Application tips: What German companies want

Every company is looking for something different in their applicants. But it’s not just a question of the applicant being a good match for the company, but that the company is a good match for the applicant. Find out as much as you can about the company – this helps you make a lasting impression.

by Timo Stukenberg

Two men in suits talking © DAAD/Jan Zappner
Conversation between employee and potential candidate . © DAAD/Jan Zappner

Two things you should know right away – according to a survey of German human resource managers, foreign graduates have the same chances of finding a job in Germany as German applicants. Secondly, by participating in projects and university groups during your studies, you can build valuable contacts with companies which could lead to a job after graduation. Personal contacts can be very helpful in getting a foothold in the working world.

DAX companies

The “DAX companies” are the thirty largest German corporations. They generally have a strong international orientation. For example, Deutsche Telekom has around 235,000 employees on its payroll worldwide. German language skills are not necessarily required when applying for a job at this corporation based in Bonn. The colleagues often speak English with one another – even in the office.

DAX companies – Know the market leaders!

“Before making first contact, applicants should find out as much as they can about the company, peruse their website and do some research on the internet,” recommends Christian Fischer of Deutsche Telekom. It’s not just a question of the applicant being a good match for the company, but that the company is a good match for the applicant. At the job interview, applicants should appear well-informed. The more precisely you explain why you are applying to this particular company, the better impression you’ll make.

Many applicants overestimate their language abilities. And human resource managers notice it right away. Therefore, assess your language skills and knowledge realistically, and at the interview, be open and frank about it, says Fischer. Fact is, nobody is perfect in everything – and that’s why HR managers don’t expect a perfect CV. “There’s no such thing as an uninterrupted CV,” Fischer explains. A ‘blemish’ in your résumé can make you more interesting as an applicant – as long as you have a good reason for it.”

Small and medium-sized companies

Small and medium-sized companies, often called the “Mittelstand” in Germany, are businesses with no more than a few hundred employees. Approximately 95 percent of German companies belong to the “Mittelstand”. They are often praised as the “hidden champions” of the German economy, as many of them are headquartered in small towns in Germany, but operate on a global scale. Many small and medium-sized companies are family-run, meaning that they are owned and managed by a family.

Small and medium-sized companies – German is not a must, but definitely useful.

If you are planning on applying to a small and medium-sized company, you should do some research on their company history in advance, advises Jasmin Fröhlich, head of human resources at the Berner Trading Holding, a family-run business. Who founded the company and when? Who runs it now? And what is the company’s philosophy? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you make a good impression at a job interview. You’re showing them that you’ve done your homework, and secondly, it helps you make a better case as to why you want to work specifically for them.

Although German is not a must, according to HR director Fröhlich, when candidates apply for jobs which involve a lot of customer contact, fluent German is a requirement you can’t avoid. On the other hand, foreign employees can often use their native language on the job. At the Berner Group, for instance, the Russian colleagues are responsible for maintaining contact with the company’s Eastern European subsidiary. Fröhlich adds that “we often train our managers in Germany and then send them out to our foreign subsidiaries for a time.”

Students during consultation at the university  © DAAD/Jan Zappner
Guidance at the university . © DAAD/Jan Zappner

Application coaching at university

“Students should start the application process about a half a year before graduation,” advises Julia Monzel from the Career Service at the University of Cologne. The advisers there help students polish their application portfolios and coach them on how to confidently present themselves in interview situations. “You can prepare yourself for every interview,” claims Monzel. From the first handshake to the right intonation.

Monzel understands how important it is to start planning for life after graduation well in advance. Some companies only hire new employees at certain times of year. You should be aware of the hiring schedule of potential employers and submit your applications on time.


Before applying

  • Start preparing early! That way you won’t be pressed for time as the application deadline approaches.
  • Ask your fellow German students for advice.
  • Be honest! Don’t worry about “blemishes” in your CV.
  • Know the company well! That makes it easier to explain why you want to work for them.

At the interview

  • Be on time! That shows you’re reliable.
  • Dress appropriately! First impressions are important!
  • Don’t hesitate to ask question! It shows you’re interested.
  • Know where you would like to be professionally in five years!
  • Politely inquire about when you can expect their decision!

After applying

  • If no prior arrangements were made, inquire about the status of your application by e-mail or telephone a week after applying.
  • Keep at it! Don’t lose heart after getting your first rejection letter.
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