Of the thousands of résumés I have reviewed, and the many I have edited, only a small handful don’t have something glaringly wrong. My North Asian clients present both issues with language, as they are EFL speakers, as well as issues with formatting. Whether or not they use my service, there are some ways they can avoid these common mistakes.
Japanese, Korean, and Chinese clients especially make a unique variety of mistakes. Some stem from their certain similar cultural aspects, from Asian fonts and spacing, and from preconceived notions based on their own culture’s way of conducting the job application process. I find these differences fascinating and I find my clients from these countries have sought me out because they know they’re not doing it right. Therefore they are receptive to dramatic change.
This is probably the main reason I refuse to “proofread” or “edit” a résumé. You can’t edit a 1982 Ford Taurus into a 2018 Tesla. You need a new car.
So let’s hit the road with some examples from these three Asian powerhouses. I confess to knowing the least about China, and it is such a dynamic and changing country. Japan and Korea remain pretty rigid, though they too are changing/evolving in their hiring practices, and change takes time.
Thinking it’s going to be the same as in their country
It starts with the recruiting process. These countries typically hire in batches, both small and large, in which they accept a certain amount of applications and often from certain schools. They recruit people who fit a profile, rather than individuals. In Japan, part of this requires sitting in painfully boring informational sessions, everyone wearing their “recruit suits”: black suit, white shirt, and a tie for men, black jacket, white blouse and knee-length skirt or pants for women. It’s changing little-by-little, but in a country that values consensus, it’s the logical way to do things.
Japan, Korea, and China generally rely on stock application forms that look more like a service application form than a résumé. Sometimes these are even handwritten. There is no space for creativity. You list your education, work experience, personal details, and attach a stern-faced photo. There is little resemblance to the Western résumé or CV, which require calculated style, formatting, sharp writing, and are never handwritten. Therefore when they choose to apply to a global country or school, or when their own company starts requiring a Western-style résumé, they have to try and figure out a very different process.
This requires a great deal of self-education, and these days there isn’t much time for that. As a result, the most common approach I see is a list of education, back to even elementary school, classes taken, tests taken, hobbies, and personal statistics. Little of it is applicable to a professional, global résumé, or of interest to a global employer or school.
Most commonly, a person will search “how to write an English resume” or “how to make a CV” in his own language. More motivated folks will search in English. That, at least, is a good start, and will increase the chances of coming up with a document closer to a proper English résumé or CV, even if it still needs plenty of work.
Blindly taking bad advice
I’m going to make a broad generalization here, and I intend no offense with it. These are observations after some 15 years as an expat in Asia. Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese: (1) tend to blindly respect people older than them and people in positions of authority; (2) are not skilled at telling the difference between credible and non-credible foreigners.
Here’s an example.
For many years, and even now, African men in hip-hop gear claiming they “represent New York” have weked as street pullers, aggressively trying to get Japanese kids to come and buy overpriced hip hop clothing, which may even be fake. Almost all Japanese I have spoken to about this believed these hucksters were American. I asked them why. They told me, “because they’re black” or “because they said they are from New York.” They’re shocked when I tell them otherwise. Similarly, when I first came to Japan, it was commonly assumed a white foreigner was “Amerika-jin” (American). The logic is simple: most Japanese had only seen foreigners in movies, on TV, or in passing.
The times are changing as tourists, expat workers, and mixed-race families are rapidly on the rise, but the above examples illustrate s ways that Japanese people, tend to believe what they’re told and don’t have the language and character-judgement skills to tell the difference between a lying street tout and an actual American.
In the same way, an Asian person may entrust 23-year-old “English conversation teacher” to edit an executive’s “résumé or CV”. These teachers are foreigners. That characteristic alone, in the eyes of many Japanese, makes them qualified enough to do pretty much anything foreign. Yet most conversational English teachers in Japan had little or no training as teachers, let along résumé or CV consultants.
A step up is to ask a foreign colleague or older friend for help with a résumé or CV. Yet these people as well typically have nothing but their own opinions. My Asian clients often tell me they had a fellow businessperson or professor check their résumé or CV. Every single time, I find mistakes. This is because I make résumés and CVs as part of my job, and I have a CPRW qualification. Colleagues, even if they have PhDs, probably don’t have this qualification. They focus on other things.
The best solution here is to use a professional résumé or CV service. There really is no other option. You can greatly improve and speed up the outcome by at least getting a basic proofread.
Formatting with the space bar
This is fact isn’t only true of Asians. Almost everyone uses MS Office, but few people know more than the basic skills needed to type a document, make a simple spreadsheet, and throw together some static slides for a presentation. And it’s about as true among published scholars as it is among college students.
Separating information in Word documents by hitting the space bar many times creates a big mess and makes editing really frustrating.
Among the problems with such formatting are:
- Any edit of the text may cause a line break or cause text to line up unevenly.
- When someone opens the document on another version of Word, the margins and page size may be different, which effectively misaligns the entire text.
- The text will not quite line up. English characters have different widths, unlike uniform Asian characters that fit in a box. Therefore, without at least tab stops, a column of text may be fractionally offline. This gives the whole document a cheap feeling, and a feeling something is just a bit off.
The easiest way to solve this is to structure the résumé using the Table function in Word. This makes it easy to line up text, easy to edit it. Then export it to a PDF so it will look the same to anyone who reads it.
Overemphasis on education
In Japan, Korea, and China, students work intensely and sleeplessly all the way from junior high school (and sometimes earlier) to university. This is because getting into a “brand name” university (e.g., The University of Tokyo or Keio University in Japan, Seoul National University or KAIST in Korea, Fudan University or Tsinghua University in China) can virtually ensure employment at a top company. This can set someone up for life or give them an eye-catching name on their work history if they are let go or change employers. Entry to the top schools requires high scores on rigorous, exacting, and quite petty exams. Many Asian students spent much of their junior high and senior high school years cramming in facts and figure in preparation for these. Alternatively, failure to get into a reputable university can make job hunting much more unstable and strenuous, and can lead to a less than ideal, even life-sapping job.
Education is paramount in Asia. So it makes sense that new and experienced professionals want to show off their school on their résumé. There is nothing wrong with this pride, but it is far less important in the West, and it says little or nothing about actual skills.
Only new entrants into the workforce should indicate education near the top of the résumé. And with it, they should include accurate details of what they studied, any relevant extracurricular activities, and evidence of skills that may be transferred to the workplace. Many, even most, American companies don’t know elite Waseda is any better than mid-ranked Toyo, or that Fudan is any better than Shanxi.
Using a template
Templates can be simple-looking, colorful, sexy, and even cool. They’re a bit like fast fashion from H&M or ZARA. They catch your eye and may be in style at the moment, yet anyone can use them and they’re not designed for durability or with any high level of craftsmanship. Importantly for non-native speakers of English (EFL, ESL), they may seem a quick and attractive way to promote oneself. Why go through the trouble of crafting a detailed résumé and revising it many times when you can drop your details into an app and, like a vending machine, it pops out your product. I can certainly understand that perspective.
The great thing about templates is that they can give some structure when you have no idea where to start. Yet they really are all over the place; there are so many different ones, some dating well back into the 1990s, when that stupid little paperclip would pop up in Word and ask if you needed help. Others have become based on the unproven, ill-advised notion that colorful, infographic-type résumés are all the rage these days. Elon Musk has one! Actually, no, he doesn’t.
Résumé templates and designs have gone a bit crazy. These days, everyone wants to create a “killer app” and sell a bunch of copies. Do you think these entrepreneurs and general opportunists have a solid background in human resources and résumé and CV writing? Do you think they really care about you getting the job, or about you buying the app or online service?
If you’re applying for a more creative position, a good résumé may reflect your creative abilities and a little bit of flair and character. However, if you’re applying for an IT position, they want to know if you can do IT. If you’re applying for a sales position, they want to know what you’ve sold. No amount of colors and self ratings will hide that. In short, templates are OK, and can be better than no framework at all, but if you’ve going to use one, start simple, and consider getting an editor to at least proofread it.
I’m definitely not saying to make a dull, old-fashioned résumé. Quite the opposite: I’m saying to not get carried away with gimmicks, and to carefully and strategically use newer approaches such as a brighter color, multiple columns, and skills ranking. Most of the time, your flashy auto-generated résumé will annoy more than it impresses.
Thinking they only need one résumé or CV
This one is also not only true of Asian, but as we saw above, when one is used to an assembly-line sure of approach to recruiting, it can be hard to understand why or how to customize a résumé. A résumé or CV, in fact, it needs to be customized for every single job to which you apply, and so does the cover letter.
These documents are not general profiles of the individual, or personal data forms (see #1 above); rather, they are a customized document that shows why the individual is well-matched to the job and company (or school).
Therefore, someone applying for a marketing position, but who has mostly an administrative background must look for any areas in which they have done marketing. Perhaps they assisted with the company’s promotional materials. Perhaps they worked on a CPC ad campaign. Perhaps they were present at on-campus recruiting events. These are all marketing tasks that professionals from other careers or educational backgrounds may have experience in. Yet when applying another position, these skills may be less relevant, or not relevant at all, so they need to be downplayed or removed.
To sum it up
intResume takes a special interest in candidates from Japan, Korea, and China because I am one of a very few Certified Professional Resume Writers in this region, yet who is a native English speaker. I fully believe in the value of my services and my satisfied clients do as well. However, for those who don’t have the money for it, or just really like to do it themselves, I encourage them to reflect on the points above. Sometimes you’re already amazing, or the company really needs someone, so you can get by with an adequate but flawed résumé or CV. That’s fine: go for it. By not making the mistakes above, you’ll ensure that you get interviews and consideration for the easier target jobs. It’s not the same as in most Asian countries.