Adapting your CV to the US resume format is bit of a puzzle. American employers want short resumes, action verbs, and results. If you’ve never written an American CV the process can feel frustrating.
Resume writing is a learned skill. Nobody starts out knowing how to write a perfect resume. American students spend hours learning how to write a resume that shows off their professional experience. As an international student, it takes longer to get resumes right because resumes differ by culture. In some countries it is ok to include a photo, religion, marital status, and birth date. Unfortunately, American employers will not read your resume if you include those details. Resumes are shorter, action-oriented (they want to see results over academics), and error-free.
To find a job in the US, you need to avoid common resume mistakes. Here are the top resume mistakes to avoid as an international student writing your first American CV.
American employers do not forgive mistakes. Though it’s hard to write a resume in your nonnative language, American employers will not care. If they see a mistake they will throw out your resume. So make sure you have someone to look at it before you send your resume. Ask your career services to help you or find an English major to help you.
Too many awards and scholarships
In many countries, awards are the most important credentials. I’ve seen many resumes from international students that take up half a page by listing awards. Awards are good but they aren’t enough. You need to show experience. American employers want to see what you’ve accomplished or led. So limit your award or scholarship mentions two or three and focus on your experience that is relevant for the job: work experience, volunteering, club leadership, project work, etc.
As a student, your resume should be one page (yes, one page, even MBAs!). That seems short. But recruiters – the people who are reading your resume – are very busy people. Imagine they get 100 resumes for a job. If every candidate submits a 2 (or 3) page resume, they now have to scan 200 (or 300!) pages to find a candidate. You are being nice to a recruiter by keeping it to one page. It also shows that you know how to be concise.
If you have no experience you will have a hard time getting hired. American employers want to see experience and results over education. If you have no experience look for opportunities to get experience while in school. Find volunteer projects, ask a professor to TA her course, find work on campus, help out a startup, join a club and take a leadership role. Include those on your resume as experience. Always keep looking for ways to get work or volunteer experience.
All bullet points must start with verbs. Avoid bullet points with “responsible for.” Instead describe the action you did in your job. Don’t forget to add some detail to tell them what specifically you did.
- Bad: Responsible for managing event logisitics for speak series
- Good: Managed event logisitcs for weekly speaker series
- Best: Managed scheduling and wrote speaker bios for weekly speakers series
Use this list of action verbs to help you use better verbs on your resume.
No Numbers or Accomplishments
The former head of HR at Google, Lazlo Bock, who oversaw all Google hiring, shared the secret to writing a good resume. When you write resume bullet points follow this formula:
Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z].
Start your bullet point by telling what you accomplished (action verb), how you measured that accomplishment, and how you did it.
Imagine you’re an employer hiring a web designer. Which statement would impress you most?
- Bad: Responsible for building websites for student clubs
- Good: Built many websites for student clubs and improved processes
- Best: Built 5 websites for student clubs in 3 months by improving the creative submission process
Even if you can’t put numbers on an accomplishment, be specific about what you did. Do not expect an employer to figure it out on their own.
It takes a lot of practice and language understanding but the better you can articulate what you have accomplished, the more you will stand out to an employer.
Only submitting resumes
The average position receives over 200 resumes. Only 2% of those resumes are invited to resumes. A recruiter spends an average of 10 seconds looking at your resume. It’s means it’s very very hard to get noticed. You can’t rely on only your resume to get a job. You need to build relationships with American professionals who can help you in your search. Relationship building, also known as networking, is the secret to the U.S. job search.
What Recruiters think about your resume
Read the link below. In it, a Facebook recruiting engineer shares her experience reviewing software engineer resumes. (This Quora thread has half a million views and 6K upvotes)
Here’s the overview:
- She’ll read your resume in less than 25 seconds
- She doesn’t read cover letters
- She hates long resumes
- She wants to see your personality
- She doesn’t pay much attention to the education section
- She’ll click on links to personal websites, Quora profiles, Twitter handles, GitHub contributions, Dribbble accounts.
Your takeaway: She’s not going to spend a lot of time on the resume so you have to make it impactful and short. She also wants to know about your personal projects, so always have a digital presence to supplement your resume.
American resumes are hard and that’s ok
Resumes are hard. They’re hard for American students too. You will likely rewrite your resume 5-7 times (it will feel more like 27 times though). That’s ok. Nobody is good at it their first time. So be patient. Your English language center or career services office are good resources to help you revise your resume.
Resources for US resume formats
The Muse, a popular career website, has a good resource to help you build a US resume template: 41 Best Resume Templates
For software that helps you create a US resume format try I Need a Resume
To check if your resume is competitive use VMock, a program that combines machine learning and natural language processing to rate your resume and make improvement suggestions. The first feedback is free; after that it’s paid. So use this system when after you’ve had your resume reviewed by humans or your career center.
To see if your resume matches the job you are applying for, use Jobscan. Upload your resume and the job you want to apply for. You’ll get a score and feedback on how you’ve communicated your skills and experience for the job you’re applying to.
You need more than a resume to get hired. Learn the steps to a successful US job search in our book, How to Get a Job in the USA.