I had the privilege last Friday of listening to a webinar led by Tim Windhof, an international executive resume/CV writer. Tim explained many of the challenges U.S. and Canadian writers can face when writing these job search documents for an international audience, and how to address those challenges. To write this article, I also leaned on Sandra Ingemansen’s helpful articles posted on CareerDirectors.com on international CV writing.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s say for the purposes of this article that “CV” is just a European term for “resume.” Don’t worry for now about the academic or scientific CV you might be familiar with in the United States, which might contain a long list of honors, publications, patents, etc.
Where should I start when writing an international executive resume?
Let’s start with some good news: The basic purpose of a resume or CV is the same everywhere – to sell yourself as a great candidate for the position by highlighting your talents and accomplishments. And the basic elements of an international executive resume are the same no matter where you are. You’ll always have an Experience section, most often in chronological order, and an Education section. Almost all resumes will begin with a Summary section, though as a caveat, I’ve seen many legal professionals who prefer to skip that section.
In a multi-cultural world, you could live in one country and want to apply to positions in several others, or in global companies with an American presence. With all these combinations and permutations, you might be called to write a carefully considered “hybrid” resumes, and you might need an expert to advise you on the best approach.
Here are 7 main points to consider if you are applying to a position in a country other than the United States and Canada:
1. Do your research! There is not one binding “international” resume standard.
You can’t safely make any assumptions about what will be appropriate for any given country. For instance, in some countries, such as Germany, a photo, as well as personal details like marital status, number of children, country of citizenship, and birthday, are standard. These details might be included on a cover page. In other countries, including the UK, these personal details should be left out. In Germany there are some very specific requirements for submitting a job application that often comprise 20+ pages of material. And standards are changing rapidly! So make sure you’re up to date before you submit an application.
Formats vary between countries, too, trending simpler, with more white space, in countries outside the U.S. The A4 page format is also generally accepted in most non-U.S. countries. CVs tend to be longer than 2 pages in other countries as well, so you don’t need to focus as hard on shortening your resume to 2 pages. In Europe, dates are usually listed down the left-hand column, a practice that is being moved away from in the United States.
I repeat: Do your research! Find out what will be accepted, and respected, in the country where you want a job, and follow that standard.
2. C-A-R (Challenge – Action – Results) stories work no matter where you are in the world. But be careful how you write them.
While bullets with stories of your executive accomplishments are desirable regardless of country, they should include less detail in other parts of the world than they do in the United States and Canada. This is in part due to confidentiality and non-disclosure regulations, and in part due to cultural differences. Be especially careful not to violate any regulations when sharing specific numbers (dollar amounts and other metrics) in a resume!
Furthermore, on international resumes, “braggy” verbs like “Propelled,” “Championed,” and “Rocketed” work well in the U.S., but would likely be offensive to a reader in Asia or even some areas in Europe. In some countries, you might need to start bullets with nouns instead of verbs, which is also a way to avoid being “braggy” about your accomplishments.
When writing an international executive resume, be sure to emphasize your cross-cultural skills as you share your accomplishments. You absolutely must demonstrate your multi-cultural fluency.
3. Written reference reports might be standard attachments.
These reports are regularly provided in some countries and can be up to 2 pages per position. They might be requested to accompany a resume submission. Some of the details of your accomplishments might be covered in these documents, meaning you don’t have to write as much detail in your resume or CV.
4. Language specifics are important!
In an international executive resume, it’s essential to be specific – and brutally honest – about your language skills. Are you fluent or proficient? Native speaker? Business or basic level? Written or spoken? Do you have a score on an internationally accepted language exam that you can share? Or, can you use one of the categories in the Common European Framework of References for Languages? Note: If you claim fluency, you will be asked to interview in that language. So don’t stretch the truth.
5. Education – make it universal.
Be sure that whatever degree you obtained, you list it in a language equivalent that will be understood in the country you’re applying to work in. You don’t want to undersell or oversell the degree you obtained.
Overseas, you will often be served by writing the full span of years in which you attended school, vs. listing only your graduation date. Furthermore, in Europe you will want to include the date of your high school diploma, as recruiters want to see the full timeline of your schooling and whether you took any breaks.
6. Hobbies might be fair game!
Don’t be afraid to share hobbies if they are worth noting and good conversation starters. You could find unexpected interest or even commonality with your interviewer! Interests seem especially welcome in international resumes, though they can sometimes be a boon in a U.S. resume as well. I’m pretty sure I once got a job offer because I could recite Dr. Seuss’s “The Sneetches” from memory.
7. Citizenship and Immigration Status
In an international executive resume, your country of citizenship and your ability to work in the country where you’re applying are essential to include on your resume. If you are an executive with a Blue Card, be sure to include that status up front and center.
The most important lesson we can learn here (which I am repeating again) is the importance of doing your research! If you’re targeting a position outside of your home country, you need to conform to the proper standards in order to be taken seriously. As Sandra Ingemansen so aptly points out, “Taking notice of these subtleties lets employers know that if an applicant is the type of person willing to go above and beyond on a job search campaign, then so will she be on the job as well.”
Want to look at sample international executive resumes? Check out Brenda Bernstein’s TORI Award Winning International Executive Resume and other TORI Award winning resumes.