HAW professorship
Successfully applying for an HAW professorship

Icon Image for applying for a an HAW professorship

There are a number of things that must be considered to ensure a successful application for an HAW professorship. © Andrew Neel / Unsplash

Applying for a professorship at a university of applied sciences (abbreviated as HAW or FH in German) goes beyond just having the appropriate qualifications. This article explores what applicants should be aware of when it comes to the cover letter, curriculum vitae and selection process.

Published: 2023-06-12

By: Ann-Mailin Behm

As is true of the application process at universities, the path to an university of applied sciences – called Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaft, or HAW – begins with an official call for applications. These postings are usually published on the school’s website, in professional journals, in national newspapers and on relevant job posting websites like academics – click here to see job postings for HAW professorships. To ensure success, application materials should be convincing and comprehensive.

Applicants should consider in advance whether they fulfil the necessary prerequisites. These include:

  • A degree from an institution of higher education (university/university of applied sciences/technical college)
  • A completed Ph.D., demonstrating a special aptitude for academic work. Graduates from universities of applied arts must submit proof of a Ph.D.-similar artistic project.
  • Pedagogic aptitude. As a rule, applicants can acquire this prerequisite through relevant experience in academic instruction. Pedagogic experience gathered in a non-academic environment can also demonstrate such aptitude.
  • At least five years of professional experience following completion of studies at an institution of higher learning. At least three of those five years of experience must have been accumulated in a non-academic environment, such as in the private sector. In the state of Saxony-Anhalt, applicants must only demonstrate three years of professional experience in a non-academic environment. In Brandenburg, applicants are required to show three years of professional experience, with two of those coming outside the university environment.

Those applying for junior professorships or tandem professorships, which have become prevalent in some German states, may not be required to fulfil all the prerequisites listed above. Such professorships are generally half-time positions remunerated according to the W1 pay grade. The professorships allow for the accumulation of professional experience or even Ph.D. completion in parallel with their teaching obligations.

In contrast to their counterparts at universities, HAW professors don’t generally engage in basic research, instead working to find practical, application-oriented solutions – together with students and in close cooperation with companies. Teaching is the priority, which is why HAW professors are generally required to teach 18 periods of class time of a duration of 45 minutes (semester hours) per week during the semester. On top of the methodical and practical teaching obligations, HAW professors are expected to participate in university administrative activities and, in some cases, intensive application-oriented research work. A passion for working closely together with young people is a further prerequisite.

Because the expectations of HAW professors are so diverse, applications should not merely focus on supplying the required documentation. A convincing cover letter, a clearly formatted curriculum vitae and the comprehensive presentation of all supporting documents pertaining to previous occupations are vital.

Applicants should pay close attention to the compulsory and the facultative requirements included in the job listing and the potential leeway that may result.

  • Because professors in Germany are, in most cases, tenured public servants, requirements mandated by laws pertaining to public servants allow no room for leeway. Those who do not meet those requirements will not be considered for the position.
  • Requirements of a facultative nature, however, tend to describe the ideal candidate and not all of them necessarily have to be fulfilled. Nevertheless, those candidates who meet a greater number of requirements than others are more likely to advance further in the application process.

Before completing a written application, applicants should take the time to familiarize themselves with the profile of the institution where they are applying, the leaders of the university, the courses of study offered and other key characteristics. Doing so not only ensures a more well-rounded application, but such background knowledge is also essential for a possible interview.

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The first impression is key, and that is also true when applying for a professorship at an HAW. Even before members of the appointment (hiring) committee begin reviewing the applicant’s curriculum vitae for professional requirements, the cover letter should ideally already have convinced reviewers of the quality of the application. The more familiar applicants are with the expectations of the position for which they are applying, the easier it is to produce a convincing cover letter.

Only those who have closely examined the hard and soft skills required for the position will have a clear idea of how to advantageously present themselves. A good cover letter strikes a perfect balance between the personality traits that are absolutely necessary for the position and a precise review of relevant expertise and skills.

The following key elements are vital for an effective cover letter:

  • Motivation (“Why am I applying for a professorship at an HAW instead of at a university?”)
  • Career profile, ideally highlighting links to appliedsciences (“What are the most significant moments of my career that highlight my suitability for the post for which I am applying, and how have they influenced me?”)
  • Key skills (“What are my strengths and how do they fit with the job requirements?”)
  • Unique qualities that other applicants may not possess (“What interesting projects have I led? Do I have any relevant overseas experience? Have I amassed any special knowledge that could qualify me for the position?”)

Those who demonstrate in their cover letters that they are intimately familiar with the position profile and have taken a close look at their own strengths and weaknesses make a good impression. That is particularly true for applicants who may not have all the desired qualifications. As a rule, cover letters should not exceed 1.5 pages of text.

The heart of every application is the curriculum vitae. As such, applicants should pay extreme attention to ensuring their curriculum vitae is precise and complete. Structure should follow the Anglo-Saxon model of listing the most recent items first and then going backwards in reverse chronological order. The most important aspect is the highlighting of professional experience and, therefore, qualifications for the desired position.

Because HAW professorships go beyond just teaching and also include involvement in academic administrative committees, corresponding activities should also be included on the curriculum vitae. Additional training or project experience represent additional building blocks pertaining to the job of professor and should also be included in the curriculum vitae.

In addition to information pertaining to relevant academic education and all applicable professional experience, the following elements improve your chances of being hired:

  • Professional specialisations, duties assumed and responsibilities that match the job description
  • Research and development projects or responsibility for obtaining external funding
  • The development of lecture series, conferences, exhibitions and similar
  • Experience abroad and participation in international cooperations
  • Memberships in professional associations, research groups or academic federations
  • Administrative functions or committee work associated with academic self-administration
  • Additional qualifications such as languages, project management skills and similar.
  • Instances of being included on the appointment list in other application proceedings.


Comprehensive supporting documents corroborating all the professional and educational achievements listed in the curriculum vitae should also be included in the application package – again in reverse chronological order. The first document should by the Ph.D. certificate (or an attestation regarding the status of a doctoral project in progress) followed by the transcript and other certificates pertaining to educational history.

Documents pertaining to professional history should follow, including certificates of employment and, if applicable, internship certificates. Because an HAW professorship requires far more professional experience than a university professorship, the applicant’s work history is extremely important. In both the curriculum vitae and from the supporting documents submitted, it should be clear that the applicant has amassed significant experience outside the world of academia.

In addition, teaching experience, projects completed and other qualifications can be listed or substantiated by way of supporting documentation. Such additional qualifications may include:

  • A list of academic articles, lectures or other publications.
  • A list of prizes, awards or other distinctions received.
  • A list of projects supported by external funding.
  • A list of relevant training courses and language courses completed, including certificates earned.
  • A list of courses taught, including location, type of course and name of course, along with relevant evaluations if available.
  • Documentation pertaining to association memberships and offices.
  • If applicable, thesis evaluations, letters of recommendation and similar.

A teaching concept and, in some cases, a research concept, are also important elements of an application for an HAW professorship. They are key in determining whether the applicant, depending on subject focus and experience, is a good fit for the position. The decisive criteria here is whether the applicant’s research and teaching focus corresponds to the university’s needs.

Candidates should set aside sufficient time to develop their teaching concept. Beyond thematic focus and the applicant’s experience as an educator, the teaching concept is critical for testifying to the (proven) quality and methodological approach of their teaching. In addition, the applicant’s own research should not just be thematically consistent with the university’s profile, previous research output and planned research activities must be explicitly described.

Because HAW professorships are filled by way of a selection process, the selection (appointment) committee begins its work once the official application deadline has passed, if not before. Depending on state law and hiring regulations, the commission is made up of faculty members, administrators and students. Because already employed professors tend to make up the majority of such internal committees, it is not uncommon for the selection process to have the character of a co-optation – meaning that the professors themselves are essentially selecting their new colleagues.

The selection process for HAW professorships tends to last several months. There are a number of stages:

  • Invitation to hold a trial lecture: The selection committee decides which candidates should be invited to hold a trial lecture.
  • Holding of a trial lecture: Invited applicants deliver a public trial lecture.
  • Interview: Once trial lectures are delivered, a decision is made as to who should be invited back for another interview.
  • Appointment list: The relevant academic committees then decide on the eligibility of the applicants. In doing so, they create a list that generally includes the top three candidates.
  • Ministerial approval and appointment: The list is sent to the relevant state ministry, which must grant its approval. Once that takes place, the top candidate on the list will generally be appointed to the professorship. 

Negotiations are then held between the desired candidate and the university of applied sciences in question. These negotiations help decide whether the applicant accepts or rejects the offer.

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