The two edges of the German letter of recommendation

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Carta recomendaciónThrough the last weeks we have been sharing with all of you some posts in which we talked about important factors to find a job in Germany, trying to contrast the possible existing differences between Germany and our country of origin when dealing with these issues. We want to talk today about one of the elements of the job application that least similarities keeps with its Spanish equivalent: the letter of recommendation, also called job certificate or Arbeitszeugnis in Germany. The Arbeitszeugnis is a document that the employers in Germany have to give their employees once the employment relationship between both parts is terminated. This document can be of two different types: simple certificate (einfaches Zeugnis), in which only the duration of the employment relation and the tasks of the employee are listed, or qualified certificate (qualifiziertes Zeugnis). This second type of certificate describes in a more elaborate way the tasks the employee had had assigned and includes an evaluation of his performance. Generally, the following points are included in it:

  • Goals of the department in which the employee was working
  • Tasks and job performance
  • Motivation at work
  • Employment qualification
  • Working methods and procedures
  • Leadership skills
  • Accomplishments
  • Social behavior and relationship with superiors and colleagues
  • Reasons for leaving the company

Legal considerations. One of the particularities of the Arbeitszeugnis is the treatment that is given within the German legal framework. By law, all salaried employees in Germany (full time, part time, interns, etc.) have the right to a qualified job certificate signed by a hierarchical superior. Less than two weeks after the end of the employment relationship should be enough for the employee to be given the certificate by the employer. After receiving the document, the period of time the employee has to request changes or corrections in the certificate extends approximately one month (a few months in some specific cases). What reasons could a worker have to ask for changes in his job certificate? It is necessary to understand that in Germany job certificates play a very important role in the selection process, in contrast with other countries like Spain where the recruiters give less weight to the letter of recommendations when it comes to evaluating a candidate. A job application in Germany should include the corresponding Arbeitszeugnisse of past professional experiences. Therefore, the worker needs to ensure that the content of these documents plays always in his favor. Businessmen In fact, the German legislation itself stablishes that the employer must comply with the “duty of benevolence” in addition to the “duty of truth” when writing the certificate. The Arbeitszeugnis should faithfully reflect the tasks and job performance of the employee, but from a positive perspective. In other words, the certificate must always be positive for the professional future of the employee. The Arbeitszeugnis code. Here is where some discrepancies between the worker and the employer may occur, even leading to court cases if there is no previous negotiation and agreement between the two sides. The reason is that in order to avoid complying to this legal requirement and being able to evaluate negatively an employee with whom the company is not satisfied, the HR departments use a code with a series of words or expressions apparently positive and innocent but that can actually be used to “warn” other companies of negative characteristics or behaviors of the employee. Many of the sentences included in an Arbeitszeugnis can be evaluated with a grade of 1 (best grade) to 6 (worst grade) for the employee. These are some examples of not-so-positive evaluations to be aware of:

  • “He approached his tasks with enthusiasm and made an effort to complete them”… but without actually achieving results.
  • “He was always on time”. Stressing something that should be taken for granted shows that there are not many relevant positive qualities to talk about.
  • “He was very popular among our clients”. Lack of negotiation skills. He made too many concessions.
  • “He completed the assigned tasks in a correct way”. He did his job, but only what he was told. No initiative.
  • “He made an effort to handle a big workload”. He was overwhelmed by all the work.
  • “He was committed with the interests of his colleagues”. He was active with the unions.
  • “He always contributed to improve the working environment”. Drinking problems?

Other form of negative evaluation is the omission of important qualities for the position (for example, not mentioning the social skills of a sales agent). The list is indeed long and many websites collect the different expressions from the code of the Arbeitszeugnisse. As a curiosity, it was formerly rumored that the inclination of the signature of the employer to the left or to the right could indicate the affiliation of the worker with a political party of one or another ideology. You can check our previous posts on the CV and the cover letter. As always, we encourage you to keep paying attention to the work-related contents we will share through the website and Funk Radio and to take a look at the active job offers. Text: Aitor Sendino Fernández

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