International CVs and working cultures

21 09 2009



Analyzing the format and style of CVs in different countries is one of the best ways to learn about different working cultures and to be able to work with culturally diverse teams.

Writing one’s CV in another language is not just a matter of translation, it is a complete adaptation of one’s expertise to the values and practices commonly accepted inside a certain culture.

I have worked in a number of countries and I have faced the challenge of writing my CV/resume in a number of languages. In this article I would like to compare American, French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese working cultures by means of analyzing their CV styles. The only kind I have not written myself is the Japanese CV but I include it here because it very particular and interesting.

I will compare American resumes, not American CVs, which are equivalent to what is called CV in most other countries

Individualism Vs Collectivism

Western CVs (America, Germany, Spain, France) usually highlight individualistic values: competitive spirit, initiative, passion for personal challenges, critical thinking, ability to challenge ideas…

On the contrary collective values are much more important in China and, above all, in Japan:  zeal, obedience, devotion to the community, loyalty to the Company, social abilities…


Flexibility is especially important in China and Japan, where employment has traditionally been seen as a very long term relationship. During this time, the employee will have many functions in the company. General culture and reasoning abilities are more important than specific abilities in a certain work-line.

Achievements Vs Responsibilities

American resumes are achievement-oriented. You do not talk about what you were in charge of but about how well you did it. You try to market and sell yourself. American CVs are very commercial. Without lying, you can really turn a sand grain into a sand castle! However achievements must be objective and must be quantified whenever possible.

All the others are usually responsibility-oriented, which is more conservative. You usually explain your tasks rather than your accomplishments. Talking openly about accomplishments in Europe and Asia can be a kind of taboo. For this reason, CVs are much less commercial and more factual and formal. An American style resume in Japan or in Germany will probably sound too aggressive.

Verbs or Nouns

Bullet points in American resumes must start with action verbs (See examples), which are used to empathize the accomplishments. Bold the individual contribution and the result, which is the accomplishment, must be included. Each bullet point must emphasize one personal strength. Don’t forget that America society is very dynamic and action-oriented. You have to look dynamic to the recruiter.

On the other hand, Germans, French, Spaniards use nouns or nominal sentences in the bullet points because they need to list responsibilities.

Achievements are better told with verbs and responsibilities are better listed with nouns.

Chronological, Anti-chronological Vs Functional

Spanish and French CVs, as well as American resumes, are usually either anti-chronological or functional.

German CVs are mostly chronological for the sake of clarity. Germans are usually very organized and formal.

Japanese CVs are also usually chronological.

Length & Level of Detail

The shortest format is the American resume, which must be one page.  The longest is probably the German one, which may be several pages.

Americans are usually very precise and direct. This is what they expect to see in the resume. On the contrary, Germans are more minimalist and methodical and, as a result, expect much more details. German CVs even go to the primary school and include college marks, specializations and thesis topics.

French and Spanish CVs are somewhere in the middle. They are usually one page in length but two pages are OK if you have a lot of working experience.


German CVs are very formal and sober. The layout has to be conservative. Even in the digital age, German CVs are often send in paper and signed.



Candidate’s Personality

Personal data is not really important in the American CV (no photo, no nationality, no age, no family situation). All this information is omitted for the sake of avoiding discrimination. The candidate’s personality background is very important to recruiters but this information is contained in extracurriculars or hobbies.

On the contrary, personal information is key in Japanese CVs because Japanese really want to know how well a candidate fits in the organization. It is compulsory to write about birth dates and birth places, family history and include a photo. It is not strange either to find information about the candidate’s weight, size or visual acuity.

For the sake of accuracy and detail, German CVs also include a lot of personal data (photo, parents profession…).

Spanish and French CVs are in the middle between Germans and Americans: photo, marital status, family data etc. have been traditionally included but some people tend not do it anymore. But if you are not EU-citizen, don’t forget to mention it. It is relevant for work permits.


Having studied in a top university (grande ecole) is of a paramount importance in a French CV. Similarly, a top university will be a very good point in an American resume. In French CVs and American resumes, only the highest degree is shown.

On the contrary, marks are more important to Spaniards and Germans than the ranking of the university . The concept of nation-wide university rankings is strange to Spaniards. Germans are more familiar with this concept but still value marks a lot because they are more tangible and detailed than the concept of university prestige.

Education is very important in Japan and China, comparatively much more important than in the West. Both Japanese and Chinese are eager to learn. Furthermore, work in Japan has been traditionally been considered for life, which makes education even more important. Japanese usually give a lot of details about their education experience.

Career Goals

French CVs include a line on the top to describe the career goals of the candidate. This can range from the position title the candidate is applying to to an statement about the long term. Career goals are very important for employers in America, Spain or Germany but it is usually preferred to talk about this in the cover letter or during the interview rather than on the CV. Western societies are relatively individualistic and this is why individual career goals are important.

On the contrary, Chinese and, above all, Japanese societies are much more collectivist. Recruiters are not interested in knowing about the employee’s career goals because those cultures assume the Company will decide about their professional evolution. The Company’s success is more important than the success of an individual.

Professional Experience

Americans are usually very practical and achievement oriented. For this reason, the American resume focuses more on professional experience than on education. This is also the case of Spain, France and Germany.

Japanese value education a lot and sometimes devote more space to it in the CV than to professional experience.

China is somewhere in the middle.

Extracurriculars & Hobbies

Extracurriculars are very important, especially for American, German and Japanese.

For Japanese recruiters, extracurriculars should show candidates are social community individuals. Candidates should not look competitive or caring about individual success.

Generally speaking, hobbies are less important than extracurriculars in all kinds of CVs. Probably Americans tend to include Hobbies more than the others, because it is very important for Americans to know about the candidate’s personality.

Attachments and recommendations

Cover letters are common in America, France and Germany.

In Japan, they whole recruiting system is based on recommendations, which are not necessarily written. If an application does not come through the network of contacts, it has no possibilities. The same is applicable to China to minor extent.

Germans also include a lot of attachments like school transcripts, diploma photocopies, job certifications and very detail reference details. Details is important to Germans. They do not just want to believe what the CV says. They also want to be able to verify and interpret themselves the contents of the CV. As a result German CVs are very factual.

Background Verification

It is common that prospective employers in America and China call the candidates former employer to verify data of the CV.

Image: I found the image of the CV on Trabajo y Economía and the one of the flags on



5 responses

25 09 2009
Fridays From The Frontline » Clear Admit: MBA Admissions Consultants Blog

[...] inner bucket, and shared a CIM video. Chicago Booth ‘11 GlobThink posted a long entry about international resumes and the different office cultures. Kellogg ‘11 Jeremy was on his way to an MBA conference. Following a classmate’s [...]

25 09 2009
Fridays From The Frontline | MBA Admissions dot org

[...] inner bucket, and shared a CIM video. Chicago Booth ‘11 GlobThink posted a long entry about international resumes and the different office cultures. Kellogg ‘11 Jeremy was on his way to an MBA conference. Following a classmate’s [...]

25 09 2009
Fridays From The Frontline

[...] inner bucket, and shared a CIM video. Chicago Booth ‘11 GlobThink posted a long entry about international resumes and the different office cultures. Kellogg ‘11 Jeremy was on his way to an MBA conference. Following a classmate’s [...]

27 09 2009
International CVs and working cultures | MBA Admissions dot org

[...] Visit GlobThink for more. var addthis_pub = ''; var addthis_language = 'en';var addthis_options = 'email, favorites, digg, delicious, buzz, mixx, reddit, bitly, facebook, twitter, google, more'; [...]

14 12 2010
Hofstede’s dimensions on resumes and CVs | The CV Chick

[...] life on the “traditional” resume is not something that is culturally neutral. Of course, resumes from different cultures have variances, however writing your work history on a piece of paper/Word document while following more or less [...]

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