How to Create a ‘No Nonsense’ International CV
In Part 1 of Writing CVs That Attract and Don’t Distract we looked at the importance of format, style and presentation. As important as those things are when writing a CV, the most important part of writing your CV is the content. It doesn’t matter how well presented your CV is if it doesn’t have the content to back it up.
In Part 2 we will discuss what the content of your CV should be from contact and personal information, personal statements, work history, education to skill and references. We will also look at how to edit your CV and what language and grammar to use. We will also briefly focus on what your cover letter should look like.
Deciding what to put in your CV is the trickiest part. You want to highlight areas of excellence and include detail, but you don’t want to go overboard as this could ultimately detract from your CV. You need to be brutal during the editing process and remove anything that doesn’t suit the job you’re applying for. For example, if you are applying for a job at biomedical research facility you will want to devote more space to talking about you academic achievements and relevant work experience and only briefly mention, if at all, non-relevant work experience, such as working in retail or a coffee shop.
Contact and personal information: When it comes to what to include in contact and personal details at the top of you CV, you will see the greatest differences between UK/US styles and much of the rest of Europe. I cannot stress enough, that it is not common practice to include any of the following in your personal and contact details for the UK/US or most of the English speaking world for that matter:
- A photo of yourself
- Your age/birthdate or place of birth
- Your marital status or if you have children
- Your nationality, unless the application specifically states that you need to declare your visa status. Even then, instead of nationality, you can simply declare that you have legal status to work in the country you are applying for.
- Street address.
The reason none of these things are included is to help stop discrimination, because the way you look, your age, your marital status, if you have children or not, or your nationality should not be factors when being considered for a job. Street addresses are also not recommended, because an employer might initially be put off if you have to relocate for the job, even if you are willing to.
The only information you need to include is: your name, email and phone number.
As far as email addresses go, make sure that your email address is professional looking. It should be some format of you name like email@example.com, not firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also include if you are a member of any relevant professional social networking sites, but instead of the link you could try just having the logo for LinkedIn to alert them to you being on there without taking up valuable space with a web address.
Again, these practices differ greatly with much of Europe or other countries, so it is best to check what is standard before applying.
Personal statement: Though it is not necessary to include a personal statement about your career goals, it could be a useful tool to have if you have an experience light CV. If you do choose to include it, you should keep it short and simple-no longer than a few sentences. These should also be tailored to each job you are applying for. If you have plenty of experience a personal statement is not necessary unless you are planning a career or position change.
Work history: If you have a good amount of relevant work or volunteer experience, this should be the first main section of your CV. The common practice is to list it in reverse chronological order. A lot of thought should go into what information to include about each job in your work history. The work history you include should only be what is relevant to your job: unless, you have no other work history at the moment. For instance, as an English teacher I wouldn’t list the waitressing job I had when I was 22 because it is no way relevant to my career now. You should tailor the work experience section for each job you are applying for to make sure everything you include is relevant.
For each job or role you’ve had you should list the dates you’ve worked, followed by the name of the company and location, then the role you had. This should all be aligned on the left side of the document. Under that you should briefly describe your role and then bullet-point your key responsibilities, skills obtained and achievements. Make sure you use plenty of powerful verbs and that the descriptions are easy to understand and concise. You should spend more time describing the things which directly relate to role you are applying for and less on those which don’t. If you have had the same role several times with the same responsibilities make sure the most recent one is fully explained and then you can write a briefer summary for the jobs you had further in the past. You don’t want to sound too repetitive.
Education/Qualifications: If you are a recent graduate or still at university, this should be the first section of your CV. In this section you should include all education, scholarships and qualifications (certificate programmes) that you have completed/received. Do not include language courses in this section as they will go with you skills.
The way to write about your education and qualifications is to first list the dates you attended or the completion date if it was a short term course, then the institution/school. Under that you write the qualification obtained with your grade if the grade is worth mentioning, meaning they are above average. This again should be done is reverse chronological order and be aligned to the left.
If you are light on experience or did not attend university/college you can go into further depth of your academic achievements from high school/secondary school. If you did not attend university it is important to list the highest levels of education you obtained in any area (high school diploma, A-levels, GCSEs, etc.).
In the UK in is pretty common to briefly mention A-levels and sometimes GCSEs as quick list of the area and letter grade. In the US, if you have received a bachelor’s degree or further, it is not common to mention high school, unless you had some extraordinary achievement during that time (like being Valedictorian). It is important to note again that other countries will probably not know what high school exams and qualifications mean from your country; so, try to write a letter grade.
This section takes extra time and consideration when applying from abroad as every country has different educational systems and different ways of giving grades. For instance, though both the USA and Germany use GPA they use completely different scales. In Germany the best you can do is a 1 while in the US that is the lowest grade you can achieve. So, if you write on your CV to a job in the US that you received a GPA of 1.4 they will not be impressed at all and your CV will get tossed aside and an employer in the UK may not know what you’re talking about at all.
To write about your grades, you should ‘translate’ them in a way that is understandable to the person in that country. You could just say, with honours or distinction. Or, you could put the letter grade (As and Bs only).Or, you could try to translate the grades mathematically per country by using a conversion table, which can be found on the internet. For example a German 1.7 GPA is approximately equivalent to a US 3.6GPA and a 2.1 in the UK depending on the university. You would then supply the original German grade and state the approximate equivalent of the country you are applying in. If you received anything lower than a USA 3.0 or a UK 2.2 (A and Bs) it is not worth mentioning your grade on the CV. Simply state that you obtained the qualification.
Skills/interests: Skills and interests is a great area to add extra depth to your CV and an important area to personalise for each job role you are applying for. Certain skills like languages and computing/IT skill are good to put on any CV. However, other skills and key words should be adapted to remain relevant to the job. They should be listed with bullet points so that they are easy to read.
When it comes to skills any time you have a certificate proving the skill, or have completed a course for you should mention that. You want to have quantifiable proof when possible of what level of each skill you have.
- Languages: for any language you speak it is very important to put your level for each language. When possible try to use the CEFR guidelines for your language abilities (A2: pre-intermediate, B1: intermediate, B2:upper-intermediate, C1:advanced, C2:proficiency). If you are a native speaker of a language (including bilingual include that). If you have passed any exams, done any language courses or have any certificates which prove your language level (First, Advanced, Proficiency, IELTS, have a certificate from a language course) make sure to include those.
- Computing and IT skills: be specific. Can you use Microsoft Office suite? Can you use Photoshop, Adobe, or Dreamweaver? Can you use Mac and PC? Can you programme? Which programmes? How good are you? What is your typing speed? These are all things a potential employer wants to see. If you have any certificates proving these things great, if you don’t simply list them with bullet points.
- Certain skills of course do not have formal qualifications and for those you should make sure you are using the same language/vocab in which the job is being advertised for the skills you have and then list them with bullet points.
For interests, you need to be a bit more discerning. Only pick interests which add to your CV or which you have accomplished something extraordinary in. Do not put mundane, common interests. For instance, if you are applying for a job in banking, I’m not really interested in the fact that you like music. However, if you organised a benefit concert for a charity, please include that. If you have any charity work, that will look favourably on a CV. Also, if you have won any awards which you are particularly proud of. However, if you are light on space, you can be brief or completely eliminate the interests section.
The reference section is not as important as it used to be, but if you have contact details for references that can be contacted out of the blue, you can include them. Otherwise, unless explicitly stated by the employer, you can simply write ‘References available upon request’. Or, even leave the section out if you are short on space.
Language use, Grammar and Editing
Buzzwords: OK, so you know what to include in your CV, now what words should you use to make an impact? Choosing your words wisely is just as important as the content. The use of industry and CV buzzwords is a great way to get noticed and to make your CV and cover letter sound uniform and professional. However, you don’t want to go overboard!
To use buzzwords you should:
- Use positive, proactive, powerful verbs which showcase your skills and experience. These include words like: negotiated, supervised, achieved, advised, coordinated, developed, demonstrated, improved, instigated, designed, developed, established, or organised.
- These verbs are great to start off your bullet points, especially in the work experience section, about any academic achievements, or skills in which you have an achievement in.
- However, most importantly you need to make sure that you try to use the same buzzwords the employer uses in the job description.
Grammar: When writing your CV and cover letter you should always use formal language. That means no contractions or use of slang words. The use of passive forms for lists of accomplishments in a job role is recommended. Ensure that you have written everything in the same tense and style. Keep everything simple and concise. Do not be tempted to be overly descriptive with adjectives.
Editing: Once everything is written the most important thing you can do is to proofread and edit your work. However many times you have edited it: Do it again. Simple mistakes in spelling and language could be the difference between you getting the job or not. If you have errors, it could lead employers to think that you aren’t detail oriented or that your English level isn’t what it needs to be.
Do not be tempted to use translation apps as these usually do not work and also do not pick up on smaller errors like spelling or punctuation. After looking at many German CVs, I can tell you that the most common issue outside of format is simple errors (For example, spelling it ENGLISCH instead of ENGLISH).
Once you have proofread and edited your CV, get a friend or colleague to look over it as well. And, if it’s an option try to get a native speaker to look over it. Even if they aren’t in your field or an expert in CVs or grammar, they will be able to highlight some small mistakes you may have missed.
Your CV is finally written. You have proofread, checked and edited. Now it’s time for your cover letter. Most companies in the UK/US require you to write a cover letter of a few hundred words. This should simply be a brief letter summarising your CV, your key accomplishments and skills, and why you believe you are suited for the job you are applying for. You can find many examples of cover letters on the internet and I recommend you review their content and structure before writing yours. If you are applying via email, the body of your email would serve as your cover letter. Again, this should all be written in very formal language. It is the first thing the employer reads, so you really need to sell yourself. You should write a new cover letter for each job you are applying for and should take the same thought, preparation and care when writing it as you did in your CV.
Keeping in mind the many differences between German and UK/US CVs, the main thing to always remember is to keep it simple, use appropriate language, adhere to format structures of the country and to edit carefully. If you don’t take the time and effort to do these things an employer will be too distracted by the way the CV looks to notice what the content is.
To really perfect your CV writing skills, taking a course to help you do so may be what you need. At ELA-Edinburgh we offer a wide variety of courses to help you improve your English and business skills. We can customise a course to suite your needs and help you to not only write an amazing CV, but also any formal or informal business or academic writing skills. Furthermore, you can do training for general English or exams.
Have a look through our course selection to help you choose the best course for you!