When moving to the US from another country – or if you live in the US as an expat and English isn’t your first language – English business writing may not come so easily. This makes writing a resume an even bigger challenge… and it’s a challenge to start with for anyone! A strong resume is vital when looking for a new job, but how do you know if yours is at its best? Moreover, how do you know if the CV or resume you’ve used abroad follows standard practices for US-based resumes?
To start, it’s important to note the distinction between a CV and a resume in the US. Here, unlike in many other countries, a CV is a much longer and detailed document and generally, its use is limited to academia and research. If looking for a job outside of those areas in the US, you need a resume, not a CV.
Here are 10 essential tips for what you should — and shouldn’t — do to ensure your resume makes the best possible first impression on potential employers and business contacts in the US:
1. DON’T include a headshot on your resume. DO include one on your LinkedIn profile. Although headshots are acceptable on resumes in Europe and elsewhere abroad, don’t include one on your resume in the US because it’s illegal for employers here to make hiring decisions based on race, sex, age etc. Since LinkedIn is used for multiple purposes, especially networking, you should include your professional-looking headshot there (your profile will get more views that way too).
2. DON’T include personal information such as marital status or country of citizenship. DO include clear contact information. Again, it’s illegal for US employers to make hiring decisions based on personal information, so leave out private data like your marital status and nationality. You should, however, include a personal email address that is professional-sounding (preferably one that includes your name) and one phone number.
3. DON’T finalize without a second opinion. DO ask someone to proofread. You may get so caught up on including the right content on your resume that you don’t catch grammatical mistakes or spelling errors. Seek the help of someone who is a native English speaker or writes very well in English to review your resume carefully. They may pick up on subtleties, awkward phrases or punctuation errors that you might miss.
4. DON’T pigeonhole yourself with an objective. DO include a summary. If you include an objective and apply for a job that doesn’t exactly align with it, you’re effectively telling the hiring manager that it’s not the job you really want. Objectives can limit and weaken your candidacy for opportunities. Instead, capture the reader’s attention with an informative professional summary that provides a good overall sense of who you are, as well as your expertise, key strengths and major accomplishments.
5. DON’T write a long list of job duties. DO show your value through accomplishments. Beginning with “Responsible for” and listing 10 things isn’t the best way to frame your experience. Communicate what’s most relevant towards what you want to do next and — whenever possible — frame accomplishments by showing impact (e.g., reduced customer wait time from 3 days to 1 day by redesigning key processes). Rather than stating your actions alone, highlight how they yielded results, affected change, benefited clients etc. If you’re stuck, talk it out with a trusted colleague, friend or professional who may hear things differently and help communicate your experience in a way that’s valuable to potential employers.
6. DON’T use Euro, Swiss Franc or Yen for financial figures. DO convert international currencies to US Dollar equivalents. If you include relevant numbers (like the size of a budget you managed, amount of sales you increased or valuation of a deal you worked on), do so in US Dollar equivalents so it’s relevant to the people reading your resume. US hiring managers review resumes quickly, so make it easier for them to understand immediately; they shouldn’t have to Google currency conversions.
Also, remember to contextualize metrics to illustrate impact more effectively. For example, stating you “reduced costs by 35%” is meaningless without a relative starting or ending point (35% could represent $3,000 or $3 million).
7. DON’T use present tense for past jobs. DO use present tense for your current position. While there are some exceptions, in most cases, keep prior experience in past tense and anything current in present tense.
8. DON’T write dense, lengthy paragraphs. DO use consistently formatted bullet points. Your resume isn’t the place for long paragraphs. Not only are they hard to read (especially on mobile devices), but also, key information can get lost in densely written descriptions. Optimize readability and strengthen impact with clear, bulleted statements.
9. DON’T create a resume that goes on for pages. DO limit length to ensure content is read. While it’s acceptable for CVs to be long documents, US resumes generally should not exceed 2 pages (though there are exceptions). Your resume doesn’t have to include every detail about every job you’ve ever had. This is especially important if you’re at the senior level. And if you’re early in your career and your resume spills onto a second page, you’re likely including unnecessary information.
10. DON’T send your resume as a Word document. DO send it as a PDF. Word has limitations; some fonts, bullet styles, paragraph formatting and other details (like letters in other languages with special marks or accents) may look great to you, but don’t translate well once sent — particularly if the recipient is viewing your resume on a mobile device or using an older version of Word. Unless requested otherwise, send your resume as a PDF, clearly-labeled with your name, e.g., Jane Doe Resume (excluding version number, date etc.), to ensure you and the recipient see the same formatting.
Your resume can be a potential employer’s first impression of you, so make it count. Present your value, evidenced by how you’ve contributed to, improved and grown other organizations, and you’ll impress upon a potential employer in the US that you can make a strong, positive impact there as well. In addition, taking time to adapt your CV to US resume writing best practices and carefully proofreading English syntax and overall formatting will help ensure your resume goes into the “yes” pile.