The cover letter, even if its in the format of an official business letter, is like a love letter: If it’s written personally, sincerely and full of appreciation, it opens the heart of the recruiter🌹.
There are always clients of mine who come back from an interview full of amazement and tell me how it was going. They are really stunned when they get a feedback from the employer like: „Herr xy, we’ve invited you because you have such a great cover letter. We wanted to get to know you in person.“
Ok, you’re right!
A winning cover letter is not winning because of the format, but the content.
But let me tell you: Writing a cover letter and ignoring the German standards for business and cover letter is something you definitley should not do if you knew German reruiters!
Simply because it puts stress on the reccruiter who has to concentrate on your format, while being used to information layouted usually in a different (German) way. Many recruiters, HR personell and even managers expert letters in the German business style.
If you don’t care, well, I dare say it’s like putting a stamp on your forefront saying „I don’t care for the German rules“ or, even worse „I’m an applicant who knows nothing about the German way of doing business.“ Both is not enticing. If you don’t have a profile that makes you pick any job you want I really want you to have a second look to the (exciting! 🙂 standards of a business letter.
Are you ready to enter the depths of the German letter regulation? 😉
Cover letter format = DIN Norm
You know the DIN A 4 format for a sheet of paper, don’t you? Well, years ago, the business community in Germany agreed on a uniform display of information in a business letter. The German Institute for Standardization is responsible for this, and they also develop many other nationally applicable standards:
- DIN A4 is a sheet of paper that specifies the exact length of the pages.
- DIN 5008, 5009 describe a system of rules for the display of information in business letters.
- probably there are even DIN norms for your domain and profession
It’s obvious that business letters are subject to many specifications that we don’t have to apply to private letters. A cover letter is somehow in the middle, since it’s written to a company but written by a private person.
In German business you must follow the rules of letter format
If you‘ re doing a vocational training in the commercial sector, you‘ ll learn the DIN rules at vocational business school. Also, anyone who applies in the business commercial sector should adhere as closely as possible to this standard.
As for me, I started to study business adminstration at Paderborn University right after school. To my shame I have to admit that I learned the rules for good business letters from and with my first trainee Steffi.
Even if you work in a technical field, the standards will definitely help you. But, that’s the good news, there’s no need to put a rulebook of the DIN standard on your desk and stick to it for every little detail.
If you decide not to follow certain rules, but instead choose for your particular and individual form, you will know what you do and how it affects the reader of your letter.
The content of cover letter format I’ll show you in this post are:
- Font and font size
- Structure, paragraphs and length of lines
- The sender
- The recipient
- The date
- The subject line
- The salutation
- The greeting formula
- The Signature
- The attachments
For the page margins (distance between the edge of the sheet and the text) of an application corresponding to DIN 5008, the following rules apply to the DIN A4 paper sheet:
• Left: 2.5 cm
• Right: 2.0 cm
• Top: 2,0 cm
• Bottom: 2,0 cm
As far as I know, the distance to the left side is a bit larger, so that the text of a printed document is still readable when it is stapled in a folder. Otherwise it would happen that some letters would be punched out as well.
However, in today’s world, this is usually no longer the case with job applications. Recruiters either read them directly on the screen, or print them out and staple them together or put them in a thin transparent cover. Filing the documents in a folder during the application process is far too cumbersome.
Font and font size
The cover letter format aims to enhance a good readability. You may want to choose a simple and clear font. There‘ s no default, but by no means the standard fonts (yawn!) Arial and Times New Roman. A better choice would be Calibri and Roboto, see what effect you like. Please use the same font in your CV.
The rule of thumb for the font size is 11 pt., but this can change depending on the type of font. It‘ s trendy at the moment to use slightly smaller fonts instead. However, this is a lot harder for those who wear glasses to recognize on a computer, and you definitely want to avoid blurring the letters in front of the eyes when reading your documents.
There is no format that says how to design paragraphs. Ususally letters are designed as left-justified flutter type. This is perceived as easier to read and has a more lively effect.
If you find the justification of block letters more visually appealing, then it may be due to your university background. Scientific texts and books in general are almost exclusively written in justified type.
Your address is at the top of the letter and this item is often made with errors in the German cover letter format. The address can be left, centered or right. The position must always be at least 2.5 cm away from the edge of the page.
Write your address in German writing, even if you write in English. It is mainly the way of writing the postal code (PLZ ) and the house number, which is written differently in English speaking countries:
45100 Deutschstadt (and not: Deutschstadt, 45100)
If you are available at a friend’s address, choose c/o and remember to use the lower case.
What you can design freely:
You can choose different forms of presentation in the layout. You can write all data in a row, only on the left or only on the right or even in the middle. You can write everything in one row or in several.
The spelling of the telephone number
There really is a format for the phone number, yes!! It not only applies to your cover letter or CV format, but every databank works with this format.
First, inserting your phone number on your cover letter and CV is appreciated by companies because many of them like to call you. But, still, it’s your decision and if you want them to contact you only via email, that’s ok too.
As statement prior to your telephone number you may choose between two variants if you apply in German language: „Telefon:“ or „Tel.:“. In English it’s „phone“.
The indication of the mobile number may only be called „Mobile:“, not otherwise (e.g. cell phone, handy).
The numbers at the phone number are written in two blocks, separated by area code and phone number. Between them a space: 09874 767067 or 0170 8777777.
For applications abroad, the country code is also given: +49 09874 767067. But when you live in Germany and want to apply in Germany, the country code is NOT necessary.
Specify the e-mail address
Your e-mail will be added to the sender’s e-mail address in your address section, after the phone number. The only thing that‘ s important is to make sure that the spelling is correct: It’s „E-mail:“ in German language. In German there are many other spellings, but this is actually the correct one.
In addition to a private address, the special features of a company are added.
In a large company the name of the department or division is important and it helps to get the letter to the right place quickly.
Many companies have quite specific names for their departments, check again how the spelling is in the job advertisement or on the company website. Making a mistake in this case looks non-concentrated.
In smaller companies or start-ups it‘ s not absolutely necessary and can even be understood as excessive-unnecessary.
It‘ always useful to include the first name of your contact person, so that the company’s internal postal service finds the matching Ms. Müller and gets your letter delivered correctly and without delay.
As salutation choose either „Frau“ or „Herrn“. Attention with the German spelling, the gentleman has an „n“ at the end. Personally, I find it more pleasant to use the German form of address (Frau, Herr) even for applications in English language. But it’s not really correct, so you might want to go with the English words.
The date in the German cover letter format is 1-2 lines below the recipient.
And it’s right-aligned, i.e. at the very right margin.
The alphanumeric spelling of the date is recommended for the German language:
Deutschstadt, den 1. Dezember 2020 (in German language) or
Deutschstadt, 1. Dezember 2020 (in German language)
In English I would rather not use the “2020-12-01” because this spelling of the date is still not popular in Germany, and maybe even not correct anyway. That’s why I prefer using “Deutschstadt, December 1, 2020” or “December 1, 2020” in English language.
The subject line
The subject line is 2 lines below the date.
It’s always written in bold. There may be a maximum of two lines.
In our example from above, Mrs. Müller is our contact person. The German salutation is like this:
Sehr geehrte Frau Müller, or Dear Ms. Müller,
In Germany we don’t mention the first name in the salutation. We always address a woman or a gentleman directly with her or his last name.
If you cannot find a name to which the application should be addressed, you have a problem to start with 😄.
An application is always most effective if you address it to a specific person. At the same time, you generate a binding effect on your application.
There are many job coaches who will tell you you must, must, must research that person’s name and insert it in your cover letter.
But I really thing that’s nonsense. Because if a company prefers not to mention a contact person you might think they’ve done it for a reason, don’t you?
Still, you have two possibilities from now on:
- You find out the name of the contact person for the vancany. By research on the company website or by calling the personnel department.
- You cannot find a name, you don’t have time, don’t want to bother or the personnel department has told you that there’s no specific contact person for the job. In that case you write: „Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren“ or „Dear Sir or Madam“.
Structure, paragraphs and length of lines
When you think about how to write your cover letter always imagine a tired recuiter. One who hasn’t slept well and hasn’t gotten any coffee after lunch and finds it really hard to concentrate on reading. Write the letter in a way that gets your message across at one glance.Nicola Pilz
If you keep this image of the oh-so-tired-recruiter in mind, you easily adjust your letter and make it as reader-friendly as possible.
In marketing and sales, testing the effect of a text is common. Experts try to find out the elements and design of a text that are particularly effective and/or well absorbed and processed by the reader. This includes analyses of the eye movements of a reader. Texts that are rather short line lengths receive a good rating. In this case the eyes fly quickly over the words and are very well processed in the brain. This works particularly well if the entire page is not filled with text.
Keep in mind: A short, concise cover letter is an extremely powerful tool to catapult your into the interview.
The greeting formula
It is exactly one line below your body text.
It comes after the greeting formula and may contain up to three lines. This means a little space and air.
Note on data protection and theft of digital identities
Everyone knows that the Internet and the sending of e-mails is by no means secure. You may have your account hacked, you may send the documents to a wrong address or they may be hijacked on the way. PDF files is not a trusted place, it is easy to unlock them and use the signature. It‘ s therefore okay if you don’t wish to insert your handwritten signature as a picture. Just use a word-processing program to write your name with first name and surname. An impressive and well designed application will not depend on this.
You want to include a handwritten signature?
If so, you don’t need to use a word processor to add your name under your manual signature. As a recruiter I know that the application comes from a private person and your name is on top of the letter.
It‘ s different in business life where a signature is a legal statement and is given on behalf of the company. That’s why in business, the first and last name is also written out under the manual signature, together with the function in the company.
Inserting your own signature as an image
If the appearance of your letter is important to you, then carefully check the quality of your image. For this purpose your signature has to be scanned in very good quality on a white background. If you handwrite it in blue ink, it will be even a slightly more fancy. In no case should the image be visible as a grey rectangle and appear blurred.
The attachments (in German : “Anlagen“)
Where do I write that I have attachments?
Quickly explained: By attachments the reader knows that further documents are attached to the letter. In German we have two spellings, in plural (Anlagen = several documents are attached) and singular (Anlage = a single document is attached). I always find the German word „Anlagen“ a bit bulky, but that’s how it‘ s said in German if I send further documents in addition to the letter.
If you apply in English, stick to the format and translate it into English.
The word „attachments“ is one line below the signature:
Please make sure that the font remains the same as in the text and the font size remains the same. When details are given, the word attachments MUST be bold! Take a look at the following 6 variants, all are valid:
The word “ attachments“ is in the same line with „With kind regards“.
In this case, the word is placed at the right margin (2.5 cm from the right side of the page). Here the word is ALWAYS written in bold:
Your next step
By the way, the German DIN norms probably apply to your dream job or domain as well. Maybe in process or quality or project management… Go and check it out.
Regarding to win the heart of the recruiter, it still depends a lot on the content.
You want to understand how recruiters disguise what they want?
Then ask you all the questions to make sure you don’t oversee any requirement hidden in the general bla bla of the job advertisement. In your cover letter content you need to address their requirements and wants.
Just like with a love letter 💖