Americans would be shocked by common resumé practices in Germany

So you want to work in Germany?
So you want to work in Germany?
Image: Reuters/Alexandra Beier
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German companies are famous for their precision and attention to detail. That thoroughness applies to what they look for on a resumé, too.

German job seekers typically include their photograph and date of birth on resumes, and some will also add their marital status, and number and ages of their children. Not that long ago, employers also expected to see the names and occupations of parents, particularly from young candidates. More like an academic curriculum vitae than a US resumé, these documents extend for several pages.

Katrin Voelkner taught a course in German for business students at Northwestern University, and had her American students prepare a resumé to German specifications as part of her class. “They were incredulous,” she says. “They couldn’t figure it out.”

Germany and the US are both big, powerful nations with sophisticated economies, but as their resumé practices show, they have very different approaches to money and work. Germans are notoriously debt adverse— they eschew credit cards, and have very low rates of homeownership— and are fiercely protective of their digital privacy. Office culture can be formal, and often bound by protocol and hierarchies.

The exhaustively detailed resumé is partly a function of German’s strict labor laws, which makes it hard to fire workers, says Voelkner, who now teaches Americans in Berlin. That makes hiring the right workers critical, and puts a premium on knowing as much as possible about a candidate before making an offer. There’s also another, less benign reason for wanting photos, she notes: “You can discriminate more easily, too.”

German resumes aren’t just longer and more detailed. They’re also written differently. Americans resumés are flush with verbs—applicants tout their skills at leading, managing, creating—and Germans stress their nouns, with lots of names and titles, in capital letters, Voelkner says. While Americans stress how they performed, Germans emphasize the organizations,  responsibilities, and knowledge the job seeker has accumulated.

The companies you’ve worked for, and the positions you’ve held, are testimony to your abilities, says Sebastian Choquette, a Canadian-American who has worked in Germany for 15 years. ”It’s a culture that places a lot of emphasis on skill, on education, and experience,” says Choquette, who is an executive at Salomon, a ski-equipment company in Munich. “In Germany, the knowing is more important than the doing.”

At Germany’s big, international companies, expectations are changing, and a one-page, US-style resumés are becoming more common. Smaller companies, though, will still want a photo and online resumé writing guides recommend it.

German and US resumé practices differ in at least one other respect, as well:  So much care goes into their preparation and packaging that hiring managers traditionally return them to the applicant if they don’t get the job.