Some call it a CV. Some call it a resume. Whatever you call it, this important little document can either open up new doors for you or slam them in your face. If you’re an English teacher, this is particularly true at this time of year, when schools all across Japan are stepping up their search for new teachers to start in April and thousands of people across the country are gearing up for job interview season.
Being able to sum up the most important points about you and the skills a new or experienced teacher can offer a potential employer in just one document is never easy. Are you highlighting the wrong achievements, while neglecting your best qualities? Do you give too much info or are you too vague with the details?
In all honesty, finding the balance can be an infuriating experience and one that I still struggle with sometimes. The writer in me wants to be as detailed as possible, while the editor in me knows that nobody is going to bother reading a nine-page resume! Also, a typical Japanese resume is a single page document. You don’t need to create an actual Japanese resume, just be aware of this point when you prepare your own. Also, try to add a photo at the top, this is a popular feature of Japanese resumes.
As with all things in life — it’s all about balance. Today, with these five helpful hints, I can help you bring some balance to your resume.
1. Be brief
If there’s one mistake all of us have probably made at some point in our careers and realized it almost immediately thereafter, it’s talking too much in job interviews.
Unfortunately, many of us make the same error with our resume yet fail to realize it.
Keep it to one page if possible, definitely no more than two.
It’s only natural to want to tell your prospective employer as much as you can about yourself and the qualities you bring to the table. However — particularly in English teaching here in Japan and especially when applying for jobs via Gaijinpot Jobs — you will in all likelihood be up against dozens, maybe even hundreds, of other prospective candidates. If a resume is too long or too wordy, more often than not, the recruiter reading it will just toss it aside.
Keep it to one page if possible, definitely no more than two.
2. Check your spelling and grammar
This may sound pedantic, but as someone who has consulted on hiring English teachers in the past, you’d be amazed at just how many applicants let themselves down with basic spelling and grammar errors on their resume. Just running it through a spellchecker will pick up most mistakes, but I honestly think it’s better to get a second pair of eyes to re-read the document for you and give you an outside perspective (if you can).
This way, not only will you be able to correct any spelling and grammar errors, but you’ll also be made aware of what areas you could shorten the text and tighten things up. Above all though, be consistent in you formatting, make absolutely sure there are no spelling or grammar errors.
Another important aspect to this is to be consistent in your regionalization. Don’t switch between American and British English. You may want to consider which regional form of English you use, depending on the job you’re applying for.
For example, if you’re applying to an eikaiwa (English conversation school), check their website and promotional materials to see if they lean more towards American or British usage — and adjust your resume accordingly.
3. Mind the gaps
This may be less of an issue in your home country, but in Japan — particularly if the management of your prospective workplace is Japanese — your work history is very important. Any gaps in employment will be treated with suspicion. This is more a cultural nuance than anything else. In Japan, it is sometimes perceived as irresponsible to be of working age, yet not in continuous employment.
If you have any gaps of more than a few months in your employment history (if you went back to school to study or spent some time traveling, for example) make sure you explain this. You don’t need to go into great detail, one line, written between the relevant entries in your job history will suffice. However, be prepared to explain and elaborate on this at the interview if it comes up.
Also, be aware that companies in Japan tend to be wary of employees who quit mid-contract. Of course, I’m not suggesting anyone should lie on their resume, just be aware of this point when you try to recall the exact starting and finishing dates of your previous jobs. Typically, eikaiwa (private English conversation schools) employ teachers on one-year renewable contracts, much like assistant language teacher (ALT) work. However, while the conversation schools recruit all year round, ALT contracts typically start in April or September.
4. Keep to your work experience
Resumes and CVs elsewhere in the world often incorporate areas for hobbies and interests or other general information, but Japanese employers — English teaching companies in particular — don’t really care for such superfluous things.
As I mentioned earlier, at peak hiring times, English teach recruiters are inundated with applications and they simply don’t have the time to read information not strictly relevant to your application. So, by all means be proud of all those scouting badges you earned as a kid and that kickboxing trophy you won in high school, but don’t waste an employer’s time talking about them on your resume.
… consider the fact that your recruiter could be a Japanese person who is not that fluent in English.
A good resume should have one or two lines maximum on personal interests and no more. List a few of your hobbies and leave it at that.
5. Write simply
Writing an effective resume requires striking a fine balance.
On one hand, you want to show yourself in the best light and of course a large part of this for English teachers is being able to demonstrate a great command of the English language.
You need to temper this, though, and consider the fact that your recruiter could be a Japanese person who is not that fluent in English. Keep things simple. When you have completed your resume and are reading it over before submission, try this little thought experiment.
Imagine that you are a typical Japanese office worker: you can read basic English but don’t really speak it. Would you be able to understand enough of this resume to know that this candidate is a good match for your company?
Be honest with your answer. If it’s a no, then you need to go through your resume and simplify it further.
The resume is your first point of contact for a new job. It needs to be thorough. It needs to be professional. Most importantly — it needs to be a true reflection of you. Go ahead and promote all your good points, but at the same time, keep it real. If you exaggerate things in your resume, you run the risk of being found out in the interview (if you get there).
Also, recruiters are trained to filter out such things. I know, because I used to be one. They have a strong sense of what is genuine and what is B.S. Be true to yourself and you won’t go far wrong.
Do you have any tips or suggestions for crafting the perfect resume for Japanese recruiters this job hunting season? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts!