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How to prepare a European-style resume

Ah, the thrill of the hunt. The job hunt, that is. There’s nothing quite like it, especially when your residency in a foreign country depends on it. High stakes or go home! That’s a motto to live by, amiright?

When I first moved to Germany, I was more or less recruited without so much as a glance at my CV (they needed a computer scientist who knew Latin – it’s safe to say the competition was not stiff) – but the second job search was a bit more…involved. A lot more research, applications, interviews, and even a few rejections. But what’s worse than a rejection? A SILENT rejection (here’s looking at you, Google Paris). Not even getting an interview in the first place is way worse.

A compelling CV the first step in helping your potential employer see themselves hiring a foreign national, with all the extra hoops and paperwork it entails. You have to fight against local candidates with familiar credentials and better networking opportunities – to say it’s an uphill battle would be an understatement.

Interested in a career abroad? Here's how you can prepare your resume for the European job market!

Here are some tips for brushing up your résumé for an international audience, lessons I learned when applying for jobs in Europe, and what I want to see when I’m looking at applications at my company.

Brushing up your résumé for an international audience

Loosley speaking, a résumé is a single page and a CV is more than one page. In the American sense of the world, a CV contains every tiny detail of your life: every job you’ve had since you were sixteen, every award you won in high school, every time you blew your nose – it’s all in there.

Europeans, however, take a middle ground between the American résumé in all its brevity and the American CV in all its verbosity. The result is a CV that is no more than two pages in length, unless you’re a fancy with papers spilling over onto a third page. This document should detail not only work experience, but all the other qualities you bring to the table. Oh, and a couple of extra personal details.

1. Add your picture

Although it’s not legally required, most employers would like to see a picture of you. This picture should:

  • Go in the top corner of the first page of your CV, and measure about an inch by an inch.
  • Be of professional quality, passport style, in color.
  • No selfies, no party photos to appear “fun”. This is business!*

* - Full disclosure, my CV has a Photobooth selfie and I’ve had plenty of success with it. In retrospect though, it’s a bit embarrassing 😅

2. Include the languages you speak

Well, if you speak any foreign languages, chances are you’ve been putting it on your résumé for a long time as a badge of honor! But now that you’re moving to another country, it’s good to demonstrate some interest (and better yet, proficiency) in the local language. Even if you can’t speak it fluently, you can still list your proficiency level using Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

My languages are listed on my CV like this:

Languages

English (native — US Citizen), German (conversational)

Which brings me to the next point…

3. Indicate your country of citizenship

Tell them where you’re from! People are applying for jobs in Europe from all over the world, and just because you studied at an American university doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a US citizen.

Interested in a career abroad? Here's how you can prepare your resume for the European job market!

Some countries are easier to hire from than others. Disclosing your citizenship is important so the hiring manager knows up front what kind of effort it’ll take to get you there and how soon they have to set the process in motion.

4. Get your résumé translated

This one heavily depends on the type of work and work environment you are getting yourself into. Most workplaces populated with expats will be English-friendly, and therefore an English-language CV is important.

Chances are that if your résumé needs to be translated, you’re going to have to learn to work in a foreign language. In France, for example, the startup scene is criticized for being very French-focused, making it difficult for them to successfully import foreign talent. Therefore, CVs for French companies should absolutely be in French, and you’re pretty darn likely to find yourself learning French on the job to keep up. Germany, on the other hand, is pretty forgiving if you don’t know German – sure, they might expect you to learn it, but most of the time, international companies and startups are perfectly content with an English CV.

That said, if you do translate your CV, have it proofread by a native speaker. Even if you’re feeling plucky after dominating your introductory French class, nothing looks less professional than obvious typos or grammatical errors on a CV.

5. Use A4 format

We Americans like to do things differently. We like our feet, fahrenheit, and (American) football – and our paper sizes are no exception. Especially if you’re applying somewhere where bureaucracy has a strong foothold, paper format is critical, because your CV is definitely going to end up in a European-sized folder somewhere. Make sure it fits, use an A4 format for your CV.

6. Go over two pages – if you need it

While more than two pages for an American résumé is an unforgivable sin, the same is not true for a European-style CV. A second page is warranted so long as your first page can hold the readers’ attention long enough to bring them to the second page. Presentations, publications, skills, hobbies, languages spoken, and professional internet presence are all good candidates for getting bumped to page two.

Interested in a career abroad? Here's how you can prepare your resume for the European job market!

What I look for in an applicant

From time to time, I’m involved in the hiring process for web developers at my company. Our immediate team comprises people from five countries and a huge range of educational and professional backgrounds. Here are the some things that I look for from all applicants on their CVs:

  • Well-proofread, grammatically correct CV in English. – Since English is the business language of the company, being comfortable working in English is critical. Plus, an error-ridden CV is a sure sign of sloppiness.
  • Genuine expression of intent from the candidate. – Hiring international applicants can take a long time, especially if they’re not from the EU, and even more especially if they’re from a tricker country like Russia or Egypt. There’s no use expending the extra effort if the applicant isn’t going to commit.
  • What is their current living situation, and what will it take to get them here. – Do they have a work permit? Are they in Europe? When can they relocate?

These things tell me that an applicant is serious off the bat, and worth the time to evaluate their skills and work history. Communicating that you are not only qualified for the job but prepared to start in a reasonable time frame is very appealing!

With all of that said – don’t stress about it!

Having the perfect, European format résumé might be important for fancy financial jobs at Umbrella Corp, but most places won’t expect a foreigner to format their CV perfectly like a local. Focus instead on compelling content and organizing the information clearly, and you’ve got a better shot of getting the attention of someone who spends way too much time poring over résumés.

Additional resources

What’s your experience applying for work overseas?

How did you have to adapt your CV for an international audience? Were there any weird things your employer wanted to know before putting pen to paper? Share it in the comments!

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About the author

Hi there! I'm Monica, an American expat living in Germany for nearly four years and using every opportunity to explore the world from my homebase in Berlin. My goal is to capture my memories in photos and posts that show how easy it is to start from scratch and travel the world by working abroad.

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