April and May are good times to be looking for a teaching job in Thailand. Getting one starts with a resume or a Curriculum Vitae. We all know how it works, and what what to put into it, right?
Not necessarily. I regularly get questions like 'What's the difference between a CV and resume?', 'How long should it be?', 'What if I don't have experience related to teaching?', 'Do I have to write a cover letter?'
Perhaps, the process of preparing a (good) resume is not so simple after all. Because our resume represents a first impression to our potential employer, it's a sensitive document. On the topic of how to write one, though, there is already so much good advice out there that there's not really much more to be said. The best site I have found for ideas and tips on layouts is this one by Natalie Severt.
As thorough as Natalie's blog is, however, its focus is job hunters in the occident. Are things different for us here in the orient? In every country, resumes have associated with them some deeply embedded cultural niceties. South Africans, for example, have an idiosyncratic culture of preparing multi-page tomes which spell out almost every aspect of the applicant's life in painful detail, starting with a magnificent cover page bearing only the individual's name in size 88 italic bold font, ringed with a pretty border.
What about the culture of resumes in bureaucratic and document-driven Asia? Someone I know who decided to move to Cambodia told me an interesting anecdote about her resume experience.
To find work, she followed local protocol and typed up a one-page resume summarizing her life skills and qualifications, and duly distributed it to schools she knew. No response. A while later, she did the same again, with another set of schools. At one of the schools, the receptionist disparagingly took the piece of paper from her, and asked "Do you have a cover?". Smiling, the teacher told her she didn't, and asked in response, "Do you have a cover?". "Yes,", the secretary replied, apparently either mollified or relieved, pulled out a pristine blue paper folder, and stuck the resume neatly into it.
Apparently conforming to acceptable norms, the resume was now ready for delivery to the head teacher. So now we know that in Cambodia it is polite and appropriate to have a cover for your CV. Head teachers of schools in Cambodia must be swimming in beautiful blue covers.
And Thailand? Well, again, let me share an anecdote. One new arrival had in her possession a resume that had been designed and assembled by a famous human resource consultant in the States. She had paid a lot of money for it, and was rightly proud of the resulting product. It was sent out.
As a reference on her resume, I was contacted in due course by one of the schools she had applied to, asking me where 'he' was from. One deduces, then, that professionally-designed American resumes withhold information that Thai schools consider to be important.
Tips for Thailand job-hunters
In writing a blog about the cultural etiquette of resume preparation, I realize the danger of becoming embroiled in political debates about personal security and equal rights, or even racial stereotyping. However, the fact is that schools in Thailand which are looking to employ teachers have a few things they'd love to see on an applicant's resume, and for some reason teachers seem not to want to include them. So, here are 5 simple tips for making your resume culture-compliant for Thailand:
1. Add your nationality. As a teacher of English abroad, you are essentially selling yourself based around your foreign-ness. Capitalize on your (much prized) nationality by adding it to your resume.
2. Add your date of birth. I was born some time before the age of the dinosaurs, something I don't like letting people know. In the culture I was born into, ages and years of birth are sensitive issues; women in particular consider their age sacrosanct information, never to be revealed even at gunpoint.
Nevertheless, schools (and particularly schools with young-learners) want teachers who fit a specific profile, and so think that knowing a teacher's age is important. The philosophical and ethical implications of this kind of teacher profiling is probably the topic for another blog. For now, wear that DoB with pride.
3. Add a photo. In my experience with schools, the photo is undoubtedly the most important item on a resume. In some cases, resumes without a photo are just ignored. And not just any photo, please. A nice friendly close-up of you dressed professionally is the idea. A group shot of you with a bunch of kids, or with fellow teachers on a field-trip is poor form for all sorts of reasons.
Selfies don't really work either, and a photo of a relaxed moment by the pool bar is perhaps best avoided. Final thing: if you have the IT skills, attach the photo to the resume rather than having it as a separate attachment: be nice to the busy school directors and keep things nice and easy for them.
4. Keep your language simple. Not everyone who reads the resume is a native speaker of English with the capacity to comprehend verbose sentences with unnecessarily complex semantic and syntactic construction, like this one. And to be honest, as a relatively well-educated native speaker of English, I too have problems with jargon-heavy descriptions of jobs in IT, micro-finance, or logistics. (Actually, if I'm perfectly honest, I have problems understanding anything about any job other than teaching, so perhaps I'm not a very good yardstick here.)
5. Add your telephone number. Really.
Anyway, enough of these clickbait '5 essential tips...' stuff. Ajarn.com has a really easy-to-use resume builder that is well suited to the needs of the schools in Thailand. Use it. And have a look at this article which has some tips about using the Ajarn online resume system; to which I'd like to add one further point: because it's an online system, teachers sometimes type their resume in a hurry. That can lead to mistakes, and sloppy English doesn't look good on an English teacher's resume.
If you are applying for a teaching post in the new academic year, wishing you all the best!
Steve Louw is the lead trainer of the popular Chichester College TESOL programme in Bangkok.