Culturally correct CVs for working abroad

Culturally correct CVs for working abroad

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When you're looking for work abroad, it's vital to have an international CV that crosses borders.

Interest among seasoned professionals in pursuing international careers has skyrocketed in recent years. Such interest has been enhanced by chronic personnel shortages in home markets that are causing foreign companies to search beyond their borders for talent.

These candidates aren't passively waiting to be hired by just any employer. They're targeting specific destinations first and then choosing employers who can take them there.

A recent survey of the chief executive officers of many of the world's largest companies lists working abroad as the most important employment experience for professionals who will succeed them.

The first impression you make on a prospective employer will be your resume or curriculum vitae. It's important that this document shows that you possess the necessary professional and cultural knowledge.

Putting your best foot forward

Resume and CV guidelines are in a constant state of change. There are no hard-and-fast rules that are 100 percent appropriate in every case.

For example, letters that accompany a resume or CV, known as 'cover letters' in the US, are called 'letters of interest' in some countries and 'motivation letters' in others.

The best advice is to do your homework — find out what's appropriate according to the corporate culture, the country culture and the culture of the person making the hiring decision. The challenge will be to incorporate these different cultures in one document.

The safest way to ensure that your document is culturally correct is to review as many examples as possible. Ask employers or recruiters for examples of resumes or CVs that they think are particularly good.

Here's some general advice on how to create a resume or CV that will help you land international job offers.

Length

A CV typically is a lengthier version of a resume, complete with numerous attachments.

An average length for a resume or CV is two pages, regardless of the country or position.

Don't try to get around this rule by shrinking your font size to an unreadable level or printing your resume on both sides of a piece of paper.

If you have limited work experience, one page is adequate. Never stretch your resume to two pages, and don't sell yourself short by limiting yourself to one page.

Format

Most countries have definite preferences about whether a resume or CV should be in a chronological or reverse-chronological format. Chronological order means that your first work experience is listed first; reverse-chronological order means that your current or most recent experience is listed first. If no specific guidelines are given, generally a reverse-chronological format is preferred.

In many European countries, resumes come with photos attached, but this simply isn't done in the US. If one is attached, the employer is required to dispose of it.

In my lectures, I'm constantly confronted by job seekers who are insistent about attaching their photos to US applications anyway. But why would you want to highlight to an employer that, although you'd like to work in that culture, you haven't taken the time to find out what's appropriate, or for some reason wish to ignore the rules?

Education

Education terms differ from country to country. In almost every case of cross-border job hunting, merely stating the title of your degree isn't an adequate description. The reader still might not have a clear understanding of what topics you studied or for how many years. In some countries, a university degree can be earned in three years and in other countries it takes five years.

If you're counting on your educational background to get a job, it's important to provide the reader with details about your studies and any related projects and experience.

However, for experienced professionals, educational background should rarely be more than a line item on your resume.

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

Language

Most multinational companies will expect you to speak both the language of their country and English, which is widely accepted as the universal language of business.

Have your resume or CV drafted in both languages and be prepared for your interview to be conducted in both languages. Most companies want to see and hear proof of your language skills early in the hiring process.

If you're submitting your resume in English, find out if the recipient uses British English or American English. There are numerous variations between the two versions. If you use the wrong one, a reader who's unfamiliar with the variations may just presume that your resume contains typos.

Most European companies use British English, and most US companies, regardless of where a particular hiring manager is based, use American English. Almost every computer allows you to choose between the two.

International careers: work abroad

Accuracy

Use your word processing software's spell-check feature, then have someone check your resume or CV for spelling errors as well. Human-resources professionals the world over frown on misspelled words or typos. Their presumption is that if you submit a sloppy, careless resume, you'll be a sloppy, careless employee.

A human spell-checker is especially valuable for catching words that are spelled properly but used incorrectly. Also take time to double-check the title, gender and spelling of the name of your resume's recipient.

If you can, have someone who's a native speaker of the language in which your resume or CV is written review your document. Resumes and CVs written by people who aren't native speakers of a language tend to include terms that, though correct in the exact translation, are never used on an everyday basis.

One goal of your resume or CV 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.

Delivery

Computer technology and internet accessibility vary widely from country to country. But nowadays, if an employer asks for you to email your CV or to use an application system, then do so.

For unsolcited applications, send your resume as an email attachment in a widely accepted format, such as Microsoft Word. Send a hard copy of your resume or CV by conventional mail to make sure that it's received.

Be aware that the standard paper size is different in different countries. The US standard is 8½ inches wide and 11 inches long while the European A-4 standard is 210 millimeters wide and 297 millimeters long.

When you create your resume or CV for email transmission, use the 'page setup' feature to reformat your document to the recipient's standard. Otherwise, when your document is printed on the other end, half of your material will be missing.

Ideally, make your CV into a PDF file. You can download free software to do this using CutePDFwriter (www.cutepdf.com) which converts the document to PDF when you 'print': instead of choosing your printer you select CutePDF and it converts the document into a PDF you can save on your hard drive.  

The same is true for sending a fax. If possible, use stationery with the same dimensions as the recipient's.

Making the most of your experience

To be successful and enjoy your experience abroad, you must be flexible, open-minded and eager to learn new ways of doing things. To hold fast to your own cultural traditions even when they offend another or render you ineffective wastes everyone's time.

People everywhere appreciate individuals who are interested in getting to know them and learning about their ways of doing things.

When committed by pleasant individuals who are making an honest attempt to fit in, enormous cultural faux pas are often forgiven. On the other hand, an arrogant know-it-all can sink a million-dollar deal with his attitude. Be patient and observant.

Ask questions and show your interest in learning and broadening your horizons. Be aware that you represent your country to everyone you meet.

You may be the first Australian that a German has ever met and each of you may walk away from the initial encounter assuming that the other epitomises that culture. Representing an entire country is a major responsibility and one that you should be aware of in everything you say and do.

Work-permit and visa regulations are similar in most countries. Generally, most employers who want to hire a person from another country must certify to the government that they were unable to find locals with the required skills.

The fastest way to be hired abroad is either to actively seek a country where there's a shortage of people with your skills — an information-technology background is hot everywhere — or to be an intra-company transfer from another country. Be aware that securing a work permit can take several months.

These guidelines are just some of the tools that you'll need to land an international post. The rest is up to you.


Mary Anne Thompson / Expatica

Mary Anne Thompson, a global-employment specialist who lectures throughout Europe. One of her books is 'The Global Resume and CV Guide' (John Wiley & Sons, 2000), from which this article is adapted.

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