The application portfolio: The first impression counts

Writing an application in Germany you should keep certain aspects in mind. The cover letter shouldn’t be too long. It is common practice in Germany to include a photo of yourself with your application. Correct grammar and a neat look are compulsory. Checklists help keep an overview.

by the Editors

Application portfolio © DAAD/contentküche
Application portfolio . © DAAD/contentküche

You've found an interesting job offer and want to apply. Your written application is the first impression you make on a company and, therefore, it should be as positive as possible. Whether you send it digitally or by mail, all applications in Germany contain:

  • Cover letter
  • CV (curriculum vitae)
  • Copies of references and certificates

The job description precisely tells you which documents you should include with the application.

Cover letter

The purpose of the cover letter is to present yourself to the company. In the letter, you explain why you are interested in the position. You should also make explicit reference to the company and describe how your experience and skills match the job requirements. In this way, you can best explain why you are especially suited for the position and why you would like to work for this particular company.

Read the job advertisement very carefully. What qualifications is the company looking for? What tasks and responsibilities does the job involve? Gather information about the company in advance. This shows your potential employer that you have informed yourself well and you're application wasn't a mass mailing. This can set you apart from the other candidates.

On the internet you can find sample applications for various branches. You can refer to those sites to get ideas about what to write, but beware! According to an application coach at the Federal Employment Office, "your cover letter should be 'unique' - blocks of text copied from other applications can knock you out of the running." The application coach also provides a checklist for cover letters.

Your cover letter should be no longer than one DIN-A4 page.

Student writing his curriculum vitae at the computer  © DAAD/Jan Zappner
Preparing a curriculum vitae . © DAAD/Jan Zappner


Your CV (curriculum vitae) contains a listing of your education, skills and qualifications. "German CVs are not usually listed in strict chronological order," says the website Make it in Germany. German CVs are normally divided into various categories, such as personal data, language skills and personal interests. Make sure not to pack too much information into your CV - the company is not especially interested in your last holidays on the Maldives.

The interactive website "europass" offers you step-by-step instructions for writing a CV.


Your application should also include copies of your graduation certificates from university and secondary school. If you have any references for an internship, include these as well. The important thing is to send copies - never originals, because companies frequently don't return application materials. The website Make it in Germany recommends having your certificates translated into either English or German so that the company can understand what you have achieved.

Application photo

 Although not explicitly required, it is common practice in Germany to include a photo of yourself with your application. Choose a neutral, professional-looking portrait photo of yourself. Holiday photos or private snapshots are taboo!

The only things you should see in the photo are your head, neck and shoulders - nothing more. The photo is normally affixed to the upper right-hand corner of the CV or on a cover page.  

Don't be too cheap when it comes to your application photo - it's worth investing a little money in getting your photo taken professionally.

Student showing his application dossier © DAAD/Jan Zappner
Student showing his application dossier . © DAAD/Jan Zappner

German language skills

"German may be a complicated language, but writing applications is definitely doable," says Bakiye Güler. A native of Turkey, Güler studies Business Administration at the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne. Because incorrect spelling and poor grammar reflects poorly on applicants, Bakiye had her applications checked by German native speakers. If you're unsure about your German, ask your German-speaking friends or fellow students to check your application for mistakes.

Formal requirements

Make sure your application has a universal layout and looks neat - white paper without any marks, the same font and font size and clearly legible scans or copies.

Before submitting your portfolio, carefully read the application instructions provided by the company. The job advert normally indicates the form of application desired - hard copy, e-mail or online application form. Be sure to comply with these requirements. If the company wants applications in PDF form, don't send your application as a Word file, or by post for that matter! Bakiye's application wasn't even processed, because she sent her documents by post and not by e-mail as instructed. If you're not sure what form your application should be in, it's best to call up the company and ask.

Helpful tips for applicants in Germany and personal assistance is also offered by the Federal Employment Agency offers.

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