Resumes around the world

Know your market when applying for jobs in foreign jurisdictions.

Short? Long? How to tailor your CV for global employment.

By Emily Payne


It’s hard enough to get the resume right on your home turf – when you apply for a job in another country you’ve got a whole new set of challenges. Not only do you have to consider company culture; you also have to research the recruitment and work requirements of a foreign country, sometimes in another language.

While there are obviously big differences between countries and even regions, there are some general guidelines you can apply when positioning your resume internationally.

Know your market

Rather than thinking in terms of geography, look at countries in terms of their position in the market – is the country you’re interested in a developed market or an emerging one?

“Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne are all very similar markets because they are mature, white collar, professional markets,” says Simon Meyer, managing director of recruitment firm PageGroup Australia. The way companies in these markets recruit is very consistent, he adds.

Most of the aforementioned established markets will want to see a demonstration of stability. They don’t want to see professionals who job hop every 12 to 18 months and move on from a company before they have achieved something or moved up the company ladder.

According to Meyer, if you apply for work in an emerging market, recruiters might be more forgiving of short tenures, as there is still a “land grab” for talent in these areas.

Don’t assume knowledge

People in a position to hire are usually time-poor and often have a stack of resumes from candidates. Make it easy for the recruiter to decide whether they want to meet you – this means giving them as much relevant information about the companies you have worked for (size, turnover, systems used) as briefly as possible. Just because an employer can find company information doing a Google search doesn’t mean they will – especially if the company webpage is in a foreign language.

“No matter where you are applying, recruiters want a ‘succinct and concise’ understanding of the companies you have worked for,” says Andrew Brushfield, Director of Victoria and New Zealand, Robert Half International, who has worked as a recruiter in countries including Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore.

“When submitting a resume, remember that you are dealing primarily with HR and finance people,” Brushfield says. “They may not have a clear understanding of the size of business, turnover and number of staff in a foreign business – all things that will impact whether the experience on your resume is relevant to the position you are applying for.

“For a recruitment consultant, deciding what companies to send a resume to is impacted if the recruiter can’t judge a resume on its merits due to a lack of information about previous employers.”

Know what’s expected of you

Depending on your experience, Brushfield says that up to five pages of A4 could be considered an appropriate length for a resume in a market such as Australia while anything longer might be considered too long.

"No matter where you are applying, recruiters want a ‘succinct and concise’ understanding of the companies you have worked for." – Andrew Brushfield, Robert Half International

In the US, however, a resume is a single page that highlights education and employment. It is worth exploring the expectations in your desired market before applying for positions.

Including a photo is a common practice in Asia, but since the resume itself is more important, this one is really up to personal choice, advises Brushfield. Remember to check online for any photos that might lower your market value in the eyes of an employer – a simple Google search ought to help. Those pictures of you and your mates misbehaving on holiday could very well stand between you and your ideal job.

If you include a personal statement, make sure you mean it

The expectation to include a personal statement is not defined by geography. If you do include one, Brushfield warns that while some recruiters will skip over it to the crux of the resume – employment and experience – others “will really read into that personal statement and make sure it aligns with company values”.

As with a cover letter, don’t rely on a one-size-fits-all personal statement – tailor it for the company you are applying for.

Don’t copy a personal statement from a website or translate a statement wholesale into another language without adapting it, says Meyer, or you risk losing context.

“If you feel like you need to tell everyone what your life objective is at the top of your resume – great,” Meyer adds. “But if it’s just clichés, then I suggest you go straight into your employment history [instead].”

Since the technical aspects – whether you have the skills for the job – are what most recruiters and employers focus on during the resume-reading stage, it might be to the jobseeker’s advantage to save personal statements for the interview phase.

“You can talk more effectively about what you are trying to do from a life point of view [during] an interview than in a resume,” says Meyer. You should also be better able to read the personality and culture of the company when speaking with a potential employer.

At a glance: how long is "long enough"?

Our global canvass turned up differing standards; be sure to tailor your resume for each country.

Australia:  Any more than four or five pages would be considered too long.

Hong Kong: Stick to between two and four pages, depending on your experience.

Malaysia: Employers will be unimpressed if your resume stretches over three pages.

New Zealand: Two to three pages would normally be considered enough.

Singapore: Only go above two pages if absolutely necessary, and make three your maximum.

UK: Try to stick to two to three pages.

US: Keep it to one, two pages max. When in doubt, leave it out.