Job Application in Germany - The Photo Issue

Student Advisor and Admissions Officer Inga Diercks on the rather special relationship between Germans and "application photos".

Education & Study |

Today, I would like to give you a bit of an insight into application processes in Germany. In particular, I would like to talk about application photos, also known in Germany as Bewerbungsfotos. Some of you may already have come across this term while researching universities, jobs and scholarships in Germany and have wondered what exactly differentiates an application photo from a passport photo.

Why submit a photo at all?

In many countries around the world, it is frowned upon to submit a photo of yourself along with your application documents. However, in Germany it is customary. You may have noticed that even we give you the option of including a photo in the online application form. This photo does not only help us to remember you better but we also use it to compile a booklet of our students for the professors before you even arrive in Hamburg.

Anti-discrimination law

Until about 10 years ago, employers required applicants to submit a Bewerbungsfoto along with their documents (motivation letter, CV, certificates, references). An application was not complete without a photo. But in 2006, the German parliament passed an anti-discrimination law that had the effect that application photos, that, as was believed, might lead HR personnel to discriminate against applicants based on their looks and age, can no longer be required. However, contrary to what was believed at the time, they are still widely used today and to a degree expected by HR personnel. Some career counselors maintain that applications with a photo are more likely to receive positive feedback.

Our service: professional in-house photography

In order to not stand out in a negative way, I recommend to adhere to the custom of submitting a photo. To this end, we actually have a professional photographer take photos of the Master of Law and Business students during the orientation at the beginning of the program, so that the students do not incur any additional costs. (Note that professional application photos can cost anywhere from €50-150 in Germany.)

Some suggestions

As many students are confused about how they should dress and behave when the photographer comes to campus during orientation, it has become obvious to me that our students and applicants could benefit from some advice in this matter.

Please note that this is general information and that we do not expect you to have such pictures taken for your application to the Master of Law and Business Program.

  • First of all, use a current photo that is not older than 12 months that shows you with your current hairstyle. If you always had long hair and just recently changed it to a buzz cut, have a new picture taken. The employer expects to be able to recognize you when s/he welcomes you to the interview.
  • Dress for the job you apply for! If you are going to apply to a conservative law firm, wear a suit and tie, blouse and blazer, respectively. If you want to apply to a creative start-up, your creativity may be expressed through your clothing as well. Take your audience into account. Women should refrain from wearing low-cut shirts and wearing too much make-up.
  • Smile! This doesn’t have to be your biggest vacation smile showing all of your teeth but a little smile can go a long way. Keep in mind what you want to express with the photo: you are a friendly, smart person who is looking forward to meeting the HR staff in person and would be a pleasure to have around on a daily basis. I have noticed that many of our students are reluctant to smile in photos out of fear that they might not be taken seriously. In Germany, a smile is expected in application photos and nobody will take you less seriously because of it. Remember, your CV reflects your qualifications. If you don’t like your smile, then at least do your best to look friendly.

These days, most applicants in Germany opt for a black and white photo because they are generally considered to be more flattering. If you decide to go with a color photo, make sure not to wear too flashy colors. Anything neon should stay in the 1980s.

Beware of your digital footprint

On a side note: please be aware that employers routinely google their applicants. Take a moment to google yourself and see which photos pop up. If you are uncomfortable with a potential employer (or admission director, for that matter) seeing them, please adjust the privacy settings on your social media. Nobody expects you to be a recluse who never goes outside and doesn’t have a life but ask yourself if beach photos from your last vacation are the first impression you would like to make on your future employer.

I hope that this brief article has brought a little bit of light into the darkness of German application customs.


Inga Diercks, Admissions Officer, Master of Law and Business