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Tips for International Job-Hunters

This is a guest post by Melissa Mullan. Melissa has been reading, giggling at and and crying over CVs across Africa and beyond for the past several years.

Recently I was digging through a pile of nearly 300 applications trying to hire five people. Some of them were funny, but many were downright depressing to read. Writing a good application can be difficult, especially in the context of international organisations, as someone from a very different culture than yours who has a different idea of how a CV should look might read your CV. Writing a good CV is something that you learn, so as a public service to anyone trying to get a job (and to myself so I do not have to read anymore bad applications) here are some tips to make your CV more professional for international readers.

1. If you include a photo, look professional and friendly (and smile!). Many countries (mine included) do not allow us to smile in our ID pictures. The result is that we look like a bunch of bored criminals. The picture that you put on your CV is the first opinion that the person reading it will have of you so look like someone that they would want to hire and work with.

2. Do not send your application from the email account of the place you are working now. It makes it look like you are using work hours to apply for jobs and is not respectful of your current employer.

3. Your personal email address should be professional. Use your name, not a funny nickname ( or You should be as professional as possible. Make sure the name that appears as the sender is also your name, and not a funny nickname. If you aren’t sure which name is displayed, send yourself an email as a test to see what shows up when you send an email to someone else.

4. Do not forward the same email to all employers – I can see who you have already sent it to! First of all, this is just lazy and nobody wants to hire a lazy person. Secondly, your application should be personalized to each position, not just sent to any opening hoping that someone will hire you. Also be sure any profile picture on your email address is equally professional.

5. Do not send an empty email with your CV attached. In the body of your email, introduce yourself and say what position you are applying for.

6. Make sure the subject of your email says what position you are applying for. Often there are many positions being advertised at the same time and it is hard to sort through emails if it is not easy to see what position you are applying for. You want to make things as easy as possible for the person to hire you and show them you are organized and clear.

7. Adapt your email, CV, and cover letter for the position you are applying for – do not send the same basic ones to all positions. If you are applying for a project manager position, make sure to include information about all of your project management experience. If you are applying for a food security position, include information to show off that knowledge.

8. Make sure you are applying for a position that is advertised (and that you are sending the application to the right person). If you are sending your CV not for a position being advertised but in the hope that you will be hired, at least be sure to explain in your email and cover letter an explanation that you saw some positions advertised and while you do not have those skills, you are interested in working for the organization and are sending your CV in case any suitable positions open up.

9. If you just started a new job on March 17th and you are sending me your CV on March 22 you must have a good reason why you are applying for a new job and explain to me why. I do not want to hire you and have you leave a few weeks later to a new position.

10. Make sure all education and work experience is listed in backwards order (the newest ones first, the oldest ones last). If you don’t do this, I will read your oldest job experiences first which will make you sound much less experienced than you are.

11. Do not apply for all open positions at the same time if they are very different (for example, Logistics, Project Coordinator, Finance). Chances are you are not qualified for all of those positions and it will only make you look desperate and not ideal or qualified for any one position.

12. Do not send your application more than once for the same position. You might have internet problems and not be sure that your email was sent, in which case it is permissible to quickly send it again, but do not send your application again if you do not hear anything in a few days. We are digging through many applications and it will just give us more work to go through all of your applications.

13. Do not address your letter to Sir unless you know you are sending it to a man. If you are not certain of the recipient’s gender identity, address it to “Sir or Madam.”

14. If you are asking your friend to scan and send you your documents, do not copy me on the email. I only want to read your completed applications; the more emails I must dig through the lower my opinion of you will be.

15. If I cannot see in 5 seconds how your profile matches the position advertised it will be deleted. Make sure that it is immediately obvious how you are qualified for the position.

16. Make sure that you name the file of your CV with your name (for example Mullan_M_CV.doc), not a nickname, not strange symbols, not the name of the last position you applied for. You want me to be able to easily find it and know that it is yours. If I cannot find your CV I cannot hire you.

17. Keep the information in your CV well organized and easy to read. Different people have different preferences in how to organize CVs and what information to include; the important point is that you make your work experience one of the first things that I see and that it is easy to read. Use the same font for your whole CV and the same size font for each section.

18. Use the same names on all of your documents. To make sure I know that it is you try to use the same names in the same order on your email address, cover letter, CV and file names.

19. Spell check and proofread your application! If you are writing in a language that is not your first language, try to find a friend to check it for you. Often it is harder to catch your own mistakes.

20. Be brief in your CV and only include the most relevant information. You do not need to include a list of all trainings you have ever attended if they are not relevant to the position you are applying for. If you include a list of your hobbies make sure it is honest and interesting – I like to see you are a real person with real interests, but after reading the same hobbies on every cv (football, reading, movies) it becomes meaningless.

21. Always include your home address and the location for each position that you have held. It can be an asset if I need to hire someone for a certain area and I can see you have already worked there. If I need someone to work in the field and I see you have worked there before, I will know that you are adaptable to different locations and living conditions.

22. Do not request for me to add you on Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social networking sites and make sure that your settings do not send me automatic friend requests.

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