A position requires written CVs with Arbeitszeugnisse. How can candidates who have worked their entire life outside Germany normally deal with this?

As I understand it, in Germany you always get one after each and every job. And there are some specific rules about what can and cannot be in those certificates.

Would they accept a couple of letters of reference as an equivalent? That would mean that maybe the candidate had 7 jobs in the last 15-20 years, and only letters of reference for two, not necessarily including the last one.

  • 1
    @Wrzlprmft: sorry I expressed myself poorly. I had in mind a CV in expanded form, a fully written out CV, not just filling a form. Jul 1, 2022 at 12:07

3 Answers 3


It depends on the employer. If your employer is familiar with hiring non-Germans, then reference letters may be fine.

I went from working in academic and government jobs in Sweden, Canada, and England, to starting a government job in Germany. Half of my ex-managers happened to be German and wrote letters for me (in German) that were comparable to an Arbeitszeugnis. Another had her post-doc translate her letter to German, and yet another told me to write the letter myself, and he would sign it, trusting I wrote nothing funny. Those letters were accepted by the German employer. It probably helped that it was not the first time they hired a foreigner and that they wrote in every job opening that they welcome applications from the entire world (as long as they speak German fluently…). My contact person at the time actually apologised to me having to ask for Arbeitszeugnisse despite being aware those are not a common thing in this form outside Germany.


TL;DR: Ask them what exactly they need and when. If you guess what they want, there is a good chance you are wrong and waste everybody’s time.

I am here writing as a German who has applied some jobs with similar and weird requirements and has some insights into how those happen. Also I am assuming that you are doing some specialised job, usually requiring an academic education, because otherwise you are unlikely to be in a such a scenario.

Such requirements usually originate from some interplay between clueless bureaucrats or HR people writing the job ads, overly rigid rules, and bad communication but do not come from the people actually making the hiring decisions. What is written on the job ad or in any canned message is almost certainly not reflecting what they really need or want.

There are two categories of reasons for asking for these certificates:

  • They need some proof that you actually worked in the respective positions or performed certain tasks. For example this could be due to some legal requirements for a job, to determine your salary class in public service, or to check that you are not blatantly lying on your CV. In this case, other proofs of work will probably be satisfactory, down to a work contract and some salary summaries.

  • They want to gauge your qualities and work morale. For this purpose, a formal Arbeitszeugnis is arguably close to useless, in particular in specialised positions. Typical reference letters should suffice and actually be preferable.

To know the actual reason and specific requirements, you have to ask them. I would strongly recommend this since depending on the reason, possible substitutions can widely differ. If you just make an educated guess, you may waste several people’s time and even fail at this hurdle.

Note that you cannot guess the reason from the stage at which they require the certificates. For example, even if the certificates are only needed for the hiring process, sometimes they are prematurely required at the application stage to speed up things, when they decide to hire you. In this case, whoever imposed this requirement has probably not considered that it drastically und unnecessarily increases the application effort for people like you. Therefore it might also be worth inquiring at what stage they really need the certificates.

  • There also exists the distinction between einfaches Arbeitszeugnis, erweitertes Arbeitszeugnis, and Zwischenzeugnis.
    – gerrit
    Jul 1, 2022 at 9:39
  • @gerrit can you describe this distinction in a few words? This is all new to me, and I am curious.
    – phoog
    Jul 2, 2022 at 8:07
  • As I understand it, an einfaches Arbeitszeugnis is an extract by HR, confirming that X has worked at Y during period Z and that everything was fine. An erweitertes Arbeitszeugnis is a letter going into some detail on what X has done and how good they were. A Zwischenzeugnis is written while X is still working at Y; in particular people on temporary positions should ask for one ~6 months before finishing, because some employers take months to prepare a Zeugnis. The final Zeugnis cannot be worse than the Zwischenzeugnis until the employer can prove performance deteriorated after.
    – gerrit
    Jul 2, 2022 at 17:06
  • One problem is that although employers are required by law to provide an Arbeitszeugnis, there don't seem to be requirements in the law in how much time they can take to prepare one. From what I've read, people have successfully sued former employers when they didn't get the highest possible praise when the employer could not prove they had warned the employee their performance was sub-optimal.
    – gerrit
    Jul 2, 2022 at 17:10

I had written in my motivational letter that I was coming from outside Germany and would not be able to provide Arbeitszeugnis, and I was hired without it in the end. I guess makes sense to either warn, if there is a possibility to contract the employer, or to mention it. You can also say that you have reference letters and can provide them upon request, or attach them right away. Best of luck!

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