Does working abroad appeal to you? Does it sound like a great adventure or a perfect get away from the UK? Career hunting abroad requires more than translating your CV. The patchwork of European cultures all require their own approach.
To start with, the one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Stop sending out hundreds of more or less similar applications every week. Each job, employer and country needs its own tailor-made approach. No European country has the same ‘model’ for a CV. A German employer needs other input to be able to judge a good candidate than a British employer, for example. Different countries have their own distinct peculiarities for a CV.
CVs are a lot more extensive in nature and include detailed accounts of all achievements of a candidate in reverse chronological order – with no unaccounted gaps in the timeline. Germans are “gründlich und pünktlich” (accurate and precise) and a gap in your CV would be judged as peculiar, even unreliable. If you graduate in June 2011 and start a job in September 2011, you need to account for that period. And not just in vague terms, but in detail: “25 May 2011 – 1 September 2011: travelling to South America to develop intercultural skills”.
Expect to include many extras, such as (copies of) degrees and exam results as well as letters of reference. Altogether a 10 to 12 page application, neatly packaged in a special application folder called ‘Die Mappe’. If you can not buy ‘Die Mappe’ in a bookstore, do put your CV and all the extras neatly packaged in folders. Such attention to detail is imperative while applying in Germany.
Also, do not forget to date and sign your CV. And never, ever fold it. If you think these differences no longer apply in the digital generation, just have a look at an application form of a German company and compare the level of detail required with a British application form.
In contrast to Germany, two pages are all that is required when applying for a position in France. However, the French appreciate a handwritten letter to accompany the CV. And it is highly recommended to write your CV, or at the very least the letter, in French. Try to have a high-level French speaker check over your application before sending it. The French are very fond of their language, not being able to speak French will jeopardise your chances. Being British you will be scrutinised for your language capabilities – therefore, come prepared.
It is not uncommon to send a speculative application to a company in France, as about one third of jobs there are taken through an initial speculative exchange. A French CV does not have a career objective, but a ‘projet professionnel’. This is slightly less job oriented, but has more of a mid-career aim and takes your personal achievements more into account: where do you want to be in five to seven years time and what can you bring to your career to reach this.
In Spain, the current climate is extremely difficult for new jobs. Despite the fact that many young Spaniards have left the country looking for work elsewhere, many of course remain and provide intense competition for those coming from outside. Spanish CVs are different from most European nations in that they contain a professional passport-sized photo. This can be either scanned onto the paper or attached separately in case a particular employer does not appreciate this, but should always have your name written on the blank side.
Some sectors, like bio-engineering, and other jobs that combine highly specialised technical skills with eco-friendly production methods, do offer opportunities. Don’t let the economic situation stop you if you are really interested in going to Spain, but be prepared to truly network to find a job.
There are cultural differences involved, but what gives you that extra spark, the X-factor you may need to land yourself a job? Present a true picture of yourself, be genuine, understand what are your strong and weak points and how would these be judged in the country you are targeting.
Nannette Ripmeester, founder and director of employability consultancy, Expertise in Labour Mobility. The original version of this article can be found on Guardian Careers, along with loads more tips, chats and career advice.