Deciphering German Job Postings

150 150 speakinterculture: careers

The "eierlegende Wollmilchsau"?

Browsing through job postings can be a bit overwhelming. It seems like some employers are looking for the “all-singing, all-dancing” absolutely perfect overachiever (or, as this absolutely lovely German idiom puts it so succinctly, the eierlegende Wollmilchsau – egg-laying wool-milk-pig – but are they really? When you look a little closer, certain words and phrases can clue us in to which qualifications are musts and which might not be completely necessary.

Now, before we get started, it’s important to note that Germans are generally very direct communicators. That goes for writing as well as for conversation. They say what they mean, and they don’t usually waste words. Job postings are no exception. They usually expect applicants to have around 80-90% of the criteria listed, so before you sort out the “extras” from the job posting, do be sure that you fit most of the requirements. So now that we have that out of the way, how can I tell which requirements in the posting are must-have criteria, and which are optional?

Must-Haves and Nice-to-Haves in Job Postings

The Must-Haves: How to Identify Non-Negotiable Requirements

Employers usually list must-have requirements at the beginning of the list, just as you’d list your star qualifications at the beginning of your cover letter.

Phrases like the ones below indicate that employers will only consider you if you have these qualifications. I’ve listed a very general translation alongside the English phrases, but do keep in mind that English translations are likely to vary.

setzen wir voraus | we expect
sind wichtig | are important
berücksichtigt werden nur | We will only consider applicants with
unbedingt notwendig | absolutely necessary
wir suchen, wir erwarten | we’re looking for, we expect
nachweisbare Erfolge | verifiable success, demonstrable success, proven track record
zwingend erforderlich | mandatory
ist Voraussetzung | is a requirement
Sie besitzen, Sie haben, Sie bringen mit | you have, you bring with you
selbstverständlich | self-explanatory, as a matter of course
zeichnen Sie aus | you are characterized by, your attributes are
dringend erforderlich | very necessary, crucial

The Nice-to-Haves: Keywords for "Optional" Qualifications

Employers will often list additional requirements that they’d like to see in a candidate. If you have them, great! You’re a perfect fit. However, not having these qualifications won’t immediately land you in the discard pile.

Phrases like the following usually indicate that there’s some leeway in the requirement.

erwünscht | desired
wenn Sie außerdem mitbringen | if you additionally have
zusätzlich noch | in addition
runden Ihr Profil ab | round off your profile
sind von Vorteil | are advantageous
hinreichende Erfahrung | sufficient experience
Idealerweise | ideally
Gerne sehen wir | we’ll be glad to see
Zusätzlich freuen wir uns | additionally, we’d be happy if

If you’re not sure if a certain qualification is a must-have requirement, you can always contact the company and ask! “I’m interested in the position, and I do have x – how important is y?”

If you don’t have a must-requirement, and you’ve noticed that it’s a relatively common requirement in your field, you might consider taking a class or online course, and listing that in your application. “I’m currently taking a course on x, which I’ll complete on…” (Avoid the phrasing “I don’t have x yet” – negative phrasing is almost always unsuccessful.)

Other Things to Watch for in Job Postings

"Unserious" Postings

You might occasionally run across positions out there that sound vague, or confusing, or even too good to be true. In many cases, they are. Before you start writing that time-consuming application, be sure to do some research about the company. (Of course, you’ll need that research to craft a fantastic application!) Phrases like “higher-then-average pay” or “interesting tasks” or postings that ask for someone who is “available immediately” to “travel extensively” without any additional information can be a sign that the job is not quite what it seems.

Top-Level Positions

The length of the job posting is often, but not always, a clue. The longer it is, the more likely it is that they’re targeting people with many years of experience – if you’re fresh out of uni, it can be a sign that you’re not as likely to be chosen.

Employment Type

Do keep in mind that you will need the correct visa when applying for offers for freelancers. Employers offering full-time work will be able to assist you (or at least provide you with relevant information) for a visa application, but if you’re here on a student visa or don’t have an unlimited residence permit, you might not be eligible to work as a freelancer. Be on the lookout for freelance work that puts you in danger of “Scheinselbständigkeit” – it’s primarily a problem for the employer, but can cause issues if you’re on a visa.

I'm still confused?!

If you’re still having trouble interpreting job postings, or you’re sending lots of applications out and not getting a response, it’s time to take advantage of the resources in your network. Struggling with applications over a long period of time can be draining, and after a while, the frustration starts to find its way into the cover letters and resume without us even noticing. Reach out to the career service department at your university, friends and family members in similar fields, students and peers in your university network – and of course, I’m always available for an application or career coaching session, just an email away.

Career Journaling: Internship Reflection Questions

150 150 speakinterculture: careers

Why Career Journaling?

Understanding what you enjoy about work – and knowing which specific aspects of work that drain or frustrate you – can be very helpful in guiding you to make career decisions, support you in interviews and in performance reviews, and generally give you confidence in the workplace. Your internship is a great place to begin career journaling. Reflecting on the ups and downs of your internship will make it easier to identify your strengths, areas you might want to improve in, and what kinds of work (and work environments) encourage you to flourish!

Questions to Get Started

Organization and Culture
  • What implicit (unspoken, unwritten) rules did you notice during your internship? (These could be for communication, procedures, protocol, or interaction in the workplace.)
  • How are tasks and work spread out among staff? Do you feel that it was a fair distribution? If not, what specifically did you find inequitable?
  • What size was the company you worked for? How did that impact your internship? Did you like or dislike being at a company of this size?
  • How do different people at your site or involved with your site (i.e., clients/customers, etc.) dress? How did that fit with your ideal “workplace attire”?
  • How would you describe the culture within your organization (ways in which co-workers interact or don’t interact) and how does this fit with your “ideal” employer?
  • Depending on the sector (for-profit, non-profit, or governmental) your internship is in, how does the structure impact the ability of the organization to accomplish its goals? (Consider layers of management, board of directors, volunteers, etc.) Explain.
  • What happens in your workplace when someone makes a mistake? What about when they do a really fantastic job? How did you feel about this?
  • If you were running this organization, what would you change and why?
Tasks & Work
  • What types of tasks did you do that you enjoy or excel at completing? What did you enjoy most about them? Were you surprised?
  • What was the management style like? How structured/guided is your time?  How effective/ineffective does that make you?
  • What tasks in your internship did you dislike? Could you imagine finding a job in this field that did not include these tasks?
  • What about your internship is the most surprising to you (i.e., what did you least expect going into the experience) and what lesson(s) can you draw from this?
  • Was the content of your work related to your studies? How did you feel about this?
  • If you wanted to follow in the career path of someone at your internship site, what would you need to do to make this happen?  (Tip – ask the person for advice and use this in your response.)
  • If you’re at a non-profit, what role does funding play in the organization? What different sources of funding does the organization utilize to maintain operations? In your opinion, are there ample resources to fund future projects and is there a plan to secure these funds?
  • In what ways have you experienced or witnessed either informal or formal mentoring taking place within the organization?
  • How have you or others in this organization effectively utilized relationship building/networking?  In what ways could or did you build a strong network with those you work with for future benefit?
  • Did your workplace reflect your personal values? Was your employer committed to contributing to society (i.e., environment, community, education, youth, etc.)?  Explain.
  • Compare and contrast the mission statement of the organization – if you were aware of one – with what you observe in the day-to-day operations. Do they actually accomplish their mission?
  • Does the organization seem to be an active member of the community (however this is defined)?  If so, how?  If not, should it be and how could this be accomplished?
  • Was your workplace diverse? How have you observed/experienced individuals from different demographic groups (gender, age, educational background, etc.) interacting with each other? How did you feel about what you observed?
Working Conditions
  • How does the location of your internship site (e.g., neighborhood, surrounding businesses, access to food, etc.) fit your needs?
  • How are employees paid in this field? Do you feel that it is adequate when you see the tasks and workload that they face?
  • How were the working hours – did they fit well with you and your internal clock? How flexible was your employer? Did you feel that this created a positive or negative work environment for you?

A note – some of these questions are loosely based on the Hanover College website which is in turn based on “Weekly Internship Journal Blog Prompts” by the Chicago Programs.

Internships (in the Age of Corona)

150 150 speakinterculture: careers

Internships in the Age of Corona

Finding a great internship is a challenge in “normal” times. There’s so much to think about. What company is the best fit for me? Where do I want to go? What do I hope to learn or achieve? In the current pandemic, it can be an even greater challenge. Currently, many companies have temporarily suspended their internship programs, or reduced the duration of the programs that they offer. 40% of the respondents to a recent poll by the National Association of Colleges and Employers in the USA have switched to virtual internship programs. In Germany, only about half of the internships that were available at the same time in 2019 are still available now. However, that doesn’t necessarily have to spell bad news for current students – there are still quite a few options out there!

What are internships for?

This might seem like a strange question, but if we take a closer look at why we’re really doing an internship – beyond “it’s a requirement for my program” or “everyone else is doing one” that can help us find a way to achieve the goals we have for our internship even in these really challenging times. Two of the main reasons internships are a great resource for students is that they provide you with an opportunity to test-drive working in a professional setting and to network with people in your field.

In an internship setting, you can test your skills and find out what you’re great at, and develop an awareness of areas in which you might need to build your skills/knowledge. That might apply to your knowledge in your field, concrete skills like working with Excel, or interpersonal skills, like how to navigate challenging supervisors. You can also learn what work environment fits best with your work style – do you thrive in settings with a flat hierarchy? Do you work better with lots of direct input from your supervisor? How important is structure to you in the workplace?

Knowing people in your field and building professional relationships is very important for your future career – it can make a big difference in your job search later on. Many entry-level positions are filled by former interns – and having those contacts means that you have someone to touch base with when you start your job search. You might have better access to jobs that aren’t as widely posted, and you’ll likely find that your application has a better chance of being seen by the right people.

Finding an Internship in the Corona Pandemic

Your first option is to look for a “regular” internship. You’ll probably do best if you focus on specific companies that are a good fit for what you hope to do in the future (remember, many companies are open to unsolicited applications for interns) and on job boards like Connecticum that focus on internships. Craft each application carefully. Remember, quality is way more important than quantity. Keep in mind that as internships become more competitive, things like language skills may matter more now than they did in the past. If you’re looking for an internship in Germany, it might be a good idea to brush up on your German skills. Sign up for a (virtual) tandem partner, switch your day-to-day life into German (from Netflix to your computer settings), and start reading as much as you can in your free time.

Building your network and your knowledge about the job market in your field is always a great way to boost your internship search. An informational interview is a great strategy to find out more about working in your field and to expand your network. Remember, in an informational interview, you never want to ask for a job or an internship (don’t do it!). Reach out to professionals in your field – you can find them in alumni networks, linkedin, or xing – via email (it works best if you use your university email address) and ask them if they’d mind answering a few questions and helping you learn more about the career path they’ve chosen. You can start with questions like:

  • What internships did you do while you were a student and how did they prepare you for the job you have now?
  • What do entry-level jobs in this field look like and what are the most important qualifications?
  • What one thing do you know now that you wish you knew as a student/young applicant?
  • What skills/knowledge are most important for the job you have today?

If you still can’t find a really great internship, you can create your own! Think about the skills and background that would be the most helpful for you to have in order to achieve your career goals. For example, you might find that most job postings for your dream career path require you to have certain experience – maybe you need experience in managing projects or in social media marketing. Think of a project that you could do that would help you get that experience. Write a plan/pitch and approach a local non-profit or a small company. For example, you might write a pitch to develop a social media marketing strategy for a local non-profit that wouldn’t normally be able to hire a social media manager, or offer to develop a website or app. Remember to keep the resources required from the company to a minimum and to be very clear about what you expect and what you will provide. You can also try doing a DIY internship project in your community  – launch your own local or digital project.

Getting the Most out of Virtual/DIY Internships

Doing a virtual or DIY internship will mean that you have less face-to-face contact with the people you’re working with. When you start out, clarify your expectations for feedback in the beginning. Know how and when to best contact your supervisor – via email? a slack channel? – and find out where you can go when you have a question. Remember that many of your colleagues are dealing with a lot of stress in these unusual times and may be balancing working from home with childcare or other obligations, so be empathetic. Make sure to speak up right away if you feel lost or uncertain – don’t wait for your colleagues to notice that you’re having trouble. (This is also a good idea when you’re not working virtually but is so much more important when you’re hidden away on the other side of a screen).

Do your best to build your network and connect with your colleagues. When/where appropriate, try to engage them – ask questions about their careers and be memorable. In virtual meetings, make sure that your background is professional, but not cold or blank. Leave colleagues with an impression of you as a person. Make sure to follow the rules of video etiquette. Set clear networking goals and try to follow through – if you’re having trouble reaching them, reflect on what might be getting in your way. Are your goals unrealistic, or are there strategies you can use to help you achieve them?

In a virtual or DIY internship, you are responsible for your own career development. Career journaling can be a great way to keep track of your success and of the things you’d like to improve on. Take some time daily – or at least once a week – to reflect on your progress. Sit down with a pen and paper – or a digital journal – and write out a career journal using career journal prompts. That way, you’ll have a better idea of what you’ve working towards and what you’ve achieved!

If You Get Stuck, Ask For Help

The stepping stones on your way to a great career are almost always help and support from people along the way. Reach out to friends, family, fellow students – if you aren’t having success in finding an internship, your university likely has a career service department. See if they have virtual counseling hours. Get in touch with your university’s student union and see if they have resources for you. And of course, I’m always here to help with career counseling – please feel free to get in touch!

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