Interview with a German Personnel Director: Tips on International CVs

Author’s note:

This week’s blog was delayed a bit; I had a good friend visiting from Germany and of course, this meant taking her around to experience some of the many incredible sights here in Oregon during her short time here!

As it turns out, she is a personnel director for large company in Germany, so I took the opportunity to interview her in-depth about the job application process in Germany. Specifically, I wanted to share information to American audiences about what U.S. applicants should know when applying for jobs in European Union countries.

Here’s my interview with Sabine List, Personnel Director for Berker GmbH & Co KG, in Lüdensheid, Germany:
Question: What are some important things that Americans should know about the application process in European countries?
Answer: Obviously, be aware of the language requirements of the job. If the company has an international Web site that is in English, you can apply in English through that portal, but be aware of specific job requirements that include language ability. You may be asked for a CV (curriculum vitae – European-style resume which is different than U.S. documents) and application letter in that country’s language later as part of the application process. Also, it is important that in the first part of the interview, candidates are able to clearly summarize their CV background within five minutes, providing a concise career overview mentioning your career highlights with specific examples. Be prepared to discuss why these are important to your career. Finally, you should be aware that you also need to talk about how you have enriched your work environment and taken actions to grow your responsibilities in order to show a fit with the potential employer’s needs and interests.

Question: What are the top 5 things an applicant looking for work in Europe should never do?
Answer: Don’t assume that you can submit any document in English unless the position announcement says that English CVs are welcome. Stay with the local language first, otherwise. Also, never lie on the CV document. In the U.S., many people try to work around non-completion of educational diplomas by simply including the school name, leaving it open to assumption by the employer that the degree was completed.

Not so in Europe. Here, it is standard practice to include copies of your transcripts and diplomas in the application process to verify your educational background, in addition to listing it on your CV. Additionally, you need a letter from EACH of your employers, which is included in your application, and specifically states your dates of employment, your title, tasks involved, and an evaluation of your job performance while at that company. Be careful, of course, of bad grammar and any mistakes in your CV, and be careful of gaps of employment too… you can explain this in your work history.

[Author’s note: read here about how some British job applicants who lied on the CVs are having to pay large sums back to the employer that hired them based on the false information: ]

Question: What would your company specifically look for in American CVs?
Answer: The applicant clearly must have the knowledge and degrees to what we are looking for, and also have held similar tasks and responsibilities in their former positions. We also look for personal skills and how that person might adapt to the European culture, as well as a demonstration of proper business etiquette/cultural customs. Obviously, where needed, appropriate language skills are also required.

Question: What are the top 5 things you LIKE to see in an application?
Answer: Provide me exactly what I am asking for in the position announcement. Send complete documents. It is also customary in Europe to include a professional photo along with the introductory letter, CV and support documents.

I appreciate seeing good structure in the introduction letter as well as the CV, and want to see strong career progression without gaps. Just like in the U.S., it is a tight job market, and creativity sometimes is what it takes to stand out from other applicants – we as personnel directors read hundreds of applications for each position. One time, I had someone send me some hay, and attached to it was their CV with a needle taped to the paper. A note said that “Finding the right job applicant is like finding a needle in a haystack…” – I enjoyed that application very much and it definitely got my attention!
Sabine’s answers were very interesting, and enlightening. If anything, if you are based in the U.S. and are considering pursuing work overseas, it is very important to take the time to research and understand the unique application processes for each country. There are variations (the British CV is more like the American résumé), and you need to make sure that all the pieces fit together in the way that match the expectations and requirements of the position within that organization.