The questions you always wanted to ask your HR rep (Pt. 1)

In order to get some answers to questions that are not always easy to find online, I’ve consulted a friend of mine who has been working in HR in international companies throughout Germany for over 5 years. They share their insight on German HR norms as well as their personal experience to give us a bit more clarity on some of those topics we might feel too awkward asking our own HR reps. Part 1 will cover questions I got from fellow international workers (or aspiring workers) with a focus on applying to jobs in Germany and the hiring process.

Stay tuned for part 2, which will cover the topics of career track, visa/residency, and salary!

Application/hiring process

Is it true that HR looks through CV first then cover letter ?

Depending on the HR person, but generally yes, a CV should be your brand representative that provides all information needed. Usually there are numerous applications for one role advertised, it is very unlikely that we would even have the time to read through hundreds of cover letters. I personally don’t even apply to jobs requiring one because it’s annoying to write it and also it’s the same b****** every time 😉


Is there any age factor in the selection process of a job candidate?

I genuinely would say no, at least not in the sense tust you would assume. I have experienced that hiring managers and some more „seasoned“ HR professionals equal skills and age, so if you’re young you cannot do this or that job. But most of the times this does not play any role. And a good HR recruiter would then make everything to exclude this information from a discussion.

As a career beginner, how important are university grades/notes in the hiring process?

Depending on the company / sector, classically consultant agencies like EY or McKinsey really like to see good grades. But as a general rule it is more important to have a degree or equivalent job experience from an internship or similar. As a general rule, the more conservative the business the more they would look at grades.

Is there really a preference of German candidates over candidates from different countries?

I have not experienced this as I worked in multinational contexts only, so the nationality didn’t play much of a role with the exception of having a valid work permit. But I would not deny it is existing, especially I can imagine this to happen in somewhat more conservative businesses or in the public sector.

I come from a culture where a picture is never included in the CV. Could my application be disregarded in Germany if I don’t include a picture?

It’s very German to include a picture, it is quite different from other European contexts as well where you would never include or where it is not allowed to have this as requirement. I personally don’t have a picture on my CV, and I believe if a company rejects your application because of a missing picture I wouldn’t want to work for them anyway. It tells about the company’s culture and values.

Why does the cover letter still exist at all? Does it add any value for HR reps when they are looking for candidates?

For me it does not add much of a value, it is helpful if someone does not have work experience, then it can be used to summarize some of the university projects etc., but this could also be added in the CV which leads us back to square one: not really needed. But the culture is changing to less cover letters and CV only, all other info as salary expectations and notice period can be added in most talent systems as well.

How should the cover letter be structured for applying in a German company?

Depending on the company and sector, but generally it is: 1. introduction and role you’re applying to, 2. relevant experience and why they Match to this job and company, 3. outlook work salary expectations and notice and ask for an in-person / first interview. But again, there are other styles as well and I would go as far to say this is also a matter of personal taste.

What do you think of the idea of adding a photo to a CV? Does it hurt my chances of getting an interview if I don’t include one? Have you had experiences of it leading to bias?

I would say it does not hurt your chances, but you should have a decent picture which means no passport pictures without any facial expressions please, we won’t run biometric scans, so not needed. I personally think a very open and casual-professional picture as you can find them on LinkedIn a lot is decent enough. Again, if you’re applying to a very uptight environment like banking or consulting, choose a more strict picture as well. Inspirations can always be found on the webpage of the company you’re applying to, or LinkedIn, just check out how your potential colleagues and managers present themselves. 

And with regard to bias, pictures lead to bias with no doubt, but so does not having a picture if the other side expects one: either way you only can go down the wrong path 😉 What I want to say is, there is no right or wrong, but just try to present yourself as how you feel comfortable. If you don’t like a picture, don’t add it, but I surely think it does not hurt. Another take on this, international companies don’t really have this “German culture” of the “Bewerbungsformular”, so you can almost be sure that a missing picture will not cause any issues.

How can someone get around the expectation of written references/recommendation letters in Germany? E.g. if I come from a country or culture where this is not the norm, will this hurt my prospects at German companies?

I don’t think it’ll hurt your chances, it’s very old fashioned to even ask for it. I personally never send anything else than a CV when I apply for jobs, only later in the hiring process when the deal gets closed I would hand in a reference. If you are asked for it and you don’t have it as you’ve only worked abroad, just address it and put it into context and you should be fine.

Leave a Reply