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EXPLAINED: How to write the perfect Swiss CV

The business of writing a resume or curriculum vitae is a little different in every country. The Local spoke to Rebekka Affolter of Swiss recruitment website jobs.ch to find out how to stand out from the crowd in Switzerland.

Before writing your CV, try and think of the aspects that your employer would most want to know about. Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash
Before writing your CV, try and think of the aspects that your employer would most want to know about. Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Looking for work in Switzerland? Or just want to polish up the old curriculum vitae (CV)? There are a few specific differences and quirks you need to know about when fixing up your CV in Switzerland. 

Here are some helpful tips. 

What is a CV called in Switzerland?

You might not think about it until you move abroad, but both words used for the short work and education history document you give to prospective employers in English are either French (résumé) or Latin (curriculum vitae). 

The word résumé means ‘summary’ in French and curriculum vitae directly translates to ‘course of life’ in Latin. 

While some might quibble over the precise shape these documents should take – for instance that résumés should be shorter – by and large they mean the same thing. 

READ MORE: An essential guide to being unemployed in Switzerland

If you are reading this, then you are reading it in English – which most likely means you are applying for a job with at least some English competency. 

That said, Switzerland is not an English-speaking country and getting to know the terms won’t hurt. 

In German, a CV is known as a Lebenslauf, which directly translates as ‘life-walk’ or ‘life-go’. The direct translation doesn’t matter – if you’re asked for a Lebenslauf, you must provide a CV. 

In French, CV is not résumé but… CV. Curriculum vitae is the word you should use in French, rather than résumé which people might just think means ‘summary’. 

In Italian, CV is also curriculum vitae. 

How should I approach my Swiss CV?

Look at it as a snapshot of your career. Think about the qualities the company is looking for and highlight those in particular.

Just as nobody would tell a complete life story in a job interview, your CV should not have everything you’ve ever done. 

Can I write my CV in English?  

Unless otherwise specified, the CV should be written in the language of the employment ad. If an ad is in German, for example, and asks for applications in English then it might be a good idea to submit the CV in both English and German.

By all means get the help of a translator to make sure your CV is faultless.

And if you already have excellent language skills, do include a relevant certificate – the Swiss love certificates!

FIND A JOB: Browse thousands of English-language jobs in Switzerland

Do I need to include details of my Swiss work permit or my citizenship(s) if I don’t have a permit yet?

If you already have a Swiss work permit, include that information briefly at the end of the CV (for example, Swiss B Permit). If you don’t have a permit, do not mention it, but mention your nationality.

Read also: An essential guide to Swiss work permits

Keep in mind that for people outside the European Union, getting a work permit for Switzerland can be quite a long process.

How long should a Swiss CV be?

A Swiss CV can be up to three pages long, depending on how long you have been working. Most people should aim to keep it down to two pages.

But if you have been in business for 20 or 30 years, then two pages would probably be short. Remember to be concise and to stick to bullet points – you can go into more detail when you’re interviewed.

Is the structure of a Swiss CV any different from an American résumé or a British CV?

CVs in Switzerland are in general not very different to either of those in terms of structure. So, as in any CV, you need to include: education, professional experience, languages, special skills, additional activities and hobbies, and references.

Read also: The best and worst paid jobs in Switzerland in 2019

Bear in mind, however, that the Swiss attach special importance to a well-written CV – so watch out for grammar and spelling mistakes.

Should I include a ‘personal statement’ at the top of my CV?

Yes, you should! This only needs to be short but it gives the recruiter an idea of what you stand for, and it helps differentiate you from other applicants.

You can write a short paragraph about yourself or include your personal vision at the beginning of the CV.

Your CV or resume should show the highlights of your working and educational career. Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Your CV or resume should show the highlights of your working and educational career. Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Should I include a picture?
Yes, it’s common to include one. Unlike in countries like the US, most Swiss CVs still have a picture. However, the picture has to look professional – it’s far better to skip the photo than to use a bad one.

So is it worth getting a photograph professionally taken?

Yes, it is worth having a professional photograph as one can see the difference right away, and this is often the very first impression people have of a CV.

Do I need to include details of every job I have done since completing my studies? If not, how far back do I need to go?

Be more precise with the most recent jobs. If your very first jobs are a long time back and do not have that much relevance anymore, you don’t have to describe them in detail. It is especially important to mention the jobs that have a link with the job you are applying for.

In general, it is important to always adapt the CV to the job and company you are targeting.

How should I deal with a gap in my resume – whether for a sabbatical or because of unemployment, for example?

Don’t try to hide these gaps. Stand up for them as they are a part of your life. You can, however, use another expression – let’s say for example, instead of “unemployed” you could use “New job orientation”.

Read also: Parliament wants to scrap work permit quotas for non-EU graduates of Swiss unis

Even trips and holidays can be useful in terms of learning languages or getting to know other cultures, so don’t hide these gaps.

Can I show off?
Everyone has a successful project or responsibility that they want to mention – and that’s fine. But the Swiss tend to be modest, so you should never sound boastful or arrogant. And, of course, you should never lie.

How much personal information should be included? Date of birth and marital status? Leisure activities?

It wouldn’t be wrong if you don’t include any of this. This kind of information, however, does help the recruiter to build a more complete picture of the candidate – and that may help you to stand out from other candidates.

Be specific. Don’t include very general activities such as sport and travel.  

How should foreign qualifications be handled – should they be translated to Swiss equivalents?

Often it doesn’t make it any clearer when you translate them. A lot of expressions are common – such as a Bachelor or Master’s degree – and do not need translation.

What certificates should I include with my CV?

If you have many certificates, focus on the most important ones and don’t mention every workshop you have ever attended. If you only have a handful of certificates, mention all of them. And again, make sure you mention the certificates that are relevant to the job you are applying for.   

If I am submitting my CV electronically what is the best format to use?

Use pdf for your CV and summarise all your certificates in one pdf file. Otherwise it is very uncomfortable to read through all the attachments that come with your application. Make sure that size of your files is not more than five megabytes.

Any rules about references?

You can add concrete references in your CV. However, you might as well mention that these can be provided on request. Usually, your references will be relevant in the following stages of the application process and not at the very beginning.

When giving references, list at least two different people. Don’t limit them to past or current employers. If you are going for a job in sales, for example, it’s a good idea to have a reference from a client or a partner you’ve worked with in the past.

To finish, can you give us some quick tips for CV writing?

Make sure your writing is clear, simple and correct. Emphasise the qualities you possess that seem relevant to a particular job. Don’t be afraid to show some personality.

Finally, use a friendly structure that makes it easy to find out who you are.

A version of this story first appeared on The Local Switzerland in April 2019. 

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WORKING IN SWITZERLAND

Which countries does Switzerland have working holiday visa agreements with?

Switzerland has made reciprocal agreements regarding working holiday visas with several countries. Here's what you need to know.

Which countries does Switzerland have working holiday visa agreements with?

Over the past few decades, countries around the globe have rolled out ‘working holiday visa’ agreements.

These visa schemes, largely targeted at young people, allow people to work and live in a particular country, usually for a set period of time and pursuant to certain conditions.

In recent years, Switzerland has expanded its own form of a ‘working holiday visa’, although there are some important differences to be aware of.

Unlike some of the better known schemes like those in place in Australia, applicants are discouraged from moving around and are generally required to stay with the one employer for the duration.

The goal of the visa scheme is to allow applicants to “expand their occupational and linguistic skills in Switzerland”.

The visa scheme runs for 18 months and cannot be extended.

Which countries does Switzerland have working holiday visa agreements with?

The agreements are made between countries, meaning your fate will depend on whether your government has at some point struck a deal with Switzerland.

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

If you are from the European Union or an EFTA country (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), then you will be able to live and work in Switzerland as is – and will not need to go through this process.

If you come from outside the EU, you will only be able to apply for this visa if you are a citizen of the following countries:

Australia, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Indonesia, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Tunisia, Ukraine and the United States.

What does ‘reciprocal’ mean in this context? 

Where these agreements have been struck, they have entitled citizens of both countries to certain rights and permissions in the other country. 

However, while these arrangements might be reciprocal, they are not identical. 

For instance, while citizens of Australia can enter Switzerland and work, the rules for Swiss citizens in Australia are significantly different. 

Therefore, if considering each program, be sure to study all of the relevant details as these will change from country to country and from agreement to agreement. 

More information is available at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How to get a working holiday visa in Switzerland

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