A fundamental rule of writing is “know your audience,” and résumés are no exception. But what if you are applying for positions overseas, in a country and culture that are unknown to you? How do you write for an audience that you’re not familiar with?
While each country has its own norms and expectations, some things are universal. By taking advantage of the similarities and acknowledging the differences, you can create a document that will help you stand out in any culture.
Nomenclature. Don’t get distracted by terminology. Just like the term football means different things in the US and Europe, so does curriculum vitae. In the US, a CV is a longer, complete professional history (normally used in academia), while a résumé is a short document of roughly two pages tailored for a specific job opening. Many European employers will ask for a CV but will in fact be expecting a document that looks more like a US résumé.
Paper size. Little things can make a big difference. In the US and Canada, paper size is 8.5 × 11 in. In most other countries, the standard paper size is A4 (8.3 × 11.7 in)—just enough to cut off important information or to have odd white space at the bottom.
Europass. The European Parliament created a standard collection of documents, the Europass, which some organizations require and some do not. The main part of a Europass is a two-page template that includes work experience, education and training, personal skills, language skills, organizational/managerial skills, and other job-related skills. Using the common format means employers can find your information easily, but it also means you look like everyone else.
Photo. In the US and Australia, photos are not required and are actively discouraged. However, in Germany, France, and many Asian countries, a photo is expected. If you’re not sure whether to include a photo, it’s safer to leave it off. But make sure you have a professional headshot on your LinkedIn profile.
Cover letter. Use the cover letter to explain why you are applying and why you will thrive in this particular environment. If you have worked or studied in that country, tell them. If it helps you, include your citizenship and visa status. Do you already have the legal right to work in that country, or is that something the employer will have to secure for you?
Get help. Use your network or talk to a recruiter who covers that area. These recruiters will know the latest trends, can help you tailor your materials appropriately, and may be able to provide additional information about the organization. Once you’ve checked all the boxes, you’re ready to take on the world.
Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers).