Applying in english: tips for the documents and the interview

"Please send us your application in English" – this sentence can be read more and more often in job advertisements. And already your heart beats faster: In English? Isn’t it hard enough in German?

Don’t panic, it’s not that difficult. Good preparation and attention to a few "specialties" are half the battle here.

In which cases do you actually apply in English?
  • Of course, this is when you apply for a job in an English-speaking country or respond to a job advertisement in a foreign country that is formulated in English and appeals to international applicants.
  • But also job advertisements for jobs in Germany are more often formulated in English – especially for large international companies and/or a job profile where English strongly dominates in everyday working life.
  • Watch out in the "small print": Some job advertisements are formulated in German, but still contain a note that the documents must be submitted in English.
  • In addition, it may happen that you originally applied in German but are subsequently asked to submit everything again in English. On the one hand this is a lot of work, but on the other hand it is a good sign: You probably made it to the shortlist with your German documents, and now your application is to be submitted once again to a non-German-speaking person (who may be in a "higher echelon" and/or belong to a foreign parent company).

1. The application documents

British English (BE) or American English (AE)?

Of course, this depends on where you are applying for a job. It is important that you are aware of certain differences in spellings (some of which will be discussed in more detail later here) and, most importantly, remain consistent!

Generally, you have to watch out for words with

  • ou/o (z.B. "flavour" (BE) and "flavor" (AE)
  • re/er (z.B. "center" (BE) and "center" (AE)
  • ise/ize (z.B. "categorise" (BE) and "categorize" (AE) – whereby the American spelling is often already adopted into British English.

Popular online dictionaries usually list both variations, and you can look up which one applies where.

  • The date: According to the principle
    4 February 2019 (BE)
    February 4, 2019 (AE)
  • Salutation: "Dear Mr. …" / "Dear Ms. …".
    "Ms."Is now an appropriate age-neutral form of address, which – unlike in the past – no longer refers to marital status.
    If the name is not known, write "Dear Sir or Madam" (this is equivalent to "Dear Sir or Madam").
    Attention: After the salutation (unlike in German), continuous text always continues with capitalization!
  • Be careful with umlauts: a, o, u becomes ae, oe, ue.
  • Period and comma: Note that for longer numbers, a comma is made instead of a period (z.B. 3,000 €), while for notes you take a period instead of a comma (z.B. 1.3).
  • Style: Avoid abbreviations such as "I’m," "you haven’t," or "we won’t"; they have no place in a formal document.
  • Salutation: Sincerely" (BE also "Yours sincerely") is a good choice.
The cover letter

You can take a German cover letter that you already have and simply translate it into English? At least "for the rough", this can already be affirmed: In terms of content, length, components, etc. the same rules apply as for German applications.

But here too, as with any application: each cover letter should be individually tailored to the respective job advertisement, the position, the company.

Of course, you can also use certain (more general) passages from your German cover letter, but you should not simply translate them one-to-one. Because then some phrases just don’t sound "English" enough and the typical German language from the original sounds through in an unnatural way. You can find translation and formulation aids at linguee, for or

Simply translate a German application into English? You should not make it quite so easy for yourself ..

The resume

In English applications, the resume is written as "Curriculum Vitae" (in short "CV") known. In principle, it is structured in the same way as the curriculum vitae in German, although in English-speaking countries it is even more important to state your stations in any case chronologically backwards list.

Important to know:

  • In the CV, the application photo, the date of birth and the marital status are omitted in comparison to the German CV.
  • On the other hand, it is customary to state the title of the job you are aiming for ("objective") and to describe yourself and your personality again in brief ("summary"). Both will be placed above (above your stations).
  • In the British environment the individual stages can be described in greater detail.
  • Especially in the USA on the other hand, CVs are often as short as possible. Here is from "resume" (also called "resume" or "resume") the speech. A resume must not exceed one page under any circumstances! The above mentioned points objective and summary are omitted and the stations are listed so briefly that there is no page break.

Leave German references untouched for now – usually the potential new employer won’t ask for a translation here. And in the British environment, references are not an integral part of the written application documents anyway.

If, in the end, individual references do matter and a translation is essential, you should not do this yourself, however, but hire a professional translation service. The wording of German references is characterized by very specific, cryptic paraphrases, where a layman’s translation could lead to a complete distortion of the meaning.

2. The job interview

In which cases the interview takes place in English?
  • If you have submitted your documents in English (for one of the reasons mentioned above), you should of course be prepared for the interview to be held in English as well. From my own experience I can say that this is by no means the only case in which you should be prepared for English conversations. Even with a German application, the interview can take place in English:
  • At German companies operating in an international environment, job interviews in English are not uncommon – especially, of course, for jobs in areas such as z. B. Sales and management departments that have a strong international and English-speaking orientation or have a high proportion of foreign employees.
  • The interview can also take place in English at foreign companies with a German subsidiary.
  • Job interviews often take place with several people, some of whom do not speak German (or do not speak it well enough) and therefore switch to English.
  • In other cases, some questions in the otherwise German interview will be asked in English as a kind of "test", and you will be asked to answer them in English. Especially if the job description explicitly asks for good or very good English skills, you should prove that your stated "fluent" or "business fluent" English skills are more than just hot air.
Tips for preparing for the interview in English
  1. Anticipate questions and prepare answers in detail beforehand.
    Let’s face it: in most job interviews, many questions are predictable. "What have you done so far? Why did you apply for job XY with us?? What knowledge and experience do you bring with you? What are your particular strengths? What do you like to do / not so much?"As always, you should prepare suitable answers and passages in advance, preferably write them down, go through them mentally and learn them – only this time in English.
  2. Learning vocabulary.
    Do you remember learning vocabulary at school?? You can do the same thing now: look up as many typical English terms from the work environment and the industry as possible in advance, so that you have them at hand during the interview and don’t have to look for them spontaneously. Typical terms, which can be helpful in any job interview, can be found here for example.
  3. Practice speaking.
    Most of us don’t speak English very often – and when it comes to the interview, it feels (and sounds) somehow unfamiliar. Therefore, practice predictable passages (see above) and speak aloud in order to get used to the "tongue lash" and to feel comfortable with it in the later interview situation.
  4. Use English media.
    With videos in English (e.g. B. on Youtube), English texts or English podcasts you can "groove in" linguistically. So take every opportunity to consume media in English before your interview. Be aware, however, that American English has a completely different acoustic coloration than British English.
  5. View the website in English.
    If the company of your desire has a website (version) in English, read through as much text there as possible. You will get to know the common terms of the company and can score points in the interview by already knowing them and being able to use them if necessary. to let flow. And, of course, you’ll also learn important information about the company – that can never hurt&
  6. Stay loose.
    Be aware: Nobody expects you to have a perfect command of English as a foreign language. It’s not a big deal at all if you can’t think of the right word right away, or if you have to rewrite it. If German interviewers are sitting at the table with you, don’t be afraid to ask them for a specific term.
  7. Gain time.
    Clearly, even with good preparation, many interview topics and questions are of course impossible to predict, and your spontaneity is called for. It is already difficult enough to shoot a convincing answer from the hip in German. And now the linguistic component is added as an additional complication. Phrases like "Okay, give me a second" or "That’s a good question – I have to think about that for a moment" give you a moment to think about the content and wording without anyone resenting you. You’re only human, after all!
  8. Use the interview as an opportunity.
    Especially if it is not clear beforehand whether the application will be in English, you will be one step ahead of the competition if you are prepared in case of an emergency.
  9. Thank them the next day.
    In Germany it is an option, in English-speaking countries it is almost obligatory: to thank the interviewer for the interview in the form of a short e-mail the next day and to emphasize once again that you would like the job. This "encore" is seen as confirmation of your initiative and self-confidence.

With this in mind: Goodbye and good luck!

  • #application
  • #English
  • #job interview

Thomas Horn

Everything to do with the written word – that’s Thomas’ professional metier at the Institute for Vocational Education (IBB). Tasks range from product and online communications to press/PR support. Thomas also creates brochures, flyers, other print materials and whatever else is needed.

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