Too Much Information (Cultural Differences XIV)

I had to write a job application cover letter in my German class. I could not believe the example we were given.

I have the luxury of being the oldest person in my class. While that makes language acquisition difficult, I don’t have the same pressures the other students face. My work is in English, and it is volunteer. I don’t expect to ever enter the job market again – and if I do it would be because the job came to me, not that I applied. I’ve had to do very few applications in my life – jobs seem to pretty much come to me when I need them, morning radio, running a record store, working for a newspaper – they called me.

My classmates though are all going to be working in Germany for a couple of decades or more, if they can acquire the language. And if they can then get a job. Which might not be easy – I get the impression Germans are somewhat tribal. That means it is tougher for immigrants to get jobs. It isn’t any different in Canada, but we have laws about discrimination.

I expect that Germany has similar laws, but, having seen the sample cover letter we were instructed to emulate, maybe it doesn’t. By Canadian standards the letter was all wrong – and it seemed to me to be setting the applicants up for failure. Surprisingly, the Germans I have spoken to about it do not seem to grasp what the issue is. The way I saw it, an employer could discriminate at the resume stage and thereby weed out immigrants, of they were so inclined to do so.

In the sample, the applicant gave her age (which shouldn’t be relevant to an employer) and explained she had just gotten a good mark on her German language exam. If I am an employer that is an immediate red flag. I want employees that are easy to understand, not those who have an imperfect grasp of the language (and the B1 level cited is good enough to live by, but definitely not perfect). If someone tells me in their cover letter they are just learning the language, I probably wouldn’t give them an interview, unless they had stellar qualifications.

The qualifications in the cover letter also bothered me. The young woman said she had two year’s relevant experience, then said it was in a family business. To me that is another red flag. Did she have the job because she was qualified, or because she was family?

I’m told German employers like to ask things that in Canada are just not allowed. Age, marital status, number of children, and I don’t know what else. (Oh, yes, I do. If what I have been told is correct, they also like to see a picture. Fortunately, I have a face for radio, so that wouldn’t be an issue for me.) If I as an employer had tried that in Canada, I could have been subject to a human rights complaint. The question is whether you can do the job, not whether you are from somewhere else or have thirteen children.

I wonder what a German employer would do if they received a resume from a job applicant that just had the relevant information? Would it be automatically rejected because it doesn’t follow German custom? Of would it start a new trend.

In class I kept quiet and didn’t raise my concerns or challenge the teacher on what was being taught. I’ve learned that in this culture boat-rocking is not appreciated, even when I am not actually trying to be difficult, just curious.

Now though I am wondering if I should have made an issue of it, for the sake of my fellow classmates. Or maybe I just don’t understand German culture.

One comment

  1. Yes! I couldn’t believe the personal information which is expected on a Lebenslauf – no screen against discrimination at all

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