Learn how to tailor your CV depending on where you live and land an interview for your dream job with this helpful guide.
Knowing how to tailor your CV or resume when applying for jobs abroad can be a real challenge, especially given that every country has its own preference when it comes to format and style. While the core content of a resume is essentially the same wherever you are in the world, the way that you present your skills, experience, and achievements makes all the difference between landing an interview and getting lost in a pile of applications.
So, to help you create a resume that appeals to your prospective employer and makes a dazzling first impression, here are some key guidelines on how to tailor your resume in the following locations:
First things first: CV or resume?
Before we get started, it is important to understand the difference between the terms ‘CV’ and ‘resume’, which you are likely to come across during your job search. Depending on where you are in the world, these can actually mean different things. In the US, for example, a resume is a short document about the candidate, whereas a CV is a long and more detailed version of their credentials. To the rest of the world, however, the two words mean the same thing and are used interchangeably.
The United States
Generally speaking, Americans like their resumes (also spelled résumé) to be short, simple, and straight to the point. There is no need to include any personal information such as hobbies or interests, nor is it necessary to include a photo of yourself. This is largely due to the nation’s strict privacy laws that protect candidates from discrimination.
It is also important to know that the term ‘resume’ is used more commonly than ‘CV’ in the US. As mentioned before, these terms also refer to two different things.
When applying for jobs in the US, a two-page resume is sufficient. The only time you would need to submit a longer, more detailed CV is if you are applying for roles in academia. These positions tend to require more detailed background information on your skills and qualifications. So, unless you are a very experienced job-seeker applying for a specialist role, keep it to two pages. If you graduated within the past few years, then a one-page resume is perfectly acceptable.
Make sure you use standard American English when creating your resume in the US. If you are not familiar with the spelling rules, such as swapping the ‘s’ for ‘z’ in words such as ‘prioritize’, and dropping the u in words like ‘color’ and ‘flavor’, then it’s a good idea to change the spell check language settings to American English on your laptop or computer.
Structure and format
The general structure of your US resume should be as follows:
- Personal information: your name, address, and contact details. You can also include links to your LinkedIn or social media profiles if you feel they present you in a positive and professional way. Just make sure they are up to date.
- Personal profile: a short and punchy summary of your history and skillset. This is a great way to sell yourself and grab the attention of the prospective employer in as little space as possible.
- Work experience: provide details of your work experience in reverse chronological order; i.e., your most recent position at the top. Focus on your key achievements, rather than your responsibilities, and highlight quantifiable information wherever you can. You should tailor this section to meet the requirements of the job you are applying for.
- Education: list your educational achievements in reverse chronological order. Again, highlight those which apply directly to the job, for example, show that you have a degree in English if you are applying for a writing role.
- Other sections: other details that you might want to include are skills. Again, try and focus on those which relate to the role you are applying for. You could also include things like volunteer experience to help convey your personality.
- References: you aren’t actually required to include these in your US resume, and it is perfectly acceptable to supply them only when an employer requests them.
The United Kingdom
In terms of format and style, a UK CV is not very different from a US resume.
The main distinction is that you are freer to share personal information such as your hobbies and interests, in order to convey your personality.
The recommended length for a UK CV is two pages. If it does overflow on to three pages, this isn’t too much of a problem, but try to avoid having only one or two lines on the final page as this looks messy. Either edit your CV to fit two pages, or revise the content so that it fills out every page. Of course, you only want to include relevant information, so don’t add more just for the sake of making it longer. It is also common practice in the UK to write and send a cover letter with your CV when you apply for a job. The purpose of this letter is to demonstrate why you are the ideal candidate for the role, explaining how your skills and experience match those outlined in the job description.
You should write your CV in British English and use the correct spelling. The easiest way to do this is to change your spell check settings. It is also important to make sure that you use the appropriate phrases. For example, in the UK an unpaid internship is referred to as ‘work experience’ and what Americans might call school is referred to as ‘university’ or ‘college’.
Structure and format
The general structure of your UK CV should be as follows:
- Personal information: this should include your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address at the top. Details such as your age or marital status are not required (like in some other countries) and there is no need to include a photo of yourself unless specifically requested by an employer.
- Personal profile: begin your CV with a one-paragraph summary of your skills, aspirations, and career goals. This is basically an opportunity for you to show what you can offer an employer and shine above other candidates.
- Education: list your educational achievements in reverse chronological order, with the most recent one first. Again, try and highlight those which apply directly to the job.
- Employment history: provide information on all relevant work experience and outline your key responsibilities and achievements for each position in a small paragraph or list of bullet points that are easy to read. Make sure you include the name of the employer, their location, your job title, and the dates that you were employed.
- Related interests (optional): although it is not compulsory, some people include a section on their hobbies and interests outside of work. This helps to show their personality and can often provide a good talking point in interviews. If you choose to include this on your CV, try to cover interests that relate to the position you are applying for.
Europe in general
Unlike the US and UK, Europeans are generally fairly creative when it comes to writing their CVs. These are often visually pleasing and include colors as well as a photo of the candidate; in addition to the core information required, of course. You might even say that CVs in Europe are more human and less rigid than in other stricter regions.
That said, there are certain expectations to bear in mind, depending on the country you are applying to. Male applicants in Italy, for example, are required to state if they have served in the military; a duty that is mandatory in some European nations.
In general, CVs in Europe consist of one or two pages, although it isn’t uncommon to cover three pages in the UK, France, and Portugal, and even up to five in Greece, Ireland, and the Netherlands. Jobseekers usually include a photo of themselves at the top, although this is not common practice in the UK, Italy, Ireland, and Denmark. It is always a good idea to check the CV criteria of the country you are applying to before you get started.
When writing your CV in Europe, you should generally stick to using British English.
Structure and format
As mentioned, depending on where you are in the world, there are slightly different rules in terms of the information you need to include in your CV. For instance, unlike in some countries, companies in the Netherlands tend to place a lot of importance on hobbies and interests during the interview stage. Therefore, you might want to include these details in your CV.
Despite these various rules, the general structure of your European CV should be as follows:
- Personal information: this should include your name, address, and contact details at the top.
- Education: list your educational achievements in reverse chronological order, with the most recent one first.
- Working experience: in addition to your previous positions, include any military and social service (if required to state in the country you are applying within).
- Skills (optional): although this is not a mandatory section, having it gives you the perfect opportunity to convey skills such as any foreign languages you are able to speak and write, which can often give you an advantage over other candidates when applying for jobs in Europe.
- Hobbies and interests (country dependant): only include this if it is culturally acceptable and encouraged.
Generally speaking, South Africans prefer seeing who they may potentially hire upfront, so if your CV does not provide enough information, an employer may resort to searching for you online before they offer you an interview. Be warned.
There are specific things you need to bear in mind when writing your CV in South Africa. For example, the South African government website suggests that you list your marital status, ID number, country of birth, and driver’s license. There is a debate, however, over whether this opens the door for prejudice. Therefore it is best to keep to just relevant personal details. It is also not mandatory to include a photo of yourself.
There are two types of CV employers expect to receive in South Africa; a Brief Profile, which is a one-page CV and similar to a resume; and a Comprehensive CV, which provides more in-depth information regarding your education, work experience, and relevant skills.
When you apply for a position, you usually send your Brief Profile first; this includes your personal information and contact details, education, and employment history in reverse chronological order. You should also send a cover letter with this. Then follow up your application with a phone call to confirm that they have received it. The cover letter should include three to four paragraphs and it should highlight why you are suitable for the job. You usually send the Comprehensive CV at the second stage, on request; this provides your potential employer with more information about your skills and experience.
In South Africa, a CV should be short and to the point; ideally no more than one or two pages. It is important to remember that employers decide which applicants they want to interview for the job based on the CVs that they receive. Therefore, you should emphasize certain skills and experience that will make you stand out from the competition.
Make sure that you use UK English, not US English, when writing your CV in South Africa; remember to change your spell check settings accordingly. This will also help you to avoid making any spelling mistakes and major grammatical errors.
Structure and format
The overall structure of your South African CV should be as follows:
- Personal information: as mentioned before, it’s best to keep to relevant personal details only. Include your full name, address, and contact details. Only include additional information that is essential for the specific job application at hand.
- Professional summary: again, this is a chance to really sell yourself to your potential employer. Write two to three sentences outlining your talents, professional background, and career goals.
- Employment history: include all relevant positions, including part-time jobs as well as volunteer work. Make sure you present the company name, job title, and duration are neatly and visibly. Include one or two bullet points describing your achievements in each position, quantifying wherever possible.
- Education: only include education history that relates to the job you are applying for. Be specific and add one or two bullet points which highlight your key achievements too.
- Skills: use this section to outline, ideally in two columns, any specific skills you have that make you suitable for the role. You can include things like computer skills, languages you are able to speak and write. You can also include more personal attributes such as leadership and management skills.
- Other: if you have any additional information you wish to add, such as references, place this at the end of your CV.
A final word of advice
Whatever country you are applying to, the best advice is to do your homework before you send that all-important CV. Find out what is appropriate according to the corporate culture, country culture, and the culture of the person making the hiring decision. After all, the CV you would send to a large, well-established firm in Germany will look quite different from the one you would submit to a creative startup based in Spain.
The safest way to ensure that your CV ticks all the right boxes and helps you land an interview is to do ample research. Make sure you review as many examples from that country as possible. And, of course, follow the helpful guidelines above to get you off to a flying start. The rest is up to you. Good luck!