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Old 21.03.2006, 21:02
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Reference letters [Zeugnis ] - Q&A thread

Well I never really wanted to start this one myself but I thought it fair to those about to leave a company to get some pointers. Life in Switzerland is hard very damned hard without the proper content in a reference or Zeugnis as they call it.

Sorry I can only comment on the German side of Röstigraben. So expect some info here in the coming days. Also feel free to ask questions if you want.

Richard
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Old 22.03.2006, 11:28
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Re: Things to look for in a Zeugnis

Okay here is the first part of an epic.

The Structure of a Zeugnis.

At the start ie the first paragraph is not dangerous and always the same. It is Persönliche Angaben. This says

Mr Smith of *Country of origin or if Swiss heimatsort(town of origin)* has worked in our company since Jan 1st 2000 (optionally if you have not changed roles) as a chief bottle washer or whatever the job is.

Easy hey.

The second part of the Zeugnis relates to the role and the tasks associated with it. Here depending on the company policy they may make comments to your performance. But they should not it should be a role description.

In this role Mr Smith was responsible for:
  • Organising the collection of bottles
  • Ensuriong the bottles were cleaned according to company policy
  • Ensured that they were placed in the correct containers
  • Organised pick up of the bottles
  • Ordered new bottles
  • Placed the bottles on the shelf ready to be picked up by users.
A good Zeugnis should look like this.

The third section relates to how you performed the role along the lines of.

Mr. Smith performed the job with interest and to our (full - good) (fullest - best) satisfaction. He was able to correctly differentiate the different types of bottles and place them in the correct containers. etc.

The next part relates to your personal behaviour. ie His behaviour towards his fellow workers was always correct. To his managers he was usually understanding.

The final part of the Zeugnis relates to the relationship between the company and the person. This means something like this:

Mr Smith requested this reference due to a change of management. He is currently working in a continuing contract with us and we would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his efforts over the past five years. We wish much success in his career and personal liife.

Signed ...

So that is the end of the structure of a Zeugnis. In the next part we will look at each section with German words and I will translate these and point out what to watch for, what is good and of course what you don't want to see
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Old 07.03.2007, 23:36
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Re: Things to look for in a Zeugnis [work reference]

Hi Richard

Is there a time limit for objecting to a final reference?
I was mobbed out of my job last year and am now the proud owner of the shortest reference I have ever seen (8 lines or so). I havent read it for quite some time but it was mediocre and they were careful not to say anything malicious, not sure if there is hidden code in there though. My appraisals were very good yet they put me on a disciplinary period on some concocted rubbish prior to easing me out. I was lucky I didnt need the reference as I had a job lined up before I was asked to leave. HR were aware of what was going on and even helped to threaten me at one point. Didnt really want to revisit all this so should I just forget it (I had glowing references prior to this)?

Last edited by incognito; 08.03.2007 at 00:37.
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Old 07.03.2007, 23:54
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Re: Things to look for in a Zeugnis [work reference]

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Is there a time limit for objecting to a final reference?
Yes there is, but it is quite significant, I believe at least 5 years.

Whether or not to pursue a "just" reference or not is up to you, but should be determined on a few factors, such as the industry, management level,etc. The most recent reference usually carries the most weight. The key from now on is this: every 12 months or so, when things are going smooth, diplomatically request a intermediate reference. When asking you might want to explain that you are requesting it not because you are shopping around for a new job, but simply to document your career progress and performance.
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Old 08.03.2007, 00:35
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Re: Things to look for in a Zeugnis [work reference]

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Hi Richard

Is there a time limit for objecting to a final reference?
I was mobbed out of my job last year and am now the proud owner of the shortest reference I have ever seen (8 lines or so). I havent read it for quite some time but it was mediocre and they were careful not to say anything malicious, not sure if there is hidden code in there though. My appraisals were very good yet they put me on a disciplinary period on some concocted rubbish prior to easing me out. I was lucky I didnt need the reference as I had a job lined up before I was asked to leave (though my bosses boss cut short my probation period and asked me to leave when they heard from insiders that I had the job offer and was awaiting the contract). HR were aware of what was going on and even helped to threaten me at one point. Didnt really want to revisit all this so should I just forget it (I had glowing references prior to this)?
Objection to a reference is usually through refusal to accept it. In answer to your question there is and for work related issues this is usually 5 years - but they are dealt with by the courts very quickly - but to be frank you are not going to get anywhere here even though you can pursue this particular point for much longer if you so wish would you believe 10 years - yes Mr Litespeed you read correctly. If you were "removed" or should that be relieved during the probation period then I would simply replace the work with contracting. The only way a company will know any better will be after the event when they get hold of your AHV card.
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Old 08.03.2007, 09:06
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Re: Things to look for in a Zeugnis [work reference]

I have seen some Zeugnisse with a footnote the bottom saying something to the effect of, this reference letter hasn't been codified and the statements therein can be taken at face value.
I think this is to get away from the intricate wording system traditionally used in Swiss HR circles, where something ultimately very negative about an employee can be articulated to look innocuous - they call it "code."
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Old 08.03.2007, 11:54
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Re: Things to look for in a Zeugnis [work reference]

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I have seen some Zeugnisse with a footnote the bottom saying something to the effect of, this reference letter hasn't been codified and the statements therein can be taken at face value.
I think this is to get away from the intricate wording system traditionally used in Swiss HR circles, where something ultimately very negative about an employee can be articulated to look innocuous - they call it "code."
Some write this but it means nothing, especially if the said reference contains common coded phrases. A "clean" reference would be written without the use of coded phrases, thus negating the need for the caveat. Remember, important is not the intended meaning, but the likely interpretation. Most HR personnel will ignore this caveat and interpret any coded phrases as the truth.

If you are going to object to a Zeugnis, the best way to do it is to submit your own version for signing.This is normally the point where your ex-employer shows their true colours.
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Old 04.11.2008, 16:10
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Re: Things to look for in a Zeugnis [work reference]

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I have seen some Zeugnisse with a footnote the bottom saying something to the effect of, this reference letter hasn't been codified and the statements therein can be taken at face value.
I think this is to get away from the intricate wording system traditionally used in Swiss HR circles, where something ultimately very negative about an employee can be articulated to look innocuous - they call it "code."
I don't think there is a "code" as such, because the number of people who would have to be in on thes ecreat is just too big to keep it a secreat.

It's just a way of formulating things that call for the reader to read between the lines. It's not that difficult really.

For example:

"Mr Smith was always punctual" means Mr Smith was an inflexible b**** who always went home on time leaving his colleagues to finish the job on his behalf.

"Mr Smith was popular among his colleagues" means he made jokes at the expense of management and they resented him because of it.

"Mr Smith was polite" means he kept his thoughts to himself so you never knew what he was thinking.

I would say that on the whole, only statements that are wholly unamibiguous are genuine praise.
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Old 05.09.2007, 15:35
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Re: Things to look for in a Zeugnis

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Okay here is the first part of an epic.

The Structure of a Zeugnis.

At the start ie the first paragraph is not dangerous and always the same. It is Persönliche Angaben. This says

Mr Smith of *Country of origin or if Swiss heimatsort(town of origin)* has worked in our company since Jan 1st 2000 (optionally if you have not changed roles) as a chief bottle washer or whatever the job is.

Easy hey.

The second part of the Zeugnis relates to the role and the tasks associated with it. Here depending on the company policy they may make comments to your performance. But they should not it should be a role description.

In this role Mr Smith was responsible for:
  • Organising the collection of bottles
  • Ensuriong the bottles were cleaned according to company policy
  • Ensured that they were placed in the correct containers
  • Organised pick up of the bottles
  • Ordered new bottles
  • Placed the bottles on the shelf ready to be picked up by users.
A good Zeugnis should look like this.

The third section relates to how you performed the role along the lines of.

Mr. Smith performed the job with interest and to our (full - good) (fullest - best) satisfaction. He was able to correctly differentiate the different types of bottles and place them in the correct containers. etc.

The next part relates to your personal behaviour. ie His behaviour towards his fellow workers was always correct. To his managers he was usually understanding.

The final part of the Zeugnis relates to the relationship between the company and the person. This means something like this:

Mr Smith requested this reference due to a change of management. He is currently working in a continuing contract with us and we would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his efforts over the past five years. We wish much success in his career and personal liife.

Signed ...

So that is the end of the structure of a Zeugnis. In the next part we will look at each section with German words and I will translate these and point out what to watch for, what is good and of course what you don't want to see
Hello Richard,

I've just got my Zwischenzeugnis and, not being able to speak German, it would really be a great help for me (and other people here in the forum) to know the "coded" German words we should be aware of.
Any available list?

Thanks
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Old 06.09.2007, 16:30
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Re: Things to look for in a Zeugnis

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Hello Richard,

I've just got my Zwischenzeugnis and, not being able to speak German, it would really be a great help for me (and other people here in the forum) to know the "coded" German words we should be aware of.
Any available list?

Thanks
Hi johnny, no nothing to do with words. The secret is in sentences here some example. First bad then good... Oh I assume you are a male...

Durch seine recht zügige und exacte Arbeitsweise erbringt er eine zufriedenstellende Leistung. VERY negative sentence.
This is a coded sentence to mean you more or less met the requirements with respect to your working style and output


Wir haben ihn als einen Mitarbeiter kennengelernt, der, seine Aufgaben erfüllend, den Anforderungen gewachsen ist.
This is a coded sentence to mean you more or less met the requirements with respect to performance and stress.

Er verfügt über das erforderliche Fachwissen und setzt es erfolgversprechend ein.
This is a coded sentence to mean you more or less knew what you were doing.

Er arbeitet mit Fleiss und Freunde sehr exact, gründlich, gewissenhaft und sorgfältig.
This is a coded sentence to mean you actually worked conscienciously and with care - first non-negative sentence!

Er gibt gelegentlich eigene Anregungen, übernimmt die ihm übertragenen Aufgaben und führt sie aus.
This is a coded sentence to mean you showed more or less the expected initiative... negative...

Er ist pflichtbewusst, zuverlässig, vetrauenswürdig und regelmässig bereit, Verantwortung zu übernähmen.
This is also a coded sentence to say you would take responsibility but only if asked. negative...

Er is korrect und sicher in seinem Verhalten, hat gute Umgangsformen und ein naturliches und freies Auftreten.
This is a coded sentence to mean you were actually well behaved... not negative.

Aufgrund seiner Aufgeschlossenheit für alle Vorgesetzten, Kolleginnen und Kollegen ist er beliebt und geachtet.
This is a coded sentence to mean you were actually quite liked and respected... not negative.

This is not a terrible reference by the way just a standard bad one. Here is a standard good one:

Durch seine sehr zügige und exakte Arbeitsweise erbrachte er auch in Ausnahmesituationen eine vollst zufriedenstellende Leistung

Wir haben ihn als einen ausdauernden und außergewöhnlich belastbaren Mitarbeiter kennengelernt, der auch unter schwierigsten Arbeitsbedingungen alle Aufgaben bewältigte

Er besitzt ein hervorragendes, jederzeit verfügbares Fachwissen und löste durch seine sehr sichere Anwendung selbst schwierigste Aufgaben.

Er ist eine Anhaltenden Fleiß verband, mit unverkennbarer Freude an seiner Tätigkeit. Er arbeitete sehr genau und gründlich und äußerst gewissenhaft.

Er hatte immer wieder ausgezeichnete Ideen, gab wertvolle Anregungen.

Er ist äusserst pflichtbewusst, zuverlässig, vetrauenswürdig und immer bereit, Verantwortung zu übernähmen.

Er is korrect und sicher in seinem Verhalten, hat gute Umgangsformen und ein naturliches und freies Auftreten.

Aufgrund seiner Aufgeschlossenheit für alle Vorgesetzten, Kolleginnen und Kollegen ist er beliebt und geachtet

If you get a reference you should look at whether words like vollsten, äusserst, ausgezeichnet and sehr are used - if not then it is likely not a good reference.

Also be careful for double edged sentences such as:
Seine Verhalten zu Mitarbeitern und Vorgesetzten war vorbildlich.
Is that a mistake or coded! HR will choose which one based on the rest of the Zeugnis and if is is not clearly a mistake you will have no chance with that simple sentence in.

Er trug sehr zur Verbesserung des Betriebsklimas bei. He was a party animal.

It is sometimes difficult to really see what is what unless you have been "shown the way"

Clearer now?

Oh and if you don't like what is written in your Zeugnis quickly rewrite those sentences you don't like with something that cannot be interpreted falsely...
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Old 06.09.2007, 19:25
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Re: Things to look for in a Zeugnis [work reference]

Hello Richard,

thank you so much for your invaluable advices.
You have opened my eyes! I still can't believe, not only they laid me off, but they also wanted to put a grey spot (I'm not saying "black" because you said that the Zeugnis is not so terrible) on my working history, knowing perfectly how it is important, especially here in Switzerland!

I do love this country and the 95% of its inhabitants, but the behavior of the remaining 5% enervates me to the top

I will try to have the zeugnis changed, so it will also be an opportunity to show me their real intentions.

Thank you again, you are the best, man! I've tried to add a good score on your profile, but I guess I'm still to "newbie" to be allowed to do that.
But I won't forget, as soon as I'll be allowed.
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Old 07.09.2007, 11:35
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Re: Things to look for in a Zeugnis [work reference]

Other translated examples can be found in this thread.
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Old 25.07.2008, 19:54
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Need help with interpreting my Zeugnis

Hi, could anyone help me to interpret my Zeugnis that I just received? I had a look at the translation tables in the other threads already, but cannot match the sentences with those in my Zeugnis (down to my basic German and a lack of experience with Swiss references). In principle it seems to say positive things, but since my internal annual reviews always stated that I "exceeded" the requirements, there seems to be a lack of superlatives.

Would this Zeugnis sell me well to the future employers, or am I just going to look mediocre? Any feedback will be most appreciated.

PS - I skipped the job description and intro parts.

"Wir kannten Zombiekiller als engagierte verantwortungsbewusste und zuverlässige Mitarbeiterin. Sie besass gute organisatorische Fähigkeiten, war flexibel und belastbar. Ihre Arbeitsweise was genau, selbstständig und effizient. Sie verfügte über breite Fachkenntnisse in ihrem Tätigkeitsbereich. Zombiekiller erbrachte stets gute Leistungen, die unseren Erwartungen und Anforderungen in jeder Hinsicht entsprachen.

Zombiekiller überzeugte durch angenehme Umgangsformen, ein sicheres und sympathisches Auftreten sowie ihre Hilfsbereitschaft. Kunden, Vorgesetzte und Mitarbeiter schätzten ihre freundliche und zuvorkommende Art.

Zombiekiller verlässt uns heute auf eigenen Wunsch. Wir danken ihr für die Mitarbeit und wünschen ihr für die Zukunft viel Erfolg und alles Gute."
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Old 25.07.2008, 20:06
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Re: Need help with interpreting my Zeugnis

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Hi, could anyone help me to interpret my Zeugnis that I just received? I had a look at the translation tables in the other threads already, but cannot match the sentences with those in my Zeugnis (down to my basic German and a lack of experience with Swiss references). In principle it seems to say positive things, but since my internal annual reviews always stated that I "exceeded" the requirements, there seems to be a lack of superlatives.

Would this Zeugnis sell me well to the future employers, or am I just going to look mediocre? Any feedback will be most appreciated.

PS - I skipped the job description and intro parts.

"Wir kannten Zombiekiller als engagierte verantwortungsbewusste und zuverlässige Mitarbeiterin. Sie besass gute organisatorische Fähigkeiten, war flexibel und belastbar. Ihre Arbeitsweise was genau, selbstständig und effizient. Sie verfügte über breite Fachkenntnisse in ihrem Tätigkeitsbereich. Zombiekiller erbrachte stets gute Leistungen, die unseren Erwartungen und Anforderungen in jeder Hinsicht entsprachen.

Zombiekiller überzeugte durch angenehme Umgangsformen, ein sicheres und sympathisches Auftreten sowie ihre Hilfsbereitschaft. Kunden, Vorgesetzte und Mitarbeiter schätzten ihre freundliche und zuvorkommende Art.

Zombiekiller verlässt uns heute auf eigenen Wunsch. Wir danken ihr für die Mitarbeit und wünschen ihr für die Zukunft viel Erfolg und alles Gute."
I think it sounds like a good Zeugnis. It says responsible, organisation skills, exact, efficient, helpful, good results.

I wouldn't think you have anything to worry about. The style and words
sound pretty similar to my recent Zeugnis. My wife is German, and she
said it would leave a good impression.

Cheers,
Grant
  #15  
Old 25.07.2008, 20:14
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Re: Need help with interpreting my Zeugnis

i came across this article some time ago, so the info might not be up to date, but should provide some reference what the different expressions mean.
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Old 25.07.2008, 20:22
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Re: Need help with interpreting my Zeugnis

I concur with the assessment that this is a positive letter of reference. It should land you lucrative Zombie-killing jobs in the future.
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Old 25.07.2008, 21:15
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Re: Need help with interpreting my Zeugnis

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My wife is German, and she
said it would leave a good impression.
On face value and stand alone, certainly. But the language of reference-writing in German has become something between the artistic and enigmatic. Simply put, you have to look at what is NOT WRITTEN, as much as what is written.
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Old 25.07.2008, 23:18
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Re: Zeugnis [reference letter] - Q&A thread

Agree with LiteSpeed and TomCat. This is not a brilliant testimonial. It is slightly above mediocre. The impression is that the job was done in a routine manner.
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Old 25.07.2008, 23:37
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Re: Zeugnis [reference letter] - Q&A thread

I have one "glowing" Zeugnis from my first job in Switzerland.

My "glowing" Zeugnis was one that my wife helped me write.
I found the wording rather "funny". If someone wrote something
like that in English, one would instantly think it a fake.


My second Zeugnis was from a company where I extremely
disliked my manager. My wife said it was good. I would
have to find the wording though.
  #20  
Old 25.07.2008, 20:25
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Re: Need help with interpreting my Zeugnis

From my interpretation this is, as you suggest, a mediocre reference. Its not a bad reference,has some good elements, but I'd be wanting more.

Quote:
Zombiekiller erbrachte stets gute Leistungen, die unseren Erwartungen und Anforderungen in jeder Hinsicht entsprachen.
This is saying that, in all aspects, you simply did your job, nothing less but nothing more. The fact that the Zeugnis fails to mention that you had initiative or new ideas, tends to give the impression you simply clock on, work, clock off...nothing more. There is also no comment on your level of motivation of leadership /management skills (if applicable).

Quote:
Zombiekiller überzeugte durch angenehme Umgangsformen, ein sicheres und sympathisches Auftreten sowie ihre Hilfsbereitschaft. Kunden, Vorgesetzte und Mitarbeiter schätzten ihre freundliche und zuvorkommende Art.
Not really sure how to rate this...maybe someone else can help. but it lacks the clear positive adjectives that a Zeugnis needs.

Quote:
Zombiekiller verlässt uns heute auf eigenen Wunsch. Wir danken ihr für die Mitarbeit und wünschen ihr für die Zukunft viel Erfolg und alles Gute."
This says you resigned on your own. In a GOOD reference the firm would express their regret / disappointment at your departure (" mit Bedauern"). The fact that this is not mentioned is often taken by many HR people that this company was not upset to lose you, so you weren't valuable to them.

Unfortunately, even if you take the reference to court, you cannot force them to put regret /disappointment in the last paragraph.

Trust me I know, I've been there, done that, got the T-Shirt .
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Last edited by litespeed; 25.07.2008 at 20:43. Reason: Link removed as thread merged
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