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Give the World a Twirl

How to Write a Resume for an International Job

By Mary Anne Thompson

Professionals of all ages are seeking careers outside their home countries for a variety of professional and personal reasons: the need to recharge their batteries with a new challenge, the opportunity to have a position with more responsibility that encourages creativity and initiative (and typically leads to a promotion), the wish to expose their children to another culture and a second language, and the recognition that many of those at the top of the corporate ladder have leap-frogged ahead after a global work experience.

There are no hard and fast rules for putting together a resume for an international job. Best advice: do your homework. Find out what is appropriate vis-a-vis the corporate culture, the country culture, and the person making the hiring decision. The challenge is to incorporate several different cultures into one document.

Some General Advice

The terms “resume” and “CV” (curriculum vitae) generally mean the same thing the world over: a document describing one’s educational and professional experience that is prepared for job-hunting purposes. A CV is typically a lengthier version of a resume, sometimes with numerous attachments. Note: The average length for a resume or CV is two pages—no matter the country, no matter the position. Never, ever try to “get around the rules” by shrinking your font size to an unreadable level or printing your resume on the front and back sides of one piece of paper. Never “stretch” your resume to two pages but also never sell yourself short by limiting yourself to one page.

Different countries use different terms to describe the information that a resume should contain. For example, “cover letters” are called “letters of interest” in some countries and “motivation letters” in others. Photographs are not appropriate attachments to resumes in the U.S.; however, in many countries outside the U.S., it is standard procedure to attach a photo or have your photo printed on your resume.

Education requirements differ country to country. In almost every case of “cross-border” job hunting, merely stating the title of your degree is not an adequate description. If you are a recent graduate and depending heavily upon your educational background to get a job, provide the reader with details about your studies and any related experience. The same advice applies to seasoned professionals who have participated in numerous training or continuing education courses: provide the reader with specific information on what you learned, the number of course hours, etc. Your university training becomes only “a line item” on your resume (i.e., no further details needed) once you have five or more years of professional experience.

If you have specific training, education, or expertise, use industry-accepted terminology in your description: language and terms that any professional in your field would understand, no matter where in the world he or she lives.

Pay particular attention to write your resume in the correct chronological order. Where there are no specific guidelines, the general preference is a reverse-chronological format.

The level of computer technology and accessibility to the Internet varies widely country to country. Always be sure to email your resume as an attachment and in a widely accepted format, such as Word. And always send a hard copy via “snail mail” just to make sure it is received.

Computer skills and language skills are always important, no matter the job, no matter the country. Take care to describe your skill levels in detail in both categories.

If you are submitting your resume in English, find out if the recipient uses British English or American English. A reader who is unfamiliar with the variations just presumes that the resume contains typos. Most European companies use British English. Almost every computer today provides you with both options.

Spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck, then get a human being to spellcheck your resume. Human resource professionals the world over assume that if you submit a sloppy, careless resume you will be a sloppy, careless worker. Take the time to double-check the correct title, gender, and spelling of the name of the recipient of your resume. Jan is a woman’s name in the U.S. and a man’s name in Europe.

If you can, get someone who is a native speaker of the language in which your resume is written to review your document. One goal of your resume is to show your familiarity with the culture by using culturally-appropriate language. Anything else just highlights that you may not be a candidate who can “hit the ground running.”

Be aware that stationery or paper sizes are different dimensions in different countries. When you are transmitting your resume via email, go to “Page Setup” on your computer and reformat your document to the recipient’s standard. Otherwise, when they print it out half of your material will be missing. The same is true for sending a fax. If at all possible, purchase stationary that has the same dimensions as the recipient’s and mail/fax your resume on that stationery.

Most multinational companies will expect you to speak both the language of that country and English, which is accepted today as the universal language of business. Draft your resume in both languages and be prepared for your interview to be conducted in both languages.

The safest way to ensure that your document is “culturally correct” is to review as many examples as possible. Ask the employer or recruiter for examples of resumes that they thought were particularly good.

Work permit and visa regulations tend to be similar country to country: Most employers who want to hire “foreigners,” “aliens,” or “expatriates” must be able to certify to the government that they were unable to find locals with the required skill sets. The fastest way to be hired abroad is either to actively seek a country where there is a shortage of people with your skills or to be an “intra-company” transfer from another country. Be aware that obtaining a work permit can take many, many months.

Finally, to be successful and enjoy your experience abroad you must be flexible and open-minded, both eager and willing to learn new ways of doing things. To hold fast to your own cultural traditions, even when they offend others or render you ineffective, is a waste of everyone’s time. People everywhere appreciate individuals who are interested in getting to know them. Cultural faux pas are forgiven of individuals who are making well-meaning attempts to fit in; on the other hand, arrogant know-it-alls can sink million-dollar deals just by their attitudes. Be patient and observant. Ask questions. Show your interest in learning and broadening your understanding. Be aware that you represent your country to everyone you meet.

MARY ANNE THOMPSON is the founder of www.goinglobal.com. Thompson’s The Global Resume & CV Guide, from which this is adopted with permission, contains job-hunting advice for more than 40 countries.