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Expat Ninja: Pointers and Samples for Writing a Resume and Cover Letter for International Jobs

Updated on July 27, 2012
I'm here! Pick me!
I'm here! Pick me! | Source
Off she goes! Amidst a swirl of very ambitious-looking fellow resume airplanes...
Off she goes! Amidst a swirl of very ambitious-looking fellow resume airplanes... | Source

You often can't use the same resume when looking for and applying to jobs outside of your native country. Formatting and expectations can be vastly different across different fields and in different countries. This article discusses how to learn about the peculiarities in your prospective field and also offers some techniques and pointers for making your CV sing regardless of the field and country to which you're applying.

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What Changes

  • The focus: most specialists highly recommend framing your resume around your personality rather than, for example, copying the job description for your previous positions (which makes for a pretty uninspired resume anyway. Not best practice.)
  • The length. Sometimes you'll need to send in a resume of 1 or 2 pages, while others will want much more detail and be expecting a resume of 5 or 6 pages.
  • The order in which items are presented. Generally, information will be divided into familiar sections (Education, Previous Employment, Awards, etc.), but occasionally you'll be expected to present information in reverse chronological order (most recent achievements first) or organized around skills and personality traits.
  • Amount and kind of personal information (name, age, marital status, children, ID number, a photo, languages spoken, or entirely anonymous - any and all combinations possible!)
  • Format and type of file (pdf or .doc, for instance)

And how do you learn what peculiar expectations are prevalent in your chosen field and location? In addition to doing a general search for "Country" and "Resume," you can take a look at the following:

And if possible, get someone from the country and/or field in question to look over your CV and cover letter before you send it to your prospective employer. If you don't know anyone, there are many organizations and individuals offering this service, and it should not be difficult to find an extra pair of eyes familiar with local conventions.

Making your CV easy to read is crucial. Try to minimize clutter, although perhaps not to this extent!
Making your CV easy to read is crucial. Try to minimize clutter, although perhaps not to this extent! | Source

What Doesn't Change

Well for one, the general purpose of selling yourself - in the "highlighting your achievements" way, of course, not in the "streetwalker" way.

What does this mean? It means that regardless of field and location, you're going to want to present your past employment in terms of specific successes rather than a simple list of responsibilities. Note, for instance, the difference between "oversaw three interns" and "recruited and trained a highly coordinated team of three interns." You could even add a word or two about what those well-trained and highly hypothetical interns accomplished on your watch!

And of course, you absolutely need a solid cover letter. Writing a good cover letter, mirroring the original job ad and highlighting your relevance with respect to their needs, will automatically catapult you into the top 10 or 15% of the applicants - waaaay over the heads of the 70+% that either didn't bother or included one rife with grammatical and spelling errors. Whoops.

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Some Additional Resources

An interesting study which tracks the heat patterns of recruiters' eye movement as they scan your resume: What Recruiters Look at During the 6 Seconds They Spend On Your Resume.

Although the author thinks that cover letters are largely unnecessary, his run-down of an incredibly effective one is excellent: The Best Cover Letter I Ever Received.

The second section, after some general samples organized by field, offers a couple downloadable collections of sample CVs for international employment. You can find them here.

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