Before I moved to London, I had prepared many copies of my CV. I took time preparing it, translating it into English and including all the necessary information. I made photocopies of my Certificates in case someone asked for them and asked my previous employers to write recommendation letters.
I looked up some ads before travelling and thought I had the right qualifications. Being bilingual and having finished several courses I thought my chances of getting a good job were high.
The first day in England I went downtown, with a good amount of CVs and started handing them in wherever I found a nice company that I imagined was a good place to work. I also found, by chance, what they call “job centre”, that do not exist in my country. I looked up some ads in the computer and send some more CVs. I repeated this several days… and no one called. Until someone from a language institute called me to arrange an interview. She was also from South America, and after a friendly talk she gave me the most important piece of advice regarding looking for a job in London: never hand in a CV without a cover letter. In my classes as a Teacher of English I had taught several times how to write a cover letter… but I though it was only part of the syllabus and that these letters were sent only in formal contexts. As in my country it is not often done, I thought it was ok not to include a cover letter in England as well. I had handed in perhaps 20 CVs! Now I know they probably went into the bin without being read.
Another big difference I found is that in my country we never include hobbies or interests in our CV. It is just strange. But when I thought about it I found it made sense. And if you explain in a few words how your interests give you some qualities that are useful in the job environment, that can be a plus. In one opportunity I applied for a job as a sales assistant in a pet shop. When I went to the interview, the recruiter looked at my CV and asked me: If you worked as a Teacher, why do you want to work as a sales assistant now? I found this confusing… The salary was ok and I love animals so why not? Of course they did not know that, cause I had not included my interests in my CV! So that was the first thing I learnt, and the second was… customize your CV!
From that moment on, every time I looked for a job in a different country I tried to ask a native what was the usual process, and then I adapted to it. It is easy now to turn on the computer surf the internet and meet people from all over the world. So if you are about to move abroad, make some acquaintances that will give you some pointers. They will also tell you about the most serious recruitment agencies or specialized web pages.
I discovered that in most countries it is common to send a CV with a cover letter, and even when it is not common to send a cover letter, it does not hurt to send it. Specially when you are a foreigner because it is important to explain in a formal but friendly way where you are from, what your qualifications are and why you want to work for that company.
I also learned to customize my CV and cover letter. It does not matter where you are, every job is different. I look at the ad, find out something about the company and then I fix my CV.
So, do a little research before you send your first CV and good luck!