An Expat’s Guide To German CVs: Do’s, Don’ts, and Tips for Success!

Making the decision to live and work in Germany can be an exciting life adventure, but it can also pose certain challenges for expats looking to navigate the hiring market. What was expected in your native country might not necessarily be the same as what is expected in Germany, so it’s important you understand cultural preferences and professional standards in your new homeland.

In this article, we’ll be giving you a comprehensive overview of how to write a German CV, along with some extra pointers to help you feel comfortable and confident throughout the application process.

How to write a German CV (Lebenslauf)

Our German neighbours have a reputation as being pretty straightforward folk, and the same holds true in their CV preferences. That means avoiding too much waffle or corporate jargon, and trying to get to the point when listing your skills and experience. Unlike in the US and in some sectors in the UK, your CV isn’t a sales pitch – it’s a factual rundown of your professional journey.

German CV structure

The structure of CVs in Germany is similar to those of the rest of the world in many ways, with some slight differences:

Personal information (Persönliche Angaben)

This section should include your full name, address, phone number, email address, and date of birth. If you’re using a German phone number then include it, if not, consider adding additional details like a Skype ID. Although it used to be standard to include details like your nationality and marital status on your CV in Germany, nowadays you don’t need to. However, if you live abroad and are in the process of applying for a work visa, it’s useful to let your potential employer know.

Although it’s not mandatory to include a photo in your CV, some German employers will expect you to do this. For this reason, many candidates choose to add one. If you do, it should be placed in the upper right-hand corner. You could also include a link to your LinkedIn profile if you choose.

Work experience (Berufserfahrung)

As is standard elsewhere in the world, you should list your employment details in reverse chronological order, including the company name, dates of employment, and a brief description of your responsibilities. If you’ve always previously been employed in your home country, it’s also helpful to provide a brief description of the companies you’ve previously worked for.

Education (Bildung)

Provide the names of institutions you went to, the dates you attended, the programme you studied, and the grades you achieved. In other countries such as the UK it’s generally advised not to include lower-level education such as college or secondary, but in Germany, this is expected.

Other skills and achievements (Sonstiges)

In this section, you should include any other skills, qualifications and achievements relevant to the role. This might include fluency in additional languages, relevant certifications, and technical skills. German employers appreciate a comprehensive overview of your capabilities, so be specific.

Should I include hobbies and interests in a German CV?

Typically, no. However, if you have any outside interests that you feel are especially relevant to the role and help build a more comprehensive picture of your skillset, go ahead.

What language should I write my German CV in?

Your CV should be written in either English or German. If you’re confident in your German language skills and you know you’ll be expected to speak it in your new role, opting for German is a good idea. If you won’t be expected to communicate much in German or you’re not confident in your language skills, opt for English.

Of course, if you write your CV in English and you are going to be expected to communicate in German in your new role, make a point of mentioning any language courses you’re taking in order to improve your skills.

You can also indicate your language ability by referring to the Common European Framework of Reference, which uses letters to describe different language proficiency levels:

A – Basic user

A1 – Breakthrough or beginner

A2 – Waystage or elementary

B – Independent user

B1 – Threshold or intermediate

B2 – Vantage or upper intermediate

C – Proficient user

C1 – Effective operational efficiency

C2 – Mastery or proficiency

Remember – there’s a good chance your employer will conduct the interview in the same language you use on your CV and may choose to converse with you in German at your indicated proficiency level, so be honest. Don’t be tempted to use AI tools like ChatGPT for anything other than inspiration or a quick spelling and grammar check – recruiters are quick to spot this, and it may undermine your credibility.

Other points to note

German CVs typically conclude with a date, location and signature. The date and location go on the bottom left, while your signature goes on the bottom right. For your signature, it’s fine to scan it and add it as an image, or use a PDF editing tool to include a digital signature. Remember to keep the layout simple – German employers likely won’t appreciate unusual fonts or adventurous layouts. Instead, stick to Times New Roman or Arial and maintain a clean, professional appearance.

The ‘Bewerbungsmappe’ (application dossier)

In English CVs, it’s typical to include details of referees so that a new employer can make contact if they wish. In Germany, things work differently. Instead, German employers will expect you to include references as part of the application process. You’ll likely also be expected to include copies of certifications and qualifications you mention on your CV. So, before you embark on expat life, make sure you get these things in order!

Your CV, references and cover letter make up what is known as a ‘Bewerbungsmappe’ or ‘application dossier’. If you’re invited to an interview, it’s a good idea to bring all of this along with you. If you’re an experienced candidate you might end up with quite a few documents, so it’s ideal to organise them all neatly into a folder.

Ultimately, the differences between German CVs and the rest of the world might not seem like much, but understanding them and making the effort to embrace the nuances can set you apart as an expat. It’s a reflection of your cultural adaptability, attention to detail, and respect for German professional standards.

Got your German CV sorted? Now all that’s left to do is find the perfect role! At GR4, we recruit for some of the most exciting and innovative tech companies across Germany, and welcome applications from EU and non-EU citizens alike. Check out our live roles here, or upload your CV and we’ll be in touch.  

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