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How to Write a Résumé: the Specifics of French and English Résumés

When applying to a job offer in your own country or abroad, it is essential to adapt your résumé to the country in which you are applying. Here is some advice that will help you write the perfect résumé in English or in French.

Résumés in France

The French résumé (called CV in France) is a one- to two-page summary of the educational background and professional experience of the candidate, focused on a particular job application. A résumé addressed to a French employer should be a formal résumé based on facts, and with less self-promotion than an English or American one.

Tips for writing a French CV

  • Always have your CV proofread by a native French speaker. French is the main working language, and most companies based in France require that documentation be translated into French, so grammar or spelling mistakes will cast doubt on your French language skills.
  • Keep your CV as short as possible. Employers spend an average of 10 seconds on each CV they receive. Moreover, a French CV follows a certain format which allows an employer to quickly review it. In general, information should be given in this order: personal data, education, professional experience, languages/computer skills, and interests.
  • Do include personal information such as your first name, last name, address, contact information (telephone and e-mail), date of birth, nationality, marital status and driving license. Add a passport-sized color photograph as well. Some of this information is considered delicate in the UK or US; however, in France it will be requested during the recruitment process.
  • In France especially, education is a very important selection criteria, so make sure your university degrees or other qualifications are located at the very beginning of your CV (after personal information). Include high school history, too.
  • Skills-based CVs are less popular in France. It is better to use the traditional type of CV (reverse chronological order).
  • If not specifically requested, the “References” section is not mandatory in a French CV.

Résumés in English-speaking countries (UK/US/Australia)

When applying for a job in an English-speaking country, it is important to keep in mind certain linguistic differences. British and American English have several differences in terms of spelling and vocabulary. Australian English generally follows British spelling, while Canadian English is much closer to American English. The easiest way to check your résumé is to set the spell checker to the proper variety of English. Apart from spelling and vocabulary differences, the format and content of a résumé may differ across English-speaking countries.

Résumés in the United Kingdom

The British résumé is called a CV and is close to the French CV in terms of content, format and style. Their main difference lies in the fact that in the UK it is not common to include personal information such as date of birth, nationality and marital status, except if these elements can make the applicant look more suitable for the particular job position. The photograph is not necessary either.

Tips for writing a British CV

  • Always have your CV proofread by a native English speaker and set your spell checker to British English.
  • Write dates in British format (day-month-year); for example, 14th March 2013 or 14/03/2013.
  • If possible, your CV should fit on one single page of A4 paper.
  • Apart from university qualifications, write how you got on in your school exams at age 16 (GCSE: General Certificate of Secondary Education) and at age 18 (A-levels). If you are not from the UK, write your country’s schooling qualifications at appropriate ages, and mention the UK equivalent.
  • If you have a UK address or phone number, it is recommended to use them for your contact information.
  • Convert any data into UK units as appropriate (£, miles).

Résumés in the United States

What Europeans call a CV corresponds to a résumé in the United States. The word CV exists, but it refers to a 3- to 10-page full career history, used by those in academic or scientific careers. One of the most important things to remember when writing a résumé for a job in the US is that you should not include any personal data (except for your name, address and contact information). It is illegal for US employers to make employment decisions based on age, gender, physical appearance, marital status and health conditions.

Tips for writing an American résumé

  • Always have your résumé proofread by a native English speaker, and set your spell checker to American English.
  • Write dates in American format (month-day-year); for example: March 14, 2013 or 3/14/2013.
  • Résumés in the US tend to be more expansive, so feel free to be creative and show your personality.
  • Do not mention secondary school history, but only third-level education (university level).
  • Do not be shy to sell yourself and the results of your studies or your work. List your accomplishments in detail, and give numbers to back up what you write whenever possible. Employers are looking for a track record that shows you can bring something extra to the company. Mentioning only your skills and job responsibilities will not be highly appreciated.
  • Convert the data into US units as appropriate ($, miles)

Résumés in Australia

Australian résumés are close to US résumés in terms of format and content. A résumé addressed to an Australian employer should focus on achievements and accomplishments instead of skills and responsibilities. As with the American résumé, personal data that may raise discrimination issues should not be disclosed.

Tips for writing an Australian résumé

  • Always have your résumé proofread by a native English speaker, and set your spell checker to Australian English.
  • Use a simple layout with plenty of white space and not many colors.
  • The appropriate length for an Australian résumé is 2 to 4 pages. Employers want to see the evolution of your career, so try to tell your story keeping in mind that you should not mention minute details or irrelevant information.
  • The Career profile or Career overview section is very important. Avoid using “Career objective” except if you are a recent graduate. This short section provides the employer with a quick preview of your résumé, so feel free to express who you are and where you are heading. The rest of the résumé should be consistent with this section; for example, do not mention activities not related to the job.
  • Education is an important section, and impresses employers. Mention only your most recent or important educational qualifications. Include any related training or stay abroad.
  • Do not insist on the responsibilities you had during your past job positions, but rather on your achievements. Meeting a target is not an achievement; it is what you are paid to do. Mention awards or ideas you put forward, and describe how they increased revenues or efficiency. It is very common to have two subsections for each job position: one for duties and one for achievements (3-4 bullets for each subsection).
  • Describe your previous employer, especially if the company is not known in Australia.
  • The References section should be included in your résumé; however, for privacy reasons it is better to write “Available upon request” after the References heading. Government applications are an exception to the rule.

Résumés in Canada

Canada is a bilingual country; therefore, your résumé should be in English or in French depending on the job position. In each case, remember to put up an English or French styled résumé: in English-speaking Canada you should market yourself a bit more, whereas in French-speaking Canada you should keep it more formal. Personal data that may raise discrimination issues should not be disclosed.

Tips for writing a Canadian résumé

  • Always have your résumé proofread by a native English or French speaker, and set your spell checker to Canadian English or French.
  • Keep your résumé short: ideally one page, or two pages maximum.
  • Volunteer experience is important, so include any work experience (paid or unpaid), summer jobs and internships.
  • When describing your previous job positions, write the job position first and the name of the company afterwards. Provide a brief description of the company if it is not known in Canada.
  • One of the most important selection criteria in Canada will be your language skills, especially in English and French. Being bilingual or fluent is an added advantage, so do not forget to mention it in your résumé.
  • Do not forget to add a References section at the end of your résumé, as previous employers are usually checked and contacted. However, it is recommended to write the expression “Available upon request” or to provide your reference contact information in a separate document.

What are your own experiences with writing résumés and applying for work abroad? We’re interested in hearing your opinions, and are ready to answer any additional questions you might have.

  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

About the Author

Prior to joining the VitaCV team, David worked for over 20 years in a number of different roles in marketing, communications and technical documentation for several major international companies. Originally from Ireland, he now lives and works in France.