Getting Hired in Germany, Part I

Today begins a three-part series here on German Joys which, in a break with tradition, may contain useful information. The topic: getting a job.

Take it away, German Joys inoffizieller Mitarbeiter Ed Philp!

Applying for a Job in Germany

It’s Ed Philp here once more, by the grace of Andrew Hammel’s generosity. As some readers may know, I authored a few articles several months (years) back when Andrew was on vacation. Now that Andrew has (non-contagious, non-threatening) smallpox, he has been gracious enough to grant me more space on his – now even more popular and widely-read – virtual soapbox. Thanks Andrew! Gute Besserung!

Today I want to briefly comment on a number of aspects that make applying for a job different in Germany than in North America. By “briefly”, I mean that I will highlight three key differences. I could go on, as in fact there are many significant differences. But I’m going to restrict myself to the ones that are most perturbing striking to a North American job applicant.

The Photo

No resume in Germany is complete without a photograph – about 2 by 4 inches is recommended – of the applicant. ¾ profile, conservative business dress, just a touch of makeup, optimistic smile – but not a full-on grin – is advised. This isn’t a requirement just for applications for jobs in public relations or similar service sectors – it applies equally to construction foremen, law student interns, librarians and other people whose appearance has little to do with the relevant skills and experience they might bring to the job. German human resources (hiring) people simply like to be able to compare the candidate’s appearance with his or her resume. They want to know how photogenic and attractive and potentially foreign-looking you are before they decide to give you an interview. As one acquaintance of mine – a hiring manager with the German branch of a large cosmetics firm explained to me: “all of the people who work here are attractive. If an applicant is ugly, they won’t fit in. And they’ll quit in six months. So we just hire attractive applicants.” Yes, this person was quite attractive herself.

For German readers – this would never fly in North America. Human resources would very likely send back any resume that had a photograph attached to it with the comment that the company believes that merit-based hiring precludes the visceral evaluation that takes place when you look at another person’s photograph.

Sure – we make similar decisions during an interview. Studies show that like usually hires like, and that of two candidates with identical qualifications, the more attractive one is more likely to get the job. Employers want to put a best face forward (and sometimes that face is – entirely truthfully – someone who represents a broader demographic than ‘well-fed white person’). But at least in North America, we make a pretence of not caring about appearances. And if you have the best qualifications on paper, but have warts, or tattoos on your forehead, or are 1 meter tall, we give you the chance to present yourself at an interview and to convince us why you are the best person for the job.

Incidentally, these photos cost money. Which brings me to my next point.

5 thoughts on “Getting Hired in Germany, Part I

  1. I guess the end of the compulsory photo is near because of the new “anti-discrimination law”. Don’t worry! With time we become more and more American, but we start with the strange things.


  2. You are being very diplomatic, to put it in mild term. How’s this different from 3rd rate Asian countries where secretaries are hired by their sex appeal?
    Employers that require photos are wankers. Nuff said.


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