"No bla bla!"
On planning work experience abroad, your application is crucial. Application letters written in English should be brief and to the point – and not only that, the LMU’s Jobline website has many practical tips and advice.
Fabulous, excellent, fantastic – using epithets like these does not come naturally to the average German job applicant when describing themselves. They sound boastful and arrogant to the unassuming candidate who would prefer to be judged on the basis of their professional qualifications which they feel are well documented by the certificates in their well-filled dossier. But adjectives like these are not uncommon in job applications in the US and the UK and in countries where English is the lingua franca of the business world. “To impress recruiters in these places, you must invest more of your personality in your application than you would in a German one,” says Dr. Frieda Pattenden of LMU’s Language Center. Indeed, in the covering letter, you should emphasize personal qualities and competencies and not only your technical knowledge, “because businesses in the English-speaking world are generally more interested in flexibility – someone who has a degree in history can make a career in marketing,” says Pattenden, who is British.
It is certainly true that applications for training courses, internships and real jobs with firms in the US or the UK differ strikingly from those expected by German employers. To find out how, visit www.jobline.lmu.de, where the differences are clearly explained. The website also provides guides on how to formulate your cover letter and CV, tips on how to prepare for interviews, and a list of dos and don’ts in interactions with recruiters. The suggestions are clearly stated and cover all the important details.
“Something I know I can rely on”
When she sat down to write her first job application in English, Simone Schneider had assembled a mass of tips from a dozen websites, only to discover that much of the advice was inconsistent and that her application was incoherent and unconvincing.
“I then took a course in Business English at the Language Center which included a section on how to write a job application,” she says. The course also brought Jobline to her attention, and Schneider, who is studying Communication Science, European Ethnology and Sociology, became an enthusiastic fan of the website. “I could always check everything to see whether I had got it right.” As a participant in the course, she had the additional advantage of having her application checked and corrected by the instructor. But thanks to the help she received from the site, there was actually little to correct. Her subsequent application for an Erasmus Exchange Fellowship in Helsinki was successful, and she intends to make further use of the site when she applies for internships. “I feel that Jobline is something I can rely on,” she says.
The portal itself is actually not new. It was first set up in 2002 as a course with an online module. But it soon became clear that students were using it primarily as a knowledge resource. This does not surprise Frieda Pattenden: When you apply for a job, you usually have little time. The application must be put together and sent off within days.”
However, in its original form, the site was overloaded with information. So the team of experts at the Language Center reduced it to the essentials, and restructured it to make it clearer and easier to use. In particular, the redesigned format takes into account the changes in the job application process that have occurred since the first version went online. “Firms these days expect candidates to apply online,” Pattenden points out. And their applications should consist simply of a CV and a cover letter.
A broad-based user community
Jobline brings together the expertise and years of experience accumulated by the Language Center’s staff. The new portal was largely developed by Frieda Pattenden and Cherie Quaintance, both native English speakers. Quaintance is an American who was CEO of a company in the US and knows the business world from the inside.
“The feedback we have received from users of Jobline has been very positive,” Pattenden says. “The site is now used, not only by students, but by people who are already well established in their professions.”
The site is also much more than a collection of tips and strategies. Users can view sample applications and CVs. And the newest pages supply information and recommendations on how to formulate references for job candidates. This service was provided at the request of faculty members and academic staff who are increasingly faced with the task of writing references in English.
According to Pattenden, “the chances for German applicants on the American and British labor markets are actually quite good.” Germans are generally regarded as hard-working, reliable and punctual – but they should take care to be more concise in their job applications! One important passage on Jobline states: “Sentences in English business writing tend to be shorter, so write simple, active sentences. Long sentences with multiple clauses and complicated structures confuse the reader and lead to grammatical difficulties.” Dr. Frieda Pattenden also adds: “Every word is gold – avoid any bla bla.”