I've always wondered if I could find a job in Germany. Not so much because of my competence or lack thereof, but rather about whether I could, or couldn't, conform to the German way of answering a job ad.

Answering a job ad, in the countries where I've looked at it (mainly US, Germany and France) has a rather similar structure. Cover letter and CV are the core components. Basically, these are a letter stating why you're the best person for the job and a list of the positions you've occupied in the past X years.

However, there are rather important cultural differences to the way you do it. Not to mention that the recrudescence of social networks and other online tools needs to be thrown into the bargain, as it has somewhat changed the way of doing things.

The last time I applied for a job in a somewhat conventional way was probably about 6 years ago, in France. Which probably is a completely outdated way of doing it. I had the name of someone to send my application to, sent a cover letter, my CV and went on to an interview. Pretty simple and straightforward.

Here in Germany, I've watched with interest as my man was looking for a job, and how he was going about it. The "conventional" way of doing it in Germany is, apart from the CV and cover letter, to join to your application what the Germans call "Zeugnisse". The way I understood them, "Zeugnisse" are recommendations, of sorts. but not exactly. They are letters from the people you worked for, which reformulate the position you've occupied and tell how good you were in it. The further back you can go, the better. Which, for someone with a varied career, might amount to a lot of paper.

In the US, as I understand it, recommendations can be from virtually anyone. Your bosses of course, your colleagues, but also your friends (the more titles they can boast of the better) and why not, your family. Something that I believe is completely inconcievable in Germany. You probably would never ask a friend to write a Zeugnis for you.

In France, recommendations are (were?) definitely not the norm. While the "anglo-saxon" application has certainly taken on in the past few years, the diplomas you can align and the great names you can drop within your CV offer a much better chance of being noticed than having your Harvard-friend write a recommendation for you.

So the question is, how would I apply to a job here in Germany? I could of course go and read a whole load of online resources [1]about how to Zeugnisse should be written, or how to write your cover letter, and even how to organize your CV. But I'm thinking it would be conforming to something I am not, having worked in different countries, different fields and many different companies, for so many different customers. I'm thinking that in this ever changing and challenging global work market, being yourself, even if that means being culturally unconventional, is probably a better way to go about it. I probably couldn't produce many Zeugnisse (who knows what my boss from 10 years ago in France has become in 10 years?), but I can detail what I did and when, and even better, I can actually reflect on what I have done and what it has brought me for my job today. I would even say that being French, while I am sure that I am the right person for the job, I am not sure that the documents I provide are those that are expected, but that I am open to providing more information if needed. In short, I would try and be myself, rather than try and fit in a predefined frame.

I guess I have faith in recruiters, if they're looking for someone to do a job, they're not looking for anyone that can do that job and can lay it out on paper, but rather for someone who can reflect and think on what their experience is bringing to the table.

And frankly, in a world where a (the best) job can be had [2] with such applications, I do think there is potential for unconventional.

What's your experience with international applications?


[1] Those resources were chosen with a quick google search, I can't say anything about whether they're good or bad

[2] More info on The Best Job in The World in this BBC article