When I got my first real job offer in Germany, I was thrilled for all of five seconds before the panic set in. Was I ready for this? Was my German good enough? How the heck would I be able to get all the paperwork in order that the company needed before sending over a final offer and contract?
We'll save the topics of language learning and imposter syndrome for another day, but for now, let's get into the nitty gritty of Germany's favorite thing: paperwork.
There were four key items I needed as a foreigner in Germany in order to secure a permanent, full-time job in my field: a Lebenslauf/CV, originals and translations of my academic transcripts, a Bewertung/recognition of my degree, and a visa.
Actual footage of me collapsing of exhaustion after getting all this paperwork together.
A Lebenslauf is a CV or resume, but it isn't just a translated version of your English one. Rather, there are key formatting and content differences in a Lebenslauf that you should be aware of when you're preparing yorus.
Here are some of the resources I used to put together my Lebenslauf:
- Welcome to Germerica's guide to writing a Lebenslauf
- Immigrant Spirit's guide to the perfect German CV
- The Local DE's article, "A CV will get thrown out if not in German style"
I couldn't believe that I suddenly needed my high school transcripts. In the United States, they typically care about your most recent or highest ranking degree, so in my case, my masters. I hadn't needed my high school transcript since I was 17 and applying to college!
But I did. I needed my high school, college, and graduate school transcripts, both as a certified copy of the original and as an official translated German version.
For US Americans, even getting ahold of their transcripts can be an ordeal. Transcripts are sealed by the school and send directly to the recipient, to keep them from getting altered. Also, you pay per copy of your transcript, which is held by the school.
Germans might not understand this, because their Zeugnis, which is basically a transcript, is given to them upon degree completion. They're able to hold onto it in their personal records and do with it as they please. Also, whereas the US has two documents - one academic transcript, one degree of completion - that is one singal document in Germany, so it can be confusing figuring out which document the German organization actually wants. (Hint: typically it's the transcript, which has final grades and degree completion on it!(
Once you're able to get a copy of all the transcripts requested, you need to make a certified copies. Throwing your transcript into a normal copy machine won't suffice.
To find a place that offers the appropriate certified copy, search "beglaubigte kopie + [name of your city]" or call up the Rathaus or City Hall, because they typically offer this service. Note that this will cost money.
Next step, get the transcripts translated. You can't just have your friend or family member translate them; this, too, has to be an official version done by a certified translator. To find a certified translator, try the following databases:
- Justiz Dolmetscher official database of sworn translators
- Bundesverband professioneller Doltmetscher und Übersetzer database of BDÜ translators, including both certified and non-certified translators
- OR use my translator, Herr Zipp! He's a certified professional who makes high-quality translations swiftly and precisely, plus he's an absolute pleasure to work with. 10/10, would recommend. You can contact him at email@example.com.
I was unsure if my American master's degree would be considered a masters-level degree in Germany. In my field, you have to have a masters to work in the field at any level. In Germany, there are more options - apprenticeship, bachelor's degree, master's degree, or PhD.
There is an Amt, or a government agency, for just that! There is information out there that will help you anticipate if your degere will likely be recognized or not, then there's a formal process for having the Amt take a look at your records and decide where your degree falls in the German system. This, too, takes time and money, so be prepared and get an early start on this if you can.
What helped me understand this part of things was...
- Zentralstelle für ausländisches Bildungswesen, website also available in English
- Anabin, the ZAB database to research information about recognition based on country of origin and field
- Recognition in Germany information portal from the German government
- LifeWorkGermany's resource guide to the recognition process
There's a common frustration in Germany, where they won't grant you a visa without a job offer, but you won't get the final job offer until you have a visa. It's puzzling, but it somehow always works out! So, once you've gotten all that paperwork into your company, all you need is the visa. Of course, visas are very case by case, so it's best you make an appointment with the foreigner's office directly.
Search "auslaenderbehoerde + [name of your city]" to find your immigration office, and consult with an agent there.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that once you get this all done, you're in! It's a pain in the neck but once you've done this all once, you're set. Then it's off to exploring your career in Germany.
I released an episode what these things are, why they are necessary, how to obtain them, associated costs, and tips for getting it all accomplished. Plus, some moaning and groaning about dealing with bureaucracy, including my personal secret to getting what you need in the face of being told no (Spoiler: it involves a lot of shouting in your angriest-sounding German).
You can listen to that episode here.