Friday, December 11, 2009

Kultur Shock at the Workplace - Job applications

Now that I have a job that actually requires that I work from somewhere other than home, I thought I would write a few posts about German working environment versus the US.

I will qualify everything I say first by saying that I have only worked at 2 places. Both of them are "International" - but probably only by about 10%. Anything I say should not be construed as blanketing the entire German system or the US system. I am in Berlin currently and my perspective in the US is from a Midwest/Pacific Northwest. Keep that in mind. :)

I wanted to start off talking about Job applications. There seem to be a few major differences between the US and Germany.

For those of you who don't know, a US job application consists of a cover letter explaining why you want the job and how it is a perfect fit for you and a CV. Your references contact information are printed at the end in case your employer wants to contact them. It is usually no more than 2 pages. Simple right?

Here in Germany, you send in an application that is easily sometimes an inch thick. You need a picture, diplomas and any other certificates you received from training courses or even kindergarten (ok -maybe I exaggerate), and work certificates (see below). All of this will eventually get put into an application folder.

You must attach a picture to your application. The pictures can be passport photos but I was told not to use those photo machines but to use a professional photographer. Otherwise, you would not be considered professional enough. I am fairly certain the same rules apply about age, sex, weight etc. discrimination here in Germany as in the US but are more difficult to enforce if a picture is right on the top of your application!

The second major difference I noticed is that they want to see your actual diplomas. In the US, I was often required to provide transcripts, even from high school, but I have never been asked for a diploma. The interviews I went on here wouldn't even take my transcript and so I had to order a new diploma because mine is somewhere stuck in boxes in my parents basement.

I don't know this for sure but I would guess that people in the US believe that papers like diplomas could be easily forged. My diploma also had to be stamped and then eventually copied. (I got back the original) The Germans seem to like official documents to be stamped.

On a side note, I had a Canadian friend tell me a story that the German government wouldn't recognize her Canadian marriage certificate from a government office because it wasn't stamped. However, the church certificate was stamped and so they accepted that.

The CV's are basically the same although the subject headings seem to be in slightly different positions. CV's also usually include more personal information than was normal for me - health status, married status, profession of spouse, profession of parents, children, nationality, high school experiences etc... I have been told that some of this is going out of style but it depends on the company you are applying for. Oh, and make sure you sign and date your CV at the bottom of every page.

The work certificates are basically letters of reference. Every German will receive one upon leaving their jobs. As in the US, a vague letter of reference stating that you are honest, hardworking and punctual is probably a bad sign for future employer. These must be attached in German applications as opposed to "when asked for" in the US.

I have to make a confession that I started to use this formula to apply but when I got my job, I hadn't finished assembling everything together. I am still surprised I got the job as I had a half German/half American job application. I assume they didn't ask for more since they knew I was a foreigner. For example, I didn't have any work certificates included because I hadn't had much time to ask my former employers to write something for me. I did however, include a picture and any diplomas and special certificates I had.

If you had a different experience, please let me know in the comment section below. I am sure job apps are different for different types of job specialties.

Coming up next....the Interviews


honeypiehorse said...

It's definitely different - I wrote about German bosses here:

C said...

Attaching pictures is also now against the law but no one seems to know that, including employers.