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Preparing to Apply for a Job Abroad

By Janet Ngo

Make your approach to international job-hunting location-specific.

If you're an international job hunter, it's not enough to simply find a job posting abroad—you'll also need to tailor your application to your intended destination's culture and business norms, which means it's time to do your research. 

Here's a primer on how to overhaul your North American resumé and prepare for an international job interview. 

1. Localize your resumé

There are huge variations across countries in terms of what's expected, but some aspects to consider include:

"Resumés" vs. "CVs": A resumé differs from a curriculum vitae (CV) mainly in terms of the length and amount of detail provided. Employers in some countries (Australia, for example) will prefer a shorter, more succinct resumé, whereas others (for example, many European countries) will expect a longer, detailed CV. The two terms are used interchangeably in some countries, so be sure to research employer expectations for the particular job and country where you are applying.

Format: The layout, length and presentation will vary. For example, German CV content is often formatted into two columns. Many countries prefer reverse-chronological order (i.e. starting with the most recent), whereas others prefer chronological. Handwritten resumés are common in Japan. Outside of North America, A4-size paper is the standard.

Personal details: Employers in some countries expect more personal information or photos on a resumé. For example, in China it's usual to include information like your birthdate, birthplace, health condition and marital status.

Tone and style: The level of formality and degree of self-promotion will vary. Resumés for Chinese employers might be more informal in tone whereas an employer in the Netherlands will prefer a resumé that is succinct, factual and without embellishment or exaggeration.

Eligibility: You might want to mention the type of visa you have and your eligibility to work in the country.

2. Promote your intercultural competence

Highlighting your intercultural skills and experience demonstrates that you'll be able to adapt to the local business culture. Here are some ways to do this in your resumé, cover letter and interview:

• Include a “languages spoken” and “international experience” section in your resumé, if appropriate, and mention it in your cover letter.

• Mention learnings relating to communicating effectively across language barriers and how you’ve applied these to your work.

• Describe the impact of past experience visiting, studying or living in the country, or having been immersed in other cultures, and skills you gained from them.

• Describe how you adapted to an unfamiliar culture or overcame cultural obstacles.

• Describe scenarios of how you gained global awareness and applied it to your work with colleagues, clients, or operations overseas.

• Describe the impact of having worked with people from different cultures or diverse backgrounds, and how you integrated this into your approach to interpersonal dynamics at work.

3. Prepare for your interview

The more you know about the local culture, the better. Cultural awareness will give you background on how to conduct yourself during the interview. Cultural differences can manifest in subtle ways, and in an interview situation they can guide everything. How is eye contact viewed? Do you shake hands? Should you wait until invited to take a seat?

You’ll also want to specifically research the business culture so that you can present yourself in the best light during the interview—how to dress, what level of formal language to use, and how to speak about your qualifications. For example, in Germany you should speak precisely and relate factual information only, without exaggeration or self-promotion.

If you’re not proficient in the local language, at least learn some common greetings or phrases for your interview. Elena Perreira, a Canadian expat working in Japan as a visual effects artist, made sure to learn some Japanese greetings, which she used in her online interview. 

“I wanted to convey that I can adapt to Japanese culture or adapt to working at a Japanese company. I think people really appreciate when you do these little things," she says. "I wanted to be respectful of the culture, regardless of whether I get the job or not."

According to Frank Principe, senior recruitment consultant for Montreal-based Cowan International, a commonly asked question during interviews with international applicants is "Why this company? Why this country?"

He says that if the response is just emotional, it's not good enough. "Employers want to be convinced that this person is heavily invested and that they have a real desire to work in this particular country," says Principe. "If it’s too general, it might be a flash in the pan interest.” He adds that employers want to know that you’ve done your homework on the company, on life in that country, and that maybe you’ve even visited or lived there before.

Be prepared to talk about your overseas experience, including any work, study, or volunteer situations where you’ve overcome cultural or linguistic obstacles or worked on multicultural teams, and how those learnings will translate to your work. Use scenarios from your overseas experience where possible to convey your intercultural competence.

Finally, whatever country you're planning to work in, do ample research so you can tailor your resumé to the corporate and country culture, and also the culture of the specific workplace where you're applying. Review as many example resumés for that country as you can and then, put your best foot forward.

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