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4 crucial differences between German and American job ads

4 crucial differences between German and American job ads

What’s your breakfast of choice? Most Germans prefer to start their day with savory rolls, spreads, meats and cheeses. Americans usually like to satisfy their sweet tooth first thing in the morning with some yogurt and fruit, or even waffles and pancakes swimming in butter a syrup. Regardless of these cultural differences in taste, breakfast is such a settled routine for so many of us that the origin of the English word itself has long been ignored. “Breakfast” was originally, literally, the meal to break the fast that began when you finished eating dinner the night before. Through common use, the word has lost its original meaning.

We can say the same about “job advertisements”: like breakfast, we’ve forgotten what the term was supposed to convey in the first place. And like breakfast, Germans and Americans have different tastes.  

An advertisement attempts to sell something. It does this by grabbing the reader’s interest, enticing them with details, and making them feel like they would be missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by not applying. A job ad, then, wants to sell a position to a candidate, and this is the part we have long forgotten: how do we make this job sound exciting? By including content and language that is most appealing to their target audience, of course. But what is that content? And how does that language sound?

What works in Germany won’t necessarily work in the US. A German company expanding to the State or a US concern opening offices in Hamburg need to take a few things into consideration when writing their job ads. It is not always enough to directly translate the ad; you will also likely have to customize the information for the target audience. Tastes differ, and those differences matter when you’re recruiting in another country.  

Here are four crucial differences between German and American job ads. And if you’re not sure if your ad is speaking to your target applicant, send it to wordinc and our experts will take it from there.

1. Do you need a CV or a resume? 

Warning: false friends! Germans and Americans both talk about CVs and resumes but mean very different things by them. When Germans ask for a CV, they are asking for the full application including what Americans call the resume. (It doesn’t help that Germans also have the word Resümee, which means “summary.”) In the US, though, a CV is a list of academic credentials and accomplishments and is typically reserved for applying for a research grant. For this reason, a CV in the States would mention other grants already won plus teaching experience and research findings. Germans posting job ads in the States: ask for their resume, which is the chronological summary of an applicant’s education and career achievements. American companies hiring in Germany: ask for a CV. You’ll get the information you need, and your applicants won’t be confused by false friends.

2. Gendered language. 

Many languages have two gendered versions of the same noun. While this is true in some cases in English (steward/stewardess, actor/actress, comedian/comedienne), this distinction is now viewed as an archaic remnant of darker days in human history. (There’s also a whole etymological explanation about which languages the words come from, but the point is that only until recently, English-speaking society felt it necessary to comment on a person’s sex when their sex wasn’t relevant.) “Comedian” and “actor” are now used to refer to anyone in these professions, or a gender-neutral solution (flight attendant) is adapted.  

Some native speakers of English find such changes senseless or difficult to grasp. We say they should try speaking a language that genders every single noun. A job ad in the US can get away with putting the call out for managers, programmers, team leads, and copywriters because these words do not indicate one or another. Try translating the same ad into German, where you have to choose between Manager and Managerin, or Leiter and Leiterin for the sexless “leader.” No noun is spared: a translator is either an Übersetzer or an Übersetzerin. This can be extremely off-putting to today’s applicants. Workarounds like Übersetzer*in are commonplace, but they are far from becoming settled grammatical law. The conventions around these solutions are changing rapidly, and employers will need to make sure their word choice reflects a more enlightened, contemporary understanding of when gender does (and doesn’t) matter.  

3. Health insurance. 

American employers are quick to mention details of health insurance benefits. Any such information would leave German jobseekers scratching their heads. “But we all have access to the same treatments, and can be sick at home for up to six weeks with no problem as long as we have a doctor’s note.” Americans hear that and weep. In the United States, health insurance is almost always provided through your employer, who cooperates with certain insurance providers to get good deals on bulk insurance packages. And each insurance provider can offer more or less whatever they want, for whatever price. (No, this is not an exaggeration.) Without diving into even more details, let it suffice to say that American workers in the US are keenly interested in health insurance benefits because they change from employer to employer. German employers opening offices in the States: although it goes against every instinct in your body, be sure to mention some basic information about health care benefits in your job ads. American employers opening office in Germany: their system has it covered. You can drop any mention of general health care benefits. In both countries, perks like a bike rental program or subsidized gym membership are always worth noting.

4. Languages. 

Americans working in the States likely won’t need to ever use a language besides English. Even if they cooperate with partners overseas, English is almost certain to be the main language that most business is conducted in. For this reason, it doesn’t occur to most American employers to ask applicants what other languages they speak. Europeans face a different reality. Being bilingual is rather ordinary in continental Europe, as most people also learn English from a young age in school. It is not uncommon to meet Europeans who speak three or four languages, all of which will come in handy wherever they end up working, or if they choose to study in a neighboring country. That’s why most employers in Germany and elsewhere want to know what languages you speak, and at what level. Americans opening offices in Germany would be wise to ask this as well.  

At wordinc, we help you navigate these cultural differences when you’re looking to fill a vacancy. Our linguists always have an editor’s eye on the content of your job ads and keep an ear open to how the words might sound to the interested applicant. Is gendered language hurting your image? Have you asked for a CV when you need a resume? And why did you go on about your great health insurance when that’s irrelevant to your target audience? Write us an email, give us a call or schedule one today to learn more about how we can make your job ads as relevant and attractive as possible based on your needs. We look forward to hearing from you!

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