In previous articles, we have touched on the importance of maintaining a CV (curriculum vitae), also known as a resumé, both in and out of the job market. Certainly, being prepared to put oneself forward as a candidate for any position, at any time, whether you are currently employed or not, is a necessary part of career-building. Furthermore, a CV is a very personal document, and one that should grow with you as your career progresses. In this article, I want to look at three broad areas of CV design – presentation, targeting and content – as they may apply in the Japanese job market.
I think it fair to say that any professional white collar worker will already maintain a CV/resumé of one sort or another, and, in general, the typical Western CV format will be perfectly adequate for the purposes of applying for jobs in Japan (with perhaps a little tweaking to make it more readable, and more to the point for readers whose first language may not be English).
The biggest gripe that Western managers voice over unsuccessful CVs is careless spelling and grammar. Whether these are simply typing mistakes, or ingrained errors (ie. the product of poor learning), the effect is the same, and the offending CV will invariably find itself at the bottom of the nearest wastebasket. And just because your CV is targetted toward someone whose first language isn’t English, don’t assume that mistakes and errors will go unnoticed. Use a spell checker, and a grammar checker if syntax is your weak point.
Similarly, avoid clumsy or over-complicated syntax; this will make your CV harder to read, as well as extending its overall length, both of which score high on any manager’s list of CV annoyances!
Most people have fairly limited concentration, especially with material they wouldn’t normally choose to read, and this is especially true of managers tasked with reading dozens of CVs in a language that isn’t their own. Obviously, clear, succinct language is important, but so too is length. As a general rule of thumb, if your CV exceeds two A4 pages, it’s too long.
Managers like well laid out, and nicely formatted CVs that ‘pop’ from the page. For example, bulleted lists are a far more efficient way to highlight content than lengthy paragraphs, whilst 2 or 3 column tables are ideal for listing academic qualifications, references, etc. And for limiting your CV to two pages, setting narrow margins (around 1.27cm on a Word document), and single line spacing will work wonders.
Your choice of font will also affect the readability of your CV. In English print, serif typefaces like Times New Roman have long been preferred by publishers. However, sans serif fonts have become very popular for CVs, and are probably much easier for non-English speakers to read. For example, Lucida Sans is a modern font specially designed for on-screen clarity, so you can safely use it at 10pt for the body of your text without straining the reader.
• Don’t Fold Your CV!
For postal applications, use an A4 envelope so that you can send your CV flat and uncreased, and never print on both sides of the paper; a two page CV means two pages! It’s also essential to include a short covering letter (see below).
When applying for jobs in Japan, as with jobs anywhere, it is always a good idea to research the company and the position offered as thoroughly as possible, then tailor your CV accordingly. Targeting your application to suit the specific requirements and culture of a company is more likely to result in your being offered an interview.
• Emphasis = Success
The modern job market in Japan is becoming increasingly competitive for foreign applicants, so untargeted CVs invariably fail against those written with a particular role in mind. For example, an English teaching CV should have a very different emphasis to one for marketing. Though both CVs will focus to a great extent on presentational skills, the marketing CV should also emphasise skills in persuading and negotiating, etc.
Of course, not all CVs are specifically targeted in this way, such as for speculative job applications. Even so, it’s still important to at least target the general aspects of any job you apply for. Again, a little online research should help you to get a broad idea of what the work involves and the skills and personal qualities required to do it successfully.
• Covering Letters
A good covering letter is essential to a CV. For one thing, it will better demonstrate your writing style than the necessarily brief and factual content of your CV. Even to a non-English speaker, a well constructed covering letter should show a prospective employer that you have the qualities the job requires as well as providing a personal touch. “Please find my enclosed CV” won’t cut the mustard!
Managers tend to prefer covering letters of around half a page, so where you are supplying the same CV to several companies, you should personalise your covering letters with paragraphs stating why you want to work for each, and make sure you target both your CV and covering letter to the relevant individual in each case.
Only you can know what to include in your CV and how to target the information successfully to each job application; this is part common sense, part trial and error. Certainly, if you’re sending out dozens of CVs but never getting an interview, you’ll know something’s wrong somewhere. But there are two main approaches to take to writing a CV: chronologically and skills-based.
More correctly, reverse-chronological CVs give a conventional outline of your career/educational history by date, beginning with your most recent experiences. It has the advantage of being easy to construct in detail, offering a comprehensive mix of biographical information and education and work experience.
Chronological CVs are the norm in Japan, though they are typically ordered by oldest experiences first – the opposite of the Western style described above.
This kind of CV is much more specifically focused on the skills and abilities relevant to a specific job or career area. Unlike a chronological CV, the details of your education and work history are of less importance than your major achievements, so skills-based CVs particularly suit those whose educational and work experience isn’t directly relevant to their job application but where the CV is closely targeted to a specific job.
• Be Concise
Never feel the need to list every exam you’ve ever taken, or every work experience you’ve had, but try to determine which are the most relevant or notable. A good CV should aim to be fairly economical with words, always leaving a little something for the interview. Good business communications tend to be short and focus on key facts, so your CV should reflect this. And of course, the longer and more complicated your CV is, the harder it will be for a Japanese employer to comprehend your achievements.
• Be Honest
Company managers the world over will lament the numbers of CVs they receive that contain false or misleading information, and I’ve no reason to suppose it is any different in Japan. Naturally, a CV does allow you to leave out some details that you might prefer an employer not to know about, such as exam resits, but giving inaccurate or misleading information on a CV in Japan is grounds for dismissal if you are employed on their basis. In fact, Japanese recruiters are adept at picking up on falsehoods, quickly rejecting guilty applicants.
• Interests & Hobbies
You can keep this section fairly short, but it is very relevant to Japanese employers who are concerned that their staff are able to unwind away from the office. Avoid references to socialising with friends, but also to any solitary hobbies, such as coronation mug collecting. Pastimes that are active or out of the ordinary, like mountain climbing or rugby will better demonstrate how willing you are to stretch yourself.
A FINAL THOUGHT
There is no single correct way to write a CV, but we can suggest a few basic points that make a good CV:
• Target the specific job or career area you’re applying for
• Include relevant skills you can offer
• Careful, clear layout: logically ordered, easy to read and not too dense
• Informative but concise
• Accurate content, spelling and grammar.
By Bill Ambler
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