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
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.
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.
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.