German cover letter guide – what recruiters expect

Writing a German cover letter in another hurdle on your path to getting a job in this country.

While the general purpose & content is probably similar to what you already know in your home country, some adaptation work might be necessary. This guide points out to the elements to include so you can convince recruiters you are the right one for the job.

Is a German cover letter still relevant?

Before putting in the efforts to actually write a German cover letter (Bewerbungsschreiben, Motivationsschreiben or Anschreiben), you might wonder if it’s necessary at all.

A lot of recruiters don’t read it

This 2018 study by German recruitment agency Robert Kraft found out that 48% of recruiters didn’t find cover letters so relevant anymore, meaning that applications with CV only were considered valid.

In 2019, the Deutsche Bahn even stopped requesting cover letters all together, mentioning a lack of relevance. German ecommerce giant Otto did the same in 2016.

That lines up with my small experience as a recruiter & professional involved in the recruiting process. Motivation letters are rarely a differentiator, especially for more senior profiles. However, even if there is a trend to do away with it, most German recruiters will request a German cover letter.

I will tell you why.

It still helps you to get an interview

Even if hiring managers will never glance over it, more & more companies are using Application Tracking Systems (ATS). It’s a piece of software that automates part of the recruiting process. Its purpose is to filter most applicants so the actual human HR manager only need to assess a few profiles for interviews.

ATS will compare requirements set by HR with what is on your CV and… your cover letter! It will search for the right keywords and compare them with the initial job ad.

Formatting your cover letter the right way, with the right keywords, it will maximize your chances to get invited to an interview.

Can I send my cover letter in English?

Since many applicants will only consider English-speaking jobs in Berlin or the rest of the country, it is a legitimate question.

I actually answered the same question on my post about German CVs. It applies to cover letters as well. (Spoiler alert: it depends.)

How should a German cover letter look like

At first glance, it looks like this. Read on for more details.

Here is what a German cover letter can look like

The header contains the typical information you would expect:

Your contact details

  • First name and family name
  • Street, street number
  • Postal code, city
  • e-mail address
  • phone number

The employer contact details

  • Correct company name
  • Name of hiring manager
  • Street, street number,
  • Postal code, city

It also contains the date at which the application was made

Subject line

The subject line simply includes what position you are applying for. Consider it a reminder for the hiring manager who has to process several applicants per day. Copy-paste the title from the job description.
Salutation

A simple and personal touch by greeting the hiring manager by their names. Avoid “To whom it may concern” at all costs. Get a feel of the company policy about using first names or Mr/Mrs/Ms.

The actual cover letter

You will read a lof of tips on how to properly structure your content. German cover letters don’t differ so much from what you can find anywhere in the world. You should answer the 3 following questions well:

  1. Why you are a good fit or the job: this refers to how well your career/work experience has prepared you to take on the responsibilities listed in the job description. You should prove that the path you are on is naturally leading you to this position.
  2. What makes you think you can do the job: this refers to quantifiable/tangible achievements that can prove that you can solve the challenges ahead. Refer to specific skills mentioned in the job description and demonstrate how you already own them.
  3. Why this company attracts you in particular: you need to demonstrate a genuine interest in having this job at THIS company. This requires a little bit of background check on the company’s missions and vision. You need to get a feel of the identity of the company. Show that they align with your values and that it’s a good place to grow for you. Check the company’s LinkedIn feed to see if there are events, achievements you could relate to.

Closing

Leave a lasting impression after mentioning practical details:

  • State your availability and when you can start.
  • If it was requested in the job description, state your salary expectations.
  • State again how much you would like this job and how much you can demonstrate your motivation in an interview.
  • Greetings

Tips for success

  • Stay formal & don’t get emotional
  • Match the linguo/wording used by the company in the job description. Each company culture is unique
  • Do not use bullets points
  • Keep your letter machine readable by using a simple layout
  • Sprinkle your letter with the right keywords so the ATS software puts your profile on top of the pile.
  • Match the font & styles used on your CV.
  • Do not use passive voice. Make sure you only use active verbs.
  • Prefer sentences that show ownership & confidence (eg: “I think I could” -> “I am confident I will”)

I hope this little guide was useful. Feel free to ask questions the comments.

Bastien

German cover letter – FAQ

How long should a German cover letter be?

The actual content of the letter should not be longer than 4-5 paragraphs, with 2-4 sentences each. It should fit on a single page with plenty of space towards the bottom.

Do I need a cover letter in German to find a job in Berlin?

You can probably find a job in Berlin without a German cover letter, as a lot of international companies conduct their hiring processes in English only. However, that limits your opportunities a lot.