This article explores the influence of two types of signalling on the career success of civil servants in the federal ministerial bureaucracy of Germany. Whereas ‘ability signalling’ displays bureaucratic expertise in the sense of both political craft and administrative management competencies, ‘intention signalling’ indicates party politicization. Data are drawn from the biographies of 341 civil servants within the two highest ranks in federal ministries and the chancellery who held office between 2002 and 2013. Taking gender, formal education and career patterns into consideration, we are able to find clear evidence for ‘intention signalling’, whereas ‘ability signalling’ plays only a minor role. [---].