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5 essential CV writing tips for international students

how to write a cv
A good CV can make a great first impression. Source: Stephane De Sakutin/AFP

You’ve likely braved challenges like assimilating into foreign cultures and handling high living costs as an international student. But after completing your studies at your foreign university, you’ll deal with new obstacles when you start job hunting.

Fortunately, job searching is easier once you master how to write a CV. These five CV writing tips for international students will help you land your dream job, whether it’s back home or somewhere abroad.

Rewrite your CV for every job application

Your CV is a marketing tool that sells you as a professional to prospective employers. But learning how to write a CV includes understanding that you need to customise it for every job application you submit to match each job advert’s individual requirements.

A good rule to follow is to include the CV keywords from the job description. For instance, if a job ad requires applicants with excellent soft skills, contextualise your relevant soft skills by listing these exact abilities the employer specifies whenever possible.

Also, research the CV writing norms for your target employer’s country. For example, use British English on your CV if you’re applying to a UK company. But if you apply for a job in the US, use American English and refer to your CV as a “resume.”

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Use professional CV formatting

Your CV’s formatting influences its overall readability and legibility. To write a CV that’s easy to read through, follow these formatting tips:

  1. Use an easy-to-read CV font, such as Arial, Times New Roman, or Garamond
  2. Set your font size to 10–12 points for text and 14–16 points for headers and titles
  3. Adjust your margins to between 1.27 and 2.5 cm to avoid excessive white space or overfilled content
  4. Include bullet lists and section headers, and bold your keywords

A visually-engaging CV format makes it easy for recruiters to see essential details such as your skills and experience as they’re reading your application. Contrary to popular belief, most recruiters read all CVs submitted for a position. So always use proper CV formatting to appear professional and qualified so you can increase your chances of scoring an interview.

how to write a CV

Learning how to write a CV isn’t hard. Always remember to include all your skills. Soft skills are just as important to highlight as awards and hard skills. Source: Mandy Cheng/AFP

Add hard numbers and specific examples

If you want to know how to write a CV that’s meaningful, use data. They make it more credible and highlight your value in a company. For instance, including hard numbers not only proves your grasp of data analysis and performance evaluation but also shows recruiters the positive contributions you bring to a team.

For example, if you worked as a tour guide at your university, don’t simply list your accomplishment as:

“Gave students campus tours”

Instead, dig deeper and quantify your experience with specific details, like these percentages and exact numbers below:

“Welcomed 40+ prospective students to campus each week by guiding them around campus and answering questions, which resulted in helping the university achieve a 20% enrolment increase.”

Don’t have any work experience yet? You can still add numbers and examples when describing your relevant coursework as experience on your CV. For instance:

“Collaborated with five classmates on a group project to create a social media marketing plan for a local coffee shop, increasing sales by 5% in the quarter we implemented our plan”

Ask someone else to proofread your CV

Even when you write your CV extra carefully and proofread it repeatedly, there’s a chance some subtle errors may seep through. Also, poor word choice is one common mistake among international students. For example, you might have sufficient grammar knowledge of a foreign language but not enough mastery yet to write persuasively.

To avoid mistakes and make a CV that’s both engaging and accurately written, get a friend to proofread your CV. Even better, try asking a person who’s a native of the country you’re sending your CV to or has successfully applied for a job in the same country.

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Write a cover letter for your CV

The final tip on how to write a CV: add a personalised cover letter. It gives a great first impression on a recruiter or a hiring manager. Knowing how to put together a cover letter can make all the difference in your job search.

Format your cover letter like a formal business letter by including the following information:

  1. Your contact information and the date
  2. A salutation addressed to the hiring manager or the department name
  3. An opening paragraph that lists your target job and details your top reasons for applying
  4. Two or three body paragraphs describing your relevant skills and achievements
  5. An ending paragraph summarising your qualifications and requesting an interview
  6. A polite sign-off (like “Yours sincerely,”) and your name

But remember to keep your cover letter concise. The sweet spot for a cover letter’s length is 250–400 words (one page or less).