Designing the perfect German CV: Our three golden rules for you to follow.

By Jörg Kleis

Designing a German CV that wins jobs...

...is not rocket science. And yet, it should be a piece of engineering if you want to do it right - your personal piece of diligent engineering. What is important in this regard is that there is not “the German CV”. Because that just conveys the false impression that following “the German outline” will take care of everything else. That is a common misunderstanding. The German CV outline only provides you with your starting point, your coordinates and your map. You will still have to find your target and climb the rocky road that gets you there.

Preliminary remarks … about form and format

What is important is when it comes to form and format is that you do not exceed 2 pages, even with 30 years of experience. You should leave plenty of white spaces on each page. Don’t cram your CV. Instead, leave a margin by sticking to the A4 format in MS Word of at least 2,0/2,5cm at the top/bottom as well as to the left/right. Also, stick to one font only. Only in exceptional cases, e.g. you feel it will raise your chances, should you use two fonts. Instead, you can switch between two (not more!) font sizes, bold letters, italics and colored differentiations (again, not more than two!).

… and about content and design

Many candidates do not understand that a CV is like a personal business card that tells a story, like a portrait of yourself. Treat it with the same respect as you pay to yourself. If you yourself are not entirely convinced that it is a convincing CV – there is no use in sending it off. So, please don’t! It also means that you should have friends and professionals always proofread your CV. Furthermore, your CV needs to mirror the addressee (company, university, scholarship provider), not just in terms of content, but in terms of design and style. Check their website and outer appearance for that. For example, think about how you would design your CV for this company?

The general outline of a German CV

The standard structure for a German CV contains the following sections from top to bottom: Personal details, work experience, education, skills (including language) and interests. You finish off by putting in the place and date of submission as well as an electronic signature (*.jpg). Oh, and before we turn to the various sections: Do not include an introductory paragraph about yourself at the top of your CV (“A motivated, independent, hard-working professional with expertise in…”). We know that this is common, especially in many English-speaking countries, but not in Germany.

Personal details

If you decide to include a photo it must be a professional headshot. In Germany, recruiters and hiring managers will judge your professionalism by the image you create of yourself. Full name (First, last) then mobile number, email address, skype name, physical address including country and nationality (to show if there is a need for a visa) are the standard elements here. Tipp: Also insert a link to your LinkedIn / Xing profile and your GitHub account here. Put in your birth date (not mandatory by law, but makes the recruiter’s life easier). Marital Status and number of children are optional.

Work experience

Start with your most recent job first. Include the name of your employing company, the dates you worked for them (month and year!) and also add the location. Truthfully state your work status: Have you been employed, a freelancer, an intern? Always state your position clearly. If you worked in several jobs for the same company, put it in, especially if you started with a junior job and are now in a senior position. This shows that you can grow in and with a company. Your career history should not contain any gaps.

Education

Keep in mind to include the names of all institutions as well as the date you attended them (including month and year). This should be stated in reverse order: university before school. It always makes sense to list what the concrete result of an education was (i.e. university degree or certificate). In case you achieved great results or grades, this is the time to show off and state them (e.g: A-results, achieved 96% etc.).

Skills

This is where you include foreign language skills. But only the genuine ones, please. The Recruiter will find out anyway. They will test you and they will know if you are really fluent or if your ability to read is at C1 level. Did you have any recent training or development that is relevant to the role applied for? Mention it here. Your IT and computer skills need to be specified here. Please list every piece of information that might qualify you for the role. You can also describe the degree of your skills by using bars.

Hobbies or (some prefer that…) Interests

This can help you further introduce yourself as a person by showing what you like to do in your free time. Also, could the hobby be relevant for the job or working environment, for instance playing computer games for an e-games software company? Reflect on how they portray you as a person. A hobby can also show your wider personal interest.

Our three golden rules for you to follow

What I always found most intriguing is that most coachees and job applicants care about the outline of the German CV because they feel this gives them a level of security. They say: Finally I have something to hold on to. I say: Yes, the outline matters. But what matters even more is what you put in and how. For that reason we developed three golden rules which we always share:

Golden Rule No. 1: Be tidy - don’t be sloppy

We know hiring managers that say: “Oh boy, when I find the first typo, they are out!” Germans are very particular when it comes to spelling. So, use your autocorrect! You can install Grammarly or one of those funky add-ons to your browser, you can have a friend proofread. Just make sure you do not diminish your chances by something as trivial as a typo.  Another issue is about your format. You can choose the format you like, i.e. font, font size, line spacing. But, please be concise. Stick to it and avoid spaces in between words and use the tab button instead of the space bar. If you decide to leave two empty paragraphs or lines between the sections of work experience and education, then you must apply that rule of yours with all sections, not just with one! (Independent of how many spaces you use within these sections.)

These are worst-practice examples. But keep in mind: If your CV is designed with mistakes like these, they are going to interpret that as a lack of competencies. They will believe that any mistake is somehow related to your skills as a professional. They will think you lack skills to work in a clean fashion, or even lack self-organization skills. Furthermore, your CV should not contain the words "me", or "she" or "mine". We suggest using a telegraphic style like “Design of XYZ”, or “Achieved XYZ”. So, do not use full sentences. Avoid punctuation errors like “… I have done that full stop - comma now I do this…” and use commas correctly, which means you use a space after each comma not before! (Again, we have seen it all before.)

Golden Rule No. 2: Be you, but stick to the essentials

This one is probably the most important one. Never itemize all details of your work history. Only include content that might be interesting for the role and that shows skills, expertise or knowledge you gained which may add value to your potential employer. What we are saying here: Not all things are equally important. If they were, they would become equally unimportant - which means that nothing stands out. Balance the importance of your experiences for each position.

This also means that in your “professional experience” section, you should clearly describe your position and your responsibilities and - again - always use the same format. That means, the name of the company you worked for, maybe the industry it operates in and the location(s) of the job(s), followed by the position or title, and then 3-7 bullet points of your key tasks and achievements. Every role has responsibilities and achieved goals. Mention your achievements that are relevant for the job you are applying for. So you demonstrate and quantify duties and responsibilities and present proof (numbers, figures, percentages, …). When filling your bullet points, try to avoid spongy expressions (e.g. “functioned as a team player, creating synergies with exceptional communication skills to deliver concrete solutions and pro-actively implemented core competencies.”). Competencies need to be proven through facts. This means, again, you need to show what you achieved!

Golden Rule No. 3: Keep adapting - keep enhancing

There is no one-size-fits-all. You need to adapt your CV to each role you are applying for. This does not mean you have to rewrite everything again and again, but you should much rather make the right amount of adaptations for each job or company. The reason is that each company is different, each role is different, the expectations are different. So, please invest your time here. Companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) more often. An ATS collects, sorts, scans and ranks the resumes received. It checks the CVs mainly for keywords which are used in the JD. This is also why it is important to adjust your CV to every position you apply to, to make sure that it reaches the hiring manager. What can help as a first step is that with your research on the companies, you will get an impression of the most common skills and tasks required. Use this information as a basis to adapt your CV.

If you require any assistance regarding your CV, cover letter or any other part of your application and recruiting process, feel free to reach out! We will be glad to assist you. And now we wish you all the best of success with your application! Viel Erfolg!

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