Creating a corporate presence in another country is no small feat, and there’s lots to be learned during every step of the process. Even once you’ve established a base, taken care of international communication issues, and gotten things off the ground, you still need to hire local talent.

If you’ve screened job applicants before, it can be easy to assume that everything is going to work the same way as it does back home—but this is not the case. Each country has its own unique practices and expectations when it comes to etiquette, and job-searching etiquette contains some of the strictest rules. One of the most important parts of the job-seeking (and hiring) process is the resume, or curriculum vitae. It introduces you to the applicant: what they’ve done, where their knowledge lies, and what they feel they can bring to the position. A CV is more than just a list of previous jobs and acquired skills; it also shows that an applicant can work within a set of strict rules and communicate effectively in a formal manner. All those formatting requirements and resume writing tips aren’t just because employers are fussy; writing an effective CV is a challenge!

The CV formatting expectations in your home country may be very different from other nations; what looks professional and clean to you may seem sloppy and lazy elsewhere. So how can you tell if an applicant’s CV is worth perusing? Here’s what you need to know about the German Lebenslauf, or resume.

A German CV is Similar to a Data Sheet

The typical German CV is three to four pages long, presented in a formal fact-sheet style. It’s a sober list of experience and skills, free of the descriptive language which so many English-speaking job seekers spend time perfecting. German employers consider it egotistical to list your personal qualities and interests, and prefer straight, to-the-point notes on your work history and acquired skills.


Everyone who’s ever written a resume knows to put their name, address, and pertinent contact information at the top of the document. In Germany, employers expect a little more than your typical name and address; expect to see an applicant’s place and date of birth, marital status, and a passport-style photograph affixed to the upper right-hand corner of the CV. While the job listing may not ask that applicants include a photograph, as that can violate privacy laws, many consider it an unspoken requirement; the employers will expect to see one.


Lebenslaufs are typically laid out in a two-column format, with six major sections, the labels of which are always placed on the left column. The sections are:


  • Persönliche Angaben (Personal Details)
  • Berufliche Tätigkeit (Professional Experience)
  • Berufsausbildung und Schulbildung (Vocational Training and Education)
  • Praktika (Internships)
  • Computer und Sprachfertigkeiten (Computer and Language Skills).

In the left column, applicants place the name of the section, and then underneath it the reverse-chronological dates of the training or jobs they’re listing. They will describe each of these jobs/positions in the right column, across from the relevant date; under each job title, you should find a description of the role in short, keyword-rich sentences that jump to the most relevant details. In lieu of more personal details about the applicant’s interests or goals, many German job seekers will instead highlight their volunteer work, social commitments, and other positive contributions to their community.


It is unusual for German applicants to list references. This is because by law a company has to write a letter of recommendation for each employee that leaves the company. This is called a “Zeugnis” or, translated, a “report card” or “Testimonial.”. This will always include the name of the employee, his birth date, when he started work at the company, often his main duties, then some words on how he performed those duties and then a mention as to how they parted ways (was he let go or did he leave on his own accord) and what date he left. This is often included in an application as supporting documentation.


German job applicants may submit their CV in both English and German if the position indicates that both languages will be spoken; they may indicate their level of proficiency — whether they are a native speaker, ‘business fluent’, fluent, or have basic knowledge. A Lebenslauf will include a cover letter, which introduces the applicant a little more personally. And if you’ve advertised the job position online, expect applications to come in as .PDFs.

Of course, not every CV is identical, just as no job or applicant is identical. But this guide should provide a good start towards understanding the process of finding German employees and really getting your new business off the ground.