For literally no reason whatsoever, I’ve decided now might be a good idea to start looking for a full-time job outside of the United States. And since my questionable life choices mean I speak German fluently, it’s time to start walking the walk of my lifelong love of punctuality and mandated coffee breaks and send out some German Bewerbungen (buh-VER-boong-en), or job applications, in the hope that some magnanimous Firma will go You know what? This Amerikanerin with the bad grammar is exactly what’s missing from our well-oiled yelling factory.
I have thereby discovered that from the American perspective, German job applications are monumentally (and unsurprisingly) thorough—some might even call them invasive, though that “some” would be us, a.k.a. people who currently operate in one of the most toxic workplace cultures in the developed world, so maybe some should shut some’s big American pie-Löcher for once and reconsider some policies that, in a different context, might not be so bad. Or also they might. I don’t know. Please give me a job, someone in Germany. I’ve got to get my family the expedient fuck out of here.
All right, deep breaths. Now, as a sometime academic, let me say I am no stranger to a long and involved process in the employment-search milieu. Your average tenure-track position in the literary humanities (and I’ve applied to a few hundred) usually requires some 50-60 pages of materials, including a detailed and customized cover letter, sample course syllabi, excerpt of recent published research, selected transcripts, and a minefield “teaching statement” that must simultaneously reflect an innate mastery of contemporary pedagogy whilst also not expressing any undue enthusiasm, lest you be more popular than your new colleagues. But even four years and counting as the Internet’s resident academic failure could not prepare me for what your average German shoe-store wants.
The most shocking component of the German job application is simultaneously its most un-American, but in an actual-and-not-Alanis ironic sort of way. I speak here of the Bewerbungsfoto (buh-VER-boongs-foh-toh), a.k.a. the required recent photographic likeness that every applicant to every job must include on the first page of his, her or their attempt at employment. (Germany, a place that literally genders the word for “window,” recognizes nonbinary individuals now, and probably also would bake them a wedding cake without making a literal federal case out of it.)
Ugh! You’re saying. That’s looksist! And racist! It is, yes—but counterpoint: Check out this study by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, which determined that while an anonymous job application process can combat some discrimination, it often just postpones it to a later stage in the hiring process. Speaking of which, although we don’t require photos in the US (and, indeed, our hiring experts warn against including one unless we are in the looks-having business and need a head shot), our application process is rarely, if ever, anonymous, and our awesome racist and sexist (and both-ist) employers just judge us by our names instead.
Germans take application photos so seriously that there is an entire sub-industry of headshot purveyors and advice-givers, like this article imploring would-be applicants to “please smile,” which is honestly quite perplexing, because that person will literally never be asked to smile at any point during his/her/their employ.
But fine, okay, I’ll bite. The Bewerbungsfoto has to be “recent,” so it’s only fair that I include a selfie I just literally took this second, which includes a cameo of my splinted finger, courtesy of my daughter who jumped on my hand and bent said digit about 50 degrees in the wrong direction. (Yes, I’m writing this nine-fingered. Nothing will keep me from my sacred duty to Deutschland über US. Am I a hero? You said it, not me.)
Speaking of my decrepitude: American would-be job-givers also have ways of deducing another time-honored method of discrimination, i.e., the conceit that has made an entire Sutton Foster–Hilary Duff vehicle possible. Sure, we Americans are allowed to take the graduation years off of our résumés—and, as I’m now a year older than Sutton Foster’s impossibly geriatric character was on the Younger pilot, I’d certainly have to do this if I were applying for a nonacademic job in the US—but when we do, it just has the same effect (ATTENTION: IT’S AN OLD) without the pesky math. (Fortunately for me, 41 is still “academic-young;” my gray hairs might cause the bitchy yoga moms at my daughter’s preschool to avoid me, but they scream PROFESSORIAL GRAVITAS.)
But I still sort of admire the German system, where you straight-up have to list your date and place of birth right under your picture. Again, yes, this might hasten the discrimination of a potential Chef (the German word for “boss;” the German word for “chef” is Koch; and before you ask, if you work in a restaurant, your boss is the Chefkoch). However, is the problem really that your AfD-sympathetic manager can’t be forced to hire you, a person s/he/they will then terrorize and undermine for your entire career? Or is the problem the whiteness-centered white-supremacist garbage nightmare of “the West” in its entirety? As far as I can tell, the German system, in all its weaknesses, also prevents a lot of wasted time, a.k.a. one of my favorite German words, Zeitverschwendung (TSITE-fir-SHWEN-doongk).
I haven’t even made it past the first damn page of an average German Mappe (MOH-puh, or dossier) and there’s more, you guys. You know how there are like five think pieces a day in the U.S. media about how pregnant women and mothers Literally Cannot Even at work? Germany and its guaranteed gender-non-determinate parental leave policies DGAF—or, more specifically, DOES GAF, but only because people with kids are taxed differently and often qualify for different benefits. So it’s not a matter of Will this broad always need to leave early for her kid’s soccer game? Because first, that would never happen because Germans generally work way fewer hours than we do, and also German parents aren’t expected to glom onto their kids’ recreation activities even though doing so is soul-deadening for all parties involved. It’s just so that if hired, the person gets put into the right tax category.
If you are able to keep your jaw off the floor after listing literally every legally-forbidden and disingenuously “protected” fact about yourself on page eins, then get ready to spend some time rooting through your parents’ attic, because the subsequent pages of your German Mappe not only require an exhaustive Lebenslauf (LAY-buns-LOWF, literally “run of life,” or CV), but sometimes-notarized photocopies of every diploma you’ve ever earned, including high school, and all of your GPAs, too. High school GPA! This is largely because German secondary education is a bigger and more comprehensive deal than ours. Whereas American high school is largely just a vehicle for nascent eating disorders and virginity loss, Germans track their students at age 10, and whether (and where) one attends Gymnasium (college preparatory school), vocational or technical school actually matters to one’s employ.
Finally, any dossier worth its salt contains written references from previous employers, at least two general letters of support (that you get to read!!), a copy of one’s work visa (if you, like me, need one), and sometimes—my personal favorite for its Kafkan overtones—depending on what sort of job it is and if you’re an immigrant such as myself, a letter from your local police department certifying that there are no current warrants for your arrest.
The good news is that once you get all of this shit together, you can pretty much send the same packet everywhere, just with a different cover letter that, in blessed German tradition, is supposed to be curt AF. (Very Honored Ladies and Gentlemen, please give me job. With friendly greetings! Frau Doktor Rebecca Schuman, PhD). The bad news, however, is that I will still probably never get a job in Germany—not because I am internationally unemployable, mind you. Because I have no goddamned idea where my high-school diploma is.