A written job application consists of a cover letter, curriculum vitae (CV) and copies of the most important certificates and references. In Germany, it usually still includes a photo. Needless to say, the application should be clearly structured. It is important that all documents are of high quality, as the application should make a good first impression.

Online applications are becoming more and more common in Germany. They often are convenient and can simplify the application process for applicants as well as for companies. Nowadays, a “online” job application can be submitted in one of two ways: You can either send your application as an e-mail attachment or you can fill out a form on the company’s website.

The cover letter provides the prospective employer with information about your qualifications and your prior work experience. It should explain why you are interested in the job offered and why you consider yourself to be a good fit with the job. It is also very important to give insights as to why you want to work for the company.


The primary tool to obtain information about a candidate is to either ask questions in a job interview or to use an employee questionnaire. In both cases, questions can only be asked if they:

  • Are supported by a legitimate interest of the employer.
  • Do not amount to a disproportionate invasion of the candidate’s right to privacy.

If an applicant lies in response to allowable questions, the employer may quit the employment agreement on the grounds of fraudulent deception.

A female applicant cannot be asked whether she is pregnant. Applicants may be asked whether they have a criminal record. This question can only be asked if this could be of relevance to the employment relationship.

The employer should refrain from asking questions related to race, ethnic origin, gender, religion, disability, age or sexual identity. Such questions could be seen as a violation of the General Equal Treatment Act. However, some of these questions may be permitted if they constitute a job requirement.

Interview costs are borne by the employer, including travel, meals, and perhaps even accommodation costs. However, the employer may indicate that they will not provide reimbursement of some or all expenses in the invitation letter. However, this preclusion must be explicit and unambiguous.


The CV is the central part of an employee’s application. It contains their contact information, personal information as well as a professional profile.

A difficult part of creating a professional CV is to find the right balance of information: One should avoid listing every single stage of one’s career. The HR Manager is not interested in each side job the applicant was performing during college. As long as it does not create gaps in the résumé, irrelevant stages should be left out.

Only stages, which have a direct or at least indirect connection to the position the person is applying for, are of any interest for your potential employer. On the other hand, it is crucial to describe precisely, what you were actually doing in those positions listed in the CV. Particularly when you are applying as foreign national, HR managers might not know which actual content hides behind the job title. List the most important three to five tasks and responsibilities linked to the particular position.

Most foreign candidates do not know that they are supposed to add a photo on the CV. This procedure is very common in Germany, even though applicants are not obliged to do so from a legal point of view. As portrait photos for job applications are conventional in Germany, any professional photo shop will know what companies expect.


German companies want references, which means a document stating where you worked, what you did and how long you held the job, and a short evaluation. Since by law, employers can’t write anything in your reference that might hinder your chances of finding a job later, a code has emerged that can be roughly translated as follows:

  • if it says you were a average employee, you were terrible
  • if it says you were a good employee, you were average
  • if it says you were great, you were good or very good

The Employment Contract

As a basic principle employers and employees are free to negotiate employment agreements. These contracts may be put down in writing or be concluded orally. In order to ensure that evidence of the employment relationship exists, it is recommended that a written employment agreement should be concluded.

The employment contract should name the most important terms of employment:

  • Beginning and duration of the employment relationship
  • Trial period
  • Job description
  • Remuneration
  • Agreed working hours
  • Days of holiday
  • Period of notice
  • Collective agreements or company agreements (if applicable)

An important part in every employment contract is remuneration. Will the company pay supplements or bonuses, for example at Christmas or for working weekends, on top of the normal pay? When does the company pay the employee – for example, at the end or beginning of the month? The work contract usually states the gross remuneration. From this, certain amounts will be deducted for tax and social contributions, such as health insurance, long-term care insurance, a retirement/pension contributions and unemployment insurance. One also has to consider the costs of living in the respective area of Germany.

If the employment is for a fixed term, this must always be agreed in writing. Should the parties fail to do so, the employment agreement shall be deemed to have been concluded for an unlimited period of time.

As a rule, the contract of employment is concluded for an unlimited period. It is however possible for the employer and the employee to conclude a contract of a limited period.

The duration of fixed-term contracts must be set according to objective conditions such as a specific end date, the completion of a specific task, or the occurrence of a specific event.

The fixed term contract must also be based on a justification, which comprises motives like the temporary requirement of a certain type of work or the replacement of an absent employee. However, a fixed-term contract may be also lawful without justification, if it falls under the exception that the contract is for a limited period of up to two years. The initially agreed fixed term period may be extended up to three times if the extensions do not exceed two years as a whole. Such fixed term employment contracts may, however, not be entered into with employees who were already previously employed by the same employer.

If the employee wants to claim the ineffectiveness of a limitation, he must take legal action within three weeks after the agreed ending of the employment contract.

During the first four years after the start-up of a business, employment contracts may be concluded on a fixed term basis without reasonable grounds for a period of up to four years.

An employee is employed on a part-time basis if his or her regular weekly working time is less than that of a comparable fulltime employee. Employees who have been employed with the company for over six months may request a reduction in their working time, unless the employer has no more than 15 employees. The employer may deny the reduction in working time on operational grounds. Such operational grounds exist if the reduction of the working time would severely hinder the establishment’s organization, working process or safety or lead to unreasonable costs.

The insignificant employment is a special type of part-time work. It is subject to specific exemptions with respect to social security contributions if the employee regularly earns no more than EUR 450 per month, or his employment is restricted to a maximum of two months or 50 working days per year and is not performed as a profession.

Employers (lessors) who wish to lease out employees (leased employees) to third parties for work require an official permit. The lease may only be carried out on a temporary basis.

A distinction must be made between the employment contract between the lessor and the leased employee and the lease agreement between the two firms involved. Employees are “leased” if they are completely integrated into the other firm and do not continue to work for their employer alone.

A leased employee has the right to demand that the employer pays the same remuneration as the client pays its regular employees in comparable positions. The only exception is if the lessor is bound to a tariff agreement.

If the lessor does not have the permit required, an employment relationship between the client and the employee will become to existence. However, the employee may object to the employment relationship with the client.

Article contributed by Peter Fürnthaler

This article is meant to provide an overview on the most important rules and provisions. It can, of course, not be a substitute for in-depth legal advice, but might serve as a starting point for those interested in the German marketplace and employment laws.