As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine July/August 2006
Whether you are looking for your first professional international job after graduating with a master's degree, or you are applying for your first internship or volunteer position abroad you should be aware that international resumes are different from domestic resumes. For many, the idea of understanding international resumes is to figure out how to write a country specific resume, such as a Korean resume, a Portuguese resume, or an Italian resume. This idea is based on a false premise. You will rarely be applying for international work with an employer based in a foreign country. Ninety-five percent of the international jobs open to entry-level North American university students looking for professional international work will be with North American based employers or international organizations. These employers understand North American resumes styles. But there is a twist.
Three Big Differences
International resumes are different from domestic resumes because international employers place more emphasis on your personality. They focus on your international I.Q. They want to know that you will be effective in an international work environment. They are often less concerned with your technical skills.
There are three building blocks to an international resume: First, you have to build a resume that shows your personality and is organized to match the employer's "ideal profile." Second, you need to emphasize your cross-cultural skills, especially in terms of the cross-cultural work environment. And last, there are a host of smaller details—other differences that are unique to international resumes.
Show Your Professional Personality
International resumes highlight your skills and group information so that you do the analytical work for the recruiter. In this way nothing is left to chance. Employers will see you the way you want them to. Here are a few specific strategies to put personality into your resume.
Career Objective: This fundamental statement about what you want to do and what you like to do suggests what you will most likely excel at. Everything that follows in a resume is written to support this objective.
Personal and Professional Traits: This breakdown helps international employers know who you are and why you are good at your work. Make sure each trait is backed up with concrete examples in your job descriptions. This tactic is especially useful for those who are new to the job market and may not have enough material or experience to write a full 1-page Skills Summary.
Skills Summary: This grouping is the most powerful tool you have. It gives you full control to tell employers who you are. It takes lots of self-analysis. Work hard on choosing subtitles. Write efficiently.
Education: If you are just graduating and have few professional work experiences, write up your education as if it were a job, listing three or four points under your degree. Tell employers who you are by first listing "Areas of Interest" (not courses taken). Write then about "Major Projects," the ones you excelled at. Write also about befriending international students and working in multicultural student work teams. You could also list tutoring, study abroad, and language learning.
Professional Work Experience: By separating your professional jobs from non-professional work, you get to highlight jobs that support your objective, which employers appreciate. Write at least one third of a page on each of these important jobs.
Job Descriptions: Include skills in your job descriptions, and for important jobs, consider grouping the description into functional areas. Example: "Marketing," "Administration," and "Writing." For each job, always list one item that states "why you were successful" or "what you were known for." This tells the employer tons about who you are and what makes you tick.
Other Sections: Show your personality in other sections of your resume. Examples: for awards based on merit state why you received the award; for volunteer experience state what you accomplished; for travel provide details (e.g., "Enjoyed the challenges of getting around and interacting with officials while visiting Romania and Albania.").
Order Within Sections: There are many lists within your resume. Always sort these by order of importance as to how they support your career objectives, with the most supportive item at the top. Thus in the details of your job description do not make the mistake of first listing the last task assigned or even the largest task; rather, list the task that best supports your objective.
Group International Experience Together: By grouping your international experience under one section, you are increasing its impact and minimizing the chances that some of your international experience is missed. Under the subtitle "International Expertise and Understanding" list: international education or courses, cross-cultural and international experiences in North America and abroad (volunteering, interning, or working), language abilities, and international travel.
Length of Resume: An international resume can be longer since it includes more information about your personality. A 3- to 4-page resume is normal. But don't forget every word must count (no gobbledygook please, efficient writing only!); and everything must be formatted to allow for speed-reading (subtitle your skills inventory, use functional job titles, break down long jobs into functional areas).
Sell Your Cross-Cultural Skills
Let employers know that you are aware of the unique set of skills required to be successful in a cross-cultural work environment. Here are a few examples on where and how to mention these skills.
Skills Summary: Enjoys cross-cultural work environments; Adept and attracted to multi-cultural environments, both socially and at work.
Job Descriptions: Positive attitude toward change and new environments; Sensitive to the dynamics of a cross-cultural work place; Ability to relate to people of different personalities and backgrounds; Tolerant, curious, and appreciative of different work patterns while remaining committed to deadlines.
Education: Completed many projects within a multi-ethnic student team in order to gain cross-cultural work experience.
Volunteer Experience: Lived with a local family and successfully adapted to cultural changes.
Language: Ability to learn languages quickly when traveling.
Travel: Adept at building relationships while remaining street wise when traveling in developing countries.
Address Other Differences
There are a host of small differences to watch out for in an international resume. Obviously, language and travel descriptions need to be more detailed. But what about listing citizenship, especially if you have a foreign sounding name. List marital status if you are single, have no dependents, and are available for travel. List your spouse's occupation if he or she has a mobile career such as teaching or nursing. Take care to provide a permanent email address since international employers sometime contact applicants many months after applying.
A Last Word
It is most powerful to write an international resume with a career objective. While the objective can be broadly based, it has a specific career focus. You will be successful if you build each section and write each description to support your objective.
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