Jobs Abroad

How to Write a Resume for Anywhere in the World

Elen Turner

Elen Turner is a travel writer and editor based in Kathmandu, Nepal. She has a PhD from the Australian National University, which examined feminist...

Writing a resume and applying for a job overseas can be a daunting process even when you're familiar with what's expected of you, so it's no wonder that applying for a job in another country can be confusing. To add a photo or not when applying for a teaching job in Japan? What does this New Zealand company mean by CV? How many pages should a resume be for a job in Germany?

Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately!) there are few hard and fast rules for international resumes. If you're truly the best person for the job, it's unlikely you'll be rejected simply because your resume was two pages rather than one (unless the instructions said otherwise). But, by following some standard best practices and being aware of some cultural differences, you'll increase your chances of making a good impression and being hired.

I'm a New Zealand citizen who has studied in New Zealand, Australia, and the Czech Republic and worked in Australia, Japan, and Nepal. I've also applied for remote and freelance jobs (both successfully and not) in the USA. In Nepal, I was the responsible for hiring interns for the media organization I worked at. This gave me great insight into common problems and weaknesses that young applicants and fresh graduates, in particular, regularly make. Here are some tips for writing a global resume for anywhere in the world.

Creating a More Global Resume

As an overview, every job requires a resume tailored for its specific requirements, specific country, and cultural environments where you are seeking employment. Unfortunately, no one resume can work across different industries or countries.

However, a "Global Resume" template can be roughly achieved by including a few best practices and insights if you are conducting an international job hunt. An easy way to keep track of your international resume vs. your domestic resume is by having separate files for each.

Let's take a deeper dive into examples of how to follow guidelines and tailor your resume to your desired job.

Follow the Guidelines Provided

Before you spend too long stressing over making your resume applicable to the country you're applying to work in, make sure to follow any specific guidelines provided by the company or organization in question. There's no point agonizing over whether it's "normal" to submit a one or three-page resume in Australia if the company you're applying to has different guidelines.

Specific guidelines provided by companies should always, always trump any general wisdom you've gathered about what to do in that country. If they ask for a one-page resume, submit a one-page resume. If they ask for a separate cover letter, submit a separate cover letter. If they ask for blind references, set up blind references (a blind reference is when someone sends a letter of recommendation directly to the place you're applying to, without you seeing it first). If they ask for you to list your relevant experience only, list your relevant experience only.

Not all companies will provide extensive instructions, but for those that do, there are few things more annoying than job candidates ignoring them. If you can't or won't follow instructions at this point, why would they want to work with you?

Tailor Your Resume and Application to the Job

This should go without saying and applies to job applications in every context: tailor your resume and application to the specific job you're applying for. While it's important to keep a master file of all your academic and work experience, this shouldn't be what you send out to companies or organizations.

When I was recruiting interns in Kathmandu, one of the quickest ways for an applicant to get into my "no" pile was to send a generic resume or application. Even worse: when they addressed the wrong organization in their cover letter! As they were applying to intern for a media organization, as a hiring manager, I wanted to see media-relevant experience or interest. Most applicants were fresh high school graduates or college students, so it was totally understandable if they didn't have extensive experience in the field.

But I wanted to see how and why they would be a good fit for our organization. Simply listing that they were finishing up a degree in Accounting and looking for a job (any job!) didn't convince me that they would be good for our team, or that they'd gain anything from an internship with us. (For what it's worth, I once hired an Astrophysics student as an intern for the political and cultural magazine I worked at, as he did a great job of demonstrating why he was interested in the media despite his somewhat irrelevant study background).

Research the Company and the Interviewer

Related to the above point about tailoring your resume for abroad work, it's essential to do some research into the company you're applying to. Even if you don't know very much about them, it's important to make your international resume look as though you're very familiar with their work and that's why you want to work with them.

It never hurts to "name drop" or mention some activity, campaign, or other work of theirs that you're familiar with. It's likely that the person reading your application will see through this attempt, but trust me, that's much better than not making the effort.

It's also important to do a little research into the specific person you're applying to if you know. When I hired interns, the job ads mentioned addressing emails to me and used my email address. It would have been simple enough for applicants to Google me and find out my role within the organization and a little bit about what I did. Yet, I received an embarrassing number of applications addressed, "Dear Sir..." Nothing irritated me faster than applicants assuming that a person in authority must be a man, and they had to have submitted a mighty fine application after that to redeem themselves.

Understanding the Difference Between a Resume and a CV

In America, you're probably used to calling it a resume. Yet, in many parts of the world, a resume is more commonly called a CV, or Curriculum Vitae. Technically there is a bit of a difference between the two, but in general, "CV" will usually be used in countries where British English is used, as well as Europe and Asia in many cases.

As a user of British English, I understand "resume" but don't use it myself, and I thought the two terms were interchangeable. That is until I saw a discussion on Facebook between a friend living in Asia and her American mother. She had mentioned updating her CV, and her mom thought she was talking about something medical and got all worried! My friend explained that this is what resumes are called in much of the world. I hadn't realized until that point that the term CV doesn't have the same meaning to some people.

In some contexts, the technical difference between a CV and a resume actually matters. A resume is typically much shorter than a CV, only one or two pages long, and contains the most relevant information only. A CV is often longer, being as many pages as necessary to convey your experience and background, and is more appropriate in an academic context. If you're applying for grad school or for teaching work, a CV listing your full educational background and every job you've held may be more appropriate.

Determine Whether to Include Personal Details or Not

In some cultures, it's normal to include quite personal details on a resume, including a photo, date of birth, or even marital status. However, I strongly advise against this (unless it's specifically requested), even if you're applying to a job in a place where this is standard practice. Providing more information on your resume for abroad work might actually hurt your chances of landing a job, so err on the side of discretion unless asked otherwise.

In some places, it's actually illegal for companies to ask whether you have any children or if you're married during the selection and interview stage. It's unfair, for example, for a woman to be passed over for a job because the employer thinks she might need to take time off to have children. By putting this information on your international resume, you may be putting a selection committee in an awkward spot. Don't ask, don't tell.

Even if these things aren't illegal or frowned upon, adding your photo or date of birth will hardly be doing you any favors. If you're what's considered conventionally attractive, how would you feel knowing you got a job off the back of your looks? And the opposite scenario is cringe-worthy, too. Nobody should be selecting an employee based on their appearance (unless, perhaps, you're in the modeling field), so don't go there.

Of course, if an international job ad specifically asks for some of this information, you should include it. There may or may not be ethical implications to asking for this information, but if they've requested it and you don't provide it within your job application, it may be to your detriment. Plus, there may be a very good reason why they're asking for this, such as if they're compiling a database of all employees. If you do need to add a photo, make sure it's professional and tasteful.

Be Aware of the Cultural Context of Words

This is a tricky one because you don't know what you don't know. But it's important to be aware that some terms and phrases mean different things in different cultures.

For example, the word "staff." When I was a fresh Ph.D. graduate and applying for academic jobs around the world, I didn't think twice about my use of the word "staff" in my resume and applications. I'd mention that I'd been on staff for two years, or whatever. But then an American professor told me that this would be confusing for American selection committees. In an American academic context, she said, "staff" referred to the support staff (such as administrators) rather than professors.

Similarly, when I applied to the first few jobs in Australia, I didn't go very far because I fundamentally misunderstood the meaning of the phrase "address the selection criteria". This is a standard instruction in Australian job applications. It means that you need to write a detailed, bullet-point account of how you fit each and every criteria that they're looking for in a candidate, either in your resume or elsewhere in your application (depending on their instructions). I just briefly mentioned in a couple of sentences why I'd be a good fit for the job, thinking that was what they meant until an Australian colleague pointed out what was really required.

Again, these things can be tricky to work out because when we're used to words meaning one thing, it's hard to know when and where they actually mean something slightly different. But if at all possible, chat with a friend or colleague from the country in question before submitting a job application, just to make sure you're not misunderstanding something that should be obvious.

Global Best Practices that Apply Anywhere in the World

Remember that many people on selection committees will be familiar with international resumes and applicants, and are likely to be forgiving of differences in format and approach. They want to find the best person for the job, after all. But a few things go a long way in any context:

  • Follow instructions, if provided
  • Keep your resume/CV to two pages unless instructed otherwise
  • Provide your current contact details, including phone number, email address, and location (if not full address)
  • If it's not immediately obvious, list languages that you're proficient in
  • Higher education details (name of degree and institution). High school details are only necessary if you're a fresh graduate applying for an internship, or if you haven't completed college yet
  • Concise bullet-points detailing your education and work achievements and responsibilities
  • A professional font and layout. No curly fonts or bright colors! They'll make you stand out in the wrong way.

Ready to put your international resume skills to use? Take a look at the Go Overseas job board to find work overseas.

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