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Perfecting an Expat Resume: 6 Common Mistakes to Avoid

For expats, specific rules apply to resume writing. Unlike local candidates, you've got to take into account different cultures, job markets, and languages. From tailoring your resume to the local job market to addressing language proficiency, there are a few critical things you should do differently to get ahead of the locals—that's your #1 goal, after all.

In 18 years of combined HR experience between the two of us, we've reviewed over 50,000 resumes, many of which were from international professionals applying for jobs abroad. Based on thousands of those resumes, we've identified 6 common yet easily avoidable resume mistakes.

If you're new to applying for jobs in a different job market, you might be making some of these common mistakes... without even realizing it. But don't worry. We're here to guide you through these potential pitfalls so your resume can stand out in the global market.

So, in the next 5 minutes, you'll learn what the 6 most common resume mistakes are that all expats should avoid. But first, let's cover the basics—what's the difference between a regular vs. expat resume?


Regular vs. Expat Resume

When it comes to applying for a job abroad, having a well-crafted expat resume is crucial.

The first step? Understanding the key differences between an expat resume and a "regular" resume. This insight helps you effectively showcase your skills and experiences to potential employers in your new host country. So, let's dive into the nuances that set apart a regular resume from an expat one.

How an Expat Resume Differs from a Regular Resume

The fundamental difference between regular and expat resumes is quite simple. A regular resume comes from a local candidate while an expat resume comes from a foreigner or a candidate applying for a job abroad. Digging deeper and thinking about it from the expat perspective, an expat resume differs from a regular resume in a few more ways. First and foremost, it's tailored to the specific requirements of the country or region you are targeting. This means that you will need to adapt your resume to align with local norms, including formatting, style, and content.

Additionally, an expat resume often highlights certain key aspects that are particularly relevant to international positions. This may include language skills, cross-cultural competencies, international experience, and knowledge of local customs and regulations.

Why a Well-Crafted Expat Resume is Crucial

A well-crafted expat resume makes the difference between standing out from the competition and getting lost in the pile of applications. (Or even worse, automatically getting rejected just because your resume and job application don't match the local standards.)

For expats, having a tailored and well-crafted resume isn't just an option. It's a necessity.

Here are two main reasons why:

  • By tailoring your expat resume to the specific needs and expectations of your target country, you demonstrate your commitment to the role and your willingness to adapt to the local culture and work environment. This skyrockets your chances of being shortlisted for an interview.

  • A tailored and well-crafted expat resume allows you to effectively showcase your unique skills, experiences, and qualifications that make you a valuable asset as an expatriate employee. It highlights your ability to navigate cross-cultural situations, your adaptability, and your global mindset. All of that convinces employers that they need someone like you on board and that no local candidates can compete.

Paper with bullet points for resume next to a laptop.

By recognizing the differences between an expat resume and a regular resume and by crafting a document that highlights your unique qualities and aligns with the expectations of your target country, you can significantly increase your chances of landing your dream job as an expatriate.


6 Common Mistakes to Avoid in an Expat Resume

Okay, now that you know the difference between regular and expat resumes, it's time to learn more about the common resume mistakes all expats should avoid.

These mistakes can hinder your chances of landing a job in a foreign country. Yet, they're easily avoidable. By being aware of these pitfalls and taking steps to address them, you can present a strong and compelling resume that highlights your international experience and qualifications. Let's break them down:

#1: Including Irrelevant Personal Information

One common mistake in an expat resume is including irrelevant personal information. Employers are primarily interested in your professional qualifications and experience, so it's best to focus on those aspects. Avoid including details such as your marital status, age, or personal hobbies unless they are directly relevant to the job you are applying for.

How to fix it:

  1. Do your research: Research the resume best practices in your target job market.

  2. Identify key information: Find out what personal information employers expect to see on a resume. Hint: they usually want to see only your contact details, including location, email address, and phone number.

  3. Trim: Remove everything that doesn't directly contribute to showcasing your professional expertise and suitability for the role.

#2: Failing to Highlight International Experience

Another mistake to avoid is failing to highlight your international experience. As an expat, your unique background and exposure to different cultures can be a valuable asset to potential employers. So, emphasize any international work experience, language skills, or cross-cultural competencies that demonstrate your adaptability and global perspective.

How to fix it:

  1. Create a dedicated section: Showcase international experience prominently on your resume.

  2. Highlight language proficiency: Clearly articulate language skills, including your proficiency in the local language. (Even if it's beginner's level.)

  3. Spotlight cross-cultural competencies: Feature experiences that underscore your global perspective and ability to thrive in diverse environments.

Uncover the precise techniques to show international experience on your resume.

Brown boat in beautiful nature surrounded by mountains.

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

#3: Neglecting to Translate Skills and Qualifications

It's essential to translate your skills and qualifications effectively into your expat resume. While your previous work experience may be impressive in your home country, employers in a foreign country may not be familiar with some terminology, acronyms, or even companies in your country. Take the time to translate your skills and qualifications into terms that are easily understood and relevant to the target job market.

How to fix it:

  1. Do a terminology check: Identify local terms, acronyms, and companies, and make sure your industry jargon isn't lost in translation for employers abroad.

  2. Translate qualifications effectively: For qualifications, don't just drop an acronym, especially if it's not globally recognized. Instead, provide the full title to help international employers understand it.

  3. Keep it simple: Opt for clarity over complexity to ensure your qualifications are easily understood in your target market.

#4: Overlooking Cultural Differences

One mistake that expats often make is overlooking cultural differences when crafting their resumes. Cultural norms and expectations can vary widely from country to country, so it's crucial to research and understand the local customs and preferences. Tailor your resume to align with the cultural expectations of your target country, such as formatting, language style, and even the inclusion of a photograph.

How to fix it:

  1. Get cultural savvy: Dive into local customs and preferences by researching the work culture and expectations in your target country.

  2. Craft with the local flavor: Tailor your resume style to match what's culturally expected. Whether it's a 10-page resume or a 1-page career snapshot, with photos or without, make sure to know what employers expect.

  3. Speak their language: Use words and phrases in your resume that resonate with the local work environment, showcasing your understanding of the cultural nuances. (Pro tip: Using the language from the job description is the simplest and fastest way to do it.)

#5: Ignoring Language Proficiency

Language proficiency is a vital aspect of working as an expat, and it's important to showcase your language skills on your resume. Be honest and accurate about your level of proficiency in different languages, and provide evidence of your language abilities if possible. This can include certifications, test scores, or examples of your work in different languages.

How to fix it:

  1. Be upfront and honest: Clearly state your proficiency in each language, whether it's fluent, intermediate, or basic. Don't oversell it – accuracy is key.

  2. Show proof: Include tangible evidence of your language skills, such as certifications, test scores, or specific projects where you successfully utilized multiple languages.

  3. Tailor to the role: Highlight the languages that are most relevant to the job you're applying for. If possible, align your language skills with the specific requirements of the position.

A colorful card with messages in different languages.

#6: Omitting Accomplishments from Foreign Work Experience

Downplaying or totally omitting accomplishments is one of the biggest and most common resume mistakes all job seekers make, not just expats. (But not you, not anymore!) Employers are interested in seeing how you have contributed to previous organizations and achieved results. Include specific examples of projects you have successfully completed, goals you have achieved, or any other significant accomplishments that demonstrate your skills and expertise. And don't underestimate it just because you gained that experience in a foreign job market—it matters and makes a huge difference.

How to fix it:

  1. Show off your achievements: Be specific about projects, goals, or notable achievements to demonstrate your impact. Do it in the work experience section or in a separate "key achievements" section at the top of your resume.

  2. Add data: Quantify results whenever possible to give employers a clear understanding of your contributions.

  3. Tailor to the Role: Align your accomplishments with the requirements of the job you're applying for, emphasizing the most relevant achievements.

Don't stop there: Perfect your resume in 10 minutes with this expat resume checklist.


5 Tips for Creating an Effective Expat Resume

A tailored expat resume is your one-way ticket to a new country.

By tailoring your resume to the target country, emphasizing your international experience and adaptability, translating skills and qualifications appropriately, addressing cultural differences, highlighting your language proficiency, and showcasing key accomplishments from foreign work experience, you can make a strong impression on potential employers.

Here are a few practical tips to follow:

1. Tailor Your Resume to the Target Country

Tiles that say "choose your words" to mark the importance of tailoring your expat resume.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

(Have we already mentioned how important tailoring is? Yes? A few times?! Well, we can't stress it enough.) When applying for a job in a foreign country, it's important to tailor your resume to suit the local market. Research the specific requirements and preferences of the target country's job market, and customize your resume accordingly. This may involve adjusting the format, including or excluding certain information, and using local terminology.

2. Emphasize International Experience and Adaptability

Highlighting your international experience and adaptability is crucial when creating an expat resume. Employers in foreign countries value candidates who have experience working in diverse environments and can easily adapt to new cultures and work practices. Clearly demonstrate your ability to thrive in an international setting through your resume by showcasing relevant experiences, cross-cultural skills, and flexibility.

3. Translate Skills and Qualifications Appropriately

A close up photo of a text on a dictionary to show the importance of accurately translating an international resume.

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Translating your skills and qualifications appropriately is essential for an effective expat resume. Ensure that your qualifications are accurately translated into the language or terminology of the target country. Use industry-specific terminology and ensure that the translation reflects your expertise and capabilities. This will help recruiters understand your qualifications and assess your suitability for the job.

4. Address Cultural Adaptiveness

Highlight your cross-cultural communication skills, understanding of local customs, and ability to navigate diverse work environments. This shows potential employers that you are sensitive to cultural nuances and can work effectively with people from different backgrounds.

5. Highlight Language Proficiency

Fluency in foreign languages is highly valued by employers when hiring expatriates. (You get bonus points if you speak the local language, of course.) So, clearly indicate your language proficiency on your resume, including any certifications or qualifications you may have obtained. If you are not fluent in the local language, emphasize your willingness and ability to learn quickly. This demonstrates your commitment to integrating into the local culture and effectively communicating with colleagues and clients.

Want to take it a step further? Explore these 5 key tips for an expat resume that stands out.


Key Takeaways

Creating an expat resume can be a challenging task, but by avoiding common mistakes, you can greatly improve your chances of landing your job abroad:

  • Remember to tailor your resume to the job market and specific job requirements by highlighting your relevant skills and experiences.

  • Avoid including unnecessary personal information and focus on showcasing your professional achievements.

  • Don't forget to proofread your resume for any grammatical errors or typos, as these small details can make a big difference.

  • Lastly, keep in mind that adapting your resume to the local job market and cultural norms is crucial when applying for jobs abroad.

With these tips in mind, you can create a standout expat resume that will impress potential employers and increase your chances of landing your dream job in a new country.

Headshot of two female expats and career coaches. Cutout headshot in a circle on purple background.

Matilda Patsou & Ana Colak-Fustin

Hi there! We're Matilda and Ana — founders of MoreThanCareers, expats, international corporate recruiters, and HR professionals with 18+ years of combined HR experience. Since 2018, our career-building techniques, tools, and resources have helped over 500 coaching clients and 8,000 individuals worldwide land new, more fulfilling, higher-paying, career-changing jobs.

Now it's your turn. And MoreThanCareers is here to help!

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