’ve worked on
- Meet-ups you regularly go to or speak at
- Books you’ve read recently
- Conferences you’ve attended or speak at
- Volunteer work you do or have done
i.e., A newbie software engineer may talk about contributing to open source projects, or a newbie UX designer could talk about some of their design projects completed while in school.
It’s most ideal if the things you include here are professionally relevant.
Career Gaps On German CVs
What if you have career gaps?
If you have gaps on your CV for any reason, such as taking a sabbatical, going on parental leave, returning to school, or something else, there’s no need to indicate this on your CV. It’s not relevant to whether or not you’re qualified for a job.
Other CV guides may tell you to do this because you run the risk of giving a “bad impression” to your potential employer, but honestly, would you want to work for someone who demands to know why you took a year off and won’t hire you if you don’t divulge that information? It’s frankly none of their business.
People need to take breaks now more than ever for whatever reason. In a world where we face increasing levels of uncertainty and an endless barrage of catastrophic global events, we should all be a little more empathetic with one another and not concern ourselves with something as inconsequential as a career gap. Instead, we should concern ourselves with whether or not someone has the capability to do the job at hand.
If you still want to include reasons for career gaps on your CV, Indeed has some great tips about how to approach employment gaps.
In any case, if the employer is really curious, they can ask you more during an interview. Just know that even then, you don’t have any obligation to go into much detail about why weren’t working for those periods.
What to do when you’ve changed careers:
You shouldn’t be afraid to show past experience on your German CV, even if it’s not directly relevant to your current career. Sure, you don’t need to include those part-time jobs you did during university or list out every single job you ever did (I once did a freelance writing assignment where I authored sex guides to various cities when I was short on cash), but if you have good experiences, include them.
You gained experience in those past jobs, honed new skills, or further improved existing ones. However, it would be ideal if you could word your points to make them relevant to your current career. Doing so will demonstrate how transferrable your experience and skills are to your new career.
Optional Elements Of A German CV
These are some optional items you could add to your German CV to make it even stronger:
1) Website – Link to your portfolio or blog, showcasing you and/or your work.
2) Social Profiles – LinkedIn, Github, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
3) Volunteer Work – Anything you do outside of work, whether it’s related to your profession or something more personal.
4) Passion Projects / Side Hustles – Things that do outside of normal work hours, even if it doesn’t relate to your day job. Take me for example – I’m more than just a coach. In addition to my day job, I run a travel blog and this site, The Berlin Life. Yes, I never stop working. 🙃
5) Hobbies – A list of what you love doing. Maybe you’re an aspiring chef, ardent cyclist, or wine connoisseur. I like putting things like this on my CV, as it feels authentic, relatable, and interesting. I make it a practice to ask candidates about these things in an interview as they’re nice icebreakers.
It’s up to you to decide if you want to include these optional CV elements. Not all companies are that cool or forward-thinking, especially more traditional German companies or industries. I’d recommend checking out the vibe of the company first. You can get an idea by browsing the company website, reading Glassdoor reviews, and observing how they present themselves as an employer on social media, etc.
Recommended reading: Researching German Companies During Your Job Search
Ultimately, the choice is yours. You should include what you think makes you look like your best self, will enhance your overall CV, and most accurately represent you as a person.
Information That You Should Not Include On Your German CV
Despite what a lot of German employment guides tell you, there are certain things that you shouldn’t include on your CV:
1) Avoid sharing too much personal information – Many will tell you that in Germany, it’s normal and even required to share things like marital status, date of birth, country of birth, as well as how many children you have on your CV.
Traditional companies may still expect this as it previously was the norm, but you don’t need to provide this data. Some German companies (like the one I currently work for) are asking applicants not to include this information in their job applications.
2) Maybe leave out a photo as well – Photos are yet another unfortunate factor that could add bias during the recruitment process. Use your best judgment and do whatever makes you feel comfortable when adding photos to your CV.
Recommended reading: German CV Photos – Are They Even Necessary?
If you decide to feature a photo on your German CV, keep it professional looking and/or aligned with the general culture of the companies to which you’re applying. Typically, a simple headshot does the trick.
I’d also recommend keeping your photo on the small side and not something that takes up an entire page of your CV. Such a prominent and large photo can come across as a bit much unless you’re applying for a job where such photos are commonplace like an acting or modeling gig.
For even more tips, read our guide about common German CV mistakes.
Customizing German CVs
Many people ask if German CVs need to be customized in the same way as cover letters:
CVs don’t always need to be customized for individual applications. It depends on the role for which you’re applying.
You could make minor tweaks to better position yourself for a job or build on some points from the job description, but no more than that is needed.
Some ways you can customize your German CV:
1) If you have a skills section, you can change up some of the phrases to match a job description.
2) You can slightly rephrase a job responsibility or accomplishment to align with the wording in the job description as well.
Note, that the words don’t need to be an exact match as it will be really obvious that you’re keyword stuffing. You can make them sound similar though while appearing as natural as possible.
Say you’re applying for a job as an accounts payable specialist and you have about five years of experience. The job description calls for experience with processing employee expense claims and using various ERP systems.
Your current CV might say:
Review and process supplier invoices.
You could slightly alter this statement to read:
Review and process supplier invoices and employee expensive claims using SAP.
Using Keywords On A German CV
When crafting a CV in Germany, be strategic about how much you use keywords:
Try not to go overboard with keyword stuffing. Be strategic about how many points or words you pull from the job description and add to your CV.
I’ve read CVs that are multiple pages where someone has listed every conference they’ve attended or training they took over a 10-year period. Avoid long lists like this and only include what’s relevant for the role to which you’re applying.
While keyword stuffing techniques may help the reader recognize you have the right qualifications, your CV could come across as if it were written by a robot in the sense it won’t sound genuine and anything like you. Even worse, it will frustrate your reader, which is the last thing you want to happen when someone is reviewing your CV.
Keep your German CV as natural sounding as possible while still adding in key points you want to convey.
Writing Your CV In German
Some people recommend writing your CV in German to get noticed by ATS’, as it’s more likely your profile will bubble up to the top of search rankings.
Honestly, this might actually work! That said, be careful and use your best judgment. It could backfire if they discover your actual level of German doesn’t match the level of your job application.
At the very least, indicate your language level very clearly and feature it very prominently on your CV.
Recommended reading: Are There English Speaking Jobs In Germany?
Proofreading Your CV
Run a quality check on your CV by:
- Ensure there are no typos or grammatical errors
- Check that the formatting is consistent
- Ensure there’s a logical flow of information
- See that links don’t lead to broken pages
If possible, have a second or third pair of eyes review your cover letter. It could be a friend or family member or even someone you pay.
You can also post in our Facebook group and ask fellow members to take a look and give you feedback.
There are a lot of tools out there offering free CV reviews, like ResumeWorded and Top CV. They can certainly be helpful but I’d advise you not to take all of their recommendations seriously and only follow the ones that make sense and feel right for you. The reviews are done via an automated process, meaning no human eyes are taking a look at your CV. The recommendations provided often reinforce outdated industry practices, contradict what some of their competitors say, and reflect job application norms of countries outside of Germany.
I ran my CV through some of these tools as a test and advised me not to include an about me statement, as well as hobbies. I disregarded this advice entirely. 🤡
Being Honest On Your CV
Being truthful on your German CV is especially important:
Be honest about your education, work experience, professional accomplishments, and language levels. Exaggerations or bald-faced lies could come back to haunt you and set false expectations with your potential new employer.
I’ve seen colleagues use the word manager in their job titles when they didn’t have anyone reporting to them. Another colleague claimed to lead a project that only started after they left.
Berlin’s small, and people talk. It’s likely the same in other parts of the country. A potential employer may know someone at your former company and reach out to them for information. If this happens and it’s found you misled your potential employer, it could cost you not only the job but your reputation.
If you follow our advice, we’re confident that you’ll be hearing from employers in no time, and that you’ll soon find a job in Germany.
Written by an experienced hiring manager & career coach, follow our expert guide on how to write a German cover and secure a job in Germany.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about applying for jobs in Germany. Let’s help you sort it out by avoiding these German CV mistakes.
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