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How to Write a Top-notch German CV (Lebenslauf) in 2021.

How to Write a Top-notch German CV (Lebenslauf) in 2021.

February 9, 2021

The importance of a CV cannot be overemphasized. However, you might have come across the phrase that says on average, recruiters only look at your CV for about 6 to 7 seconds for an initial screen. So, what is the deal? If a CV is that important, why are recruiters not giving CVs the time needed? Well, it is a tough world out there and the job market is extremely competitive. It is not surprising to see a job opening receiving more than 200 applications. This could be one of the reasons why recruiters only skim through initially as they have to go through 100s of CVs.

To make sure your CV gets to the hiring manager, you need to make it fit for purpose, readable and well formatted. No need for fancy designs (except if you are applying for a role that requires such skills). It is also important to stress that your CV alone does not get you the interview. A lot of things have to fall into place for you to go from being an applicant to finally getting the job.

Tip: When you sit down to write your CV, here is a secret, recruiters look for more than just your experiences. They look at who you are as a whole and knowing how to sell yourself on your CV is the key to showcasing your value to land those offers.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get to work. At the end of this piece, you should be able to tailor your CV to whatever job you are applying for.

Elements to Incorporate in your CV

  1. Name, contact information
  2. Photo — Optional
  3. Profile summary / CV summary / Objective — Optional
  4. Education
  5. Work experience
  6. Other experience — Optional
  7. Skills and languages
  8. Interests — Optional but highly recommended
  9. Any certifications or awards — Optional
  10. Publications or conferences — Optional

I know you are wondering by now why you have to incorporate so many elements while keeping your CV at two pages maximum. Yes, this is a good time to bring that up. Nobody really cares about how great you are. What is important is what you can bring to the table. I know that you have done so many great things in life but the rule of thumb is, if you have less than five years of work experience, please and please, keep your CV to TWO (2) pages maximum. And even if you have more than five years, ask yourself if what you are including in your CV really needs to be there. There are several optional elements listed above, so you do not have to include them all. Just make sure that you are giving a good picture about who you are and what you can offer on those two pages.

Other Useful Websites

If you want to make the CV and Cover Letter writing process effortless, you can use any of these CV and Cover Letter builders below:

Name and Contact Information

This is quite straight forward. Include your name, address, email address and phone number. Some might want to include their LinkedIn URL. If you decide to include this, make sure your URL is customized with your name. See how to do this in less than 20 seconds below.

In general, I refrain from putting my date of birth (age) or nationality on my CV and I advise others not to as well. In my opinion, this is not required and does not add any value. At a point in the application process you would have to fill this in anyways before you can summit your application. Therefore, putting it on your CV is not necessary.

Note: It goes without saying that you need to use a professional email address. [first name] + [last name]@email.com would do the job.

Photo

Including a photo or a head shot on your CV is optional and depends on where you live. If you live or are applying for a job in the US or the UK for example, do not include one.

However, if you are applying for a job in Germany, then you should include one. In general, you won’t go wrong if you include a photo when applying for a job within the EU. Outside the EU, I suggest you leave it out or cross check what the rules are.

Now what type of photo should you include, or should I rather say not include? Let’s start with what you should not use: don’t use a selfie image (no need to explain why – just don’t do it). If you live in Germany, the Netherlands or in the EU, get your photo or head shot taken by a professional photographer and leave it to them to get you the best shot to use as your CV photo. Oh, and dress accordingly.

Note: Aim to have at least two CV photo / head shot variants to choose from depending on what role you are applying for.

Profile Summary / CV Summary / Objective — Optional

This section is tagged as optional as it is not necessary to include on your CV. If you feel like including one, please go ahead. However, for those with no job experience, recent graduates or those wanting to change their careers, you can use this section to your advantage. Here is an example of a CV objective of a recent graduate:

A recent graduate in business and finance looking for an opportunity to start my career in M&A in order to leverage my skills in financial modelling and company valuation, market research, database management as well as drafting marketing documents.

You want to keep it short and straight to the point. Additionally, make sure that you are including elements included in the job description here. See work experience section. Check out how to write a CV – recent graduates or how to write a CV – career change for more information.

Education

This is a very important section of your CV, which is also quite straight forward. Just list your post-secondary education here. If you have too many of them, then try to streamline them to only those relevant to the job. Generally, this section should precede the work experience section for those with less than five years of work experience.

Here is an example of how this section should look like. You can decide to use whatever format you want. The only thing to keep in mind is that the different element should be as distinct as possible. This can be done by either using a different color or making the text bold or italics. Please only use sparingly else this function loses its essence.

For recent graduates with no work experience, you might also want to include your master thesis if this is related to the job you are applying for. Alternatively, adding some relevant courses could also come in handy.

Or

Note: One common question I get is – should I include my GPA / grade? Here is a quick answer to that. 

If you are applying for a job in Germany, only include your final grade if it is 2.0 or below. In the Netherlands, include if you have 7.0 above. If your grade doesn’t fall in those categories, please don’t include in your CV. For more experienced folks, after two to three years of work experience, your grades don’t matter anymore. I’d leave it out.

Work Experience

This is one of the most important sections of your CV. So, make sure to spend more time here to tailor it to the requirements of the job – if you can at least.

Remember, the only reason an employer is looking to fill a position is because they have a pain point they would like to solve. So, do all you can to show them that you are the right person to help them solve that problem, which is why it is important to showcase the skills the employer is looking for and more.

How do you do this?

  • Match the job description to the skills you have. This is very important. Once you find the job you are interested in, spend some time to draw some parallels between what they have written in the description and what you can offer.

  • Pay attention to words like: MUST, MANDATORY, MINIMUM, REQUIRED, STRONG, IDEALLY, ADVANTAGE, BEST CASE, PREFERABLY, A (STRONG) PLUS, etc. This step is more like looking yourself in the mirror. Who do you see? How many of the must haves do you have? Are you missing on any of the ideally or preferably?

  • Search for similar roles either at a competitor or at other companies and review their requirements. By doing this, you might find other information that you could use to stand out from the rest. Remember, there are lots of nice to haves that you could bring to the table that the company you are currently applying to was not aware of or didn’t bother to include in the job description

  • Do a quick LinkedIn search. What are people in similar roles doing? This could also give you valuable information needed to tailor your work experience to the job and beyond.

Now that you are fully immersed in the requirements, you need to pen down your experiences. These are points you should keep in mind:

  • Make sure to add the relevant keywords – as described above.

  • Use bullet points – straight to the point. Please try to stay at five bullet points maximum.

  • Put the most important and relevant information in the first three bullet points. There is a high chance those points beyond the first three bullet points would not be read – initially at least.

  • Use action words (e.g., lead, developed, achieved, etc.) to drive home your point. Here is a list of action words you could use when writing your next CV.

  • Where you can, use numbers and measurements as it is easy for HR or the hiring manager to directly see the impact you made, e.g., increased sales by 20%, improved efficiency by 10% or reduced cost by 2%, etc. Sure, not all fields can be that specific and number driven. In that case, just stick to those action words.

Here is a sample of how the work experience section could look like.

Let’s check out an example, shall we? I am going to share with you two similar roles. The first, at company A, is the role I would like to apply to and the second role at company B is a similar role at a competitor. Highlighted in yellow are things I need to be mindful of and highlighted in green are nice to have (gotten from the competitor’s role) that could make me stand out when applying to the role at company A. Your aim now is to write to match most of those requirements. This is a good exercise to do whenever you are applying for any position. So, get to work and good luck.

Note: Should you apply for a job even though you do not fully meet the requirements?

A quick answer to this is – yes. But as always, it depends. Remember how you need to pay attention to words like MUST, MINIMUM, STRONG, etc? These words can guide you in deciding whether to apply for a role or not or at least already have an idea what your chances could be.

Other Experience — Optional

Though optional, you could use this section to your advantage. There are several experiences that are not directly relevant to the job you are applying for but that showcases your versatility and increases your chances of getting hired. If you have such, then here is where you put them. This could be a volunteering work you are doing or did some time ago, or a board position you held at a non-profit or at university, etc. These positions can be used to showcase your negotiations skills, organisational or managerial skills, leadership skills or ability to work in teams, etc. Similar to the work experience section, use bullet points here and limit the points to 2 to 3 as this is not the focal point of your CV. Moreover, remember that you would need the space for other sections.

Skills and Languages

Listing your skills and languages is straight forward. Focus on the hard skills that are measurable in your CV. Soft skills, like teamwork, communication, etc., can be mentioned in your cover letter.

  • Skills – split your skills into three levels depending on how proficient you are. A good way to do this is to divide them into:
    • Advanced
    • Intermediate
    • Basic
  • Languages – there are two ways you can use to describe your fluency in a particular language in your CV.
    • First:
      • Native / First language
      • Very good
      • Intermediate
      • Basic
    • Second option is by using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, e.g. (with C2 being native level knowledge):
      • C2
      • C1
      • B2
      • B1
      • A2
      • A1

Interests — Optional but highly recommended

Including your interests or hobbies in your CV is optional but I recommend including some. You can use this to show your non-professional side. Oh, it is also a good way to connect with your interviewer. I have had many cases where interviewers looked at my interests and said — oh I also play squash. How long have you been playing? Nice rapport, right? Depending on how you want to structure your CV and what other sections are included, I would aim at having this as the last section.

Certifications or Awards — Optional

If you have certifications you would like to showcase that are relevant to the job or industry, then it is always great to include them in your CV. One key constraint here is space. So as long as you still have enough space, please go ahead. You can also include awards such as scholarships in this section. However, please do not exceed two pages just because you want to include some certifications or awards. Use the space you have wisely.

Publications or Conferences — Optional

This is more relevant to those in academia, a writer or if you are applying for an R&D heavy role.

Conclusion

Remember that it is vital you take the proper time to write your CV up to convey who you are, what your goals are, and why employers should give you a chance. In the end, it is all about showcasing your personality, your transferable skills, your passion for the opportunity, and proving that you can be an asset. By bridging the gap between what the employer needs and skills and knowledge you have to fulfill that requirement, you should hopefully have no problem landing a formidable role to begin your career-enhancing aspirations.

Good luck!

Additional insights on how to write a CV as a recent graduate.

Additional insights on how to write a CV if you want to change your career.

 

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