Your Resume: How US Format Differs From European

*Photo taken from zety.com

In my previous post, I was telling the story of my first professional job search in the US while being a freshly arrived immigrant, and the resume is the integral part of the process. It might be especially tricky when you’ve never dealt with its US format. When I was working at the development companies in Belarus, often times I would be involved into preparing the resumes for the developers who were suggested for a client’s project. Somehow, in my mind there was one template both for US and Europe as long as the resume was in English. Well, thank God I decided to read upon the subject before I gave my US job search full steam ahead.

If you are coming from Europe, forget everything you knew about compiling your resume. First and foremost, if you are not into academics world, forget the word “Curriculum Vitae”, or “CV”. Here it’s “resume”.

A few NOs that are 180 degrees contrary to the European format-

  • No picture, no DOB, no sex, no marital status

In the US, recruiters are being utterly cautious of the fact that the applicant may sue the company on the basis of age, race, sex, orientation and marital status. It is very rare, but to be out of harm’s way, many of them would not even try considering you for the role if you have any of the above mentioned in your resume.

*Some of you may rightly think that it’s actually possible to get the picture (hence race and sex) from the LinkedIn account. I know. But I stopped looking for the logic here and decided to follow unspoken rules 🙂 It is not the battle I am willing to fight.

  • No long 3-page narrative

This needs to be put in all caps, as I think this is the hardest for expats to realize. Back in Belarus, it was okay and even welcomed to have 2–3 pages resume, as if the more you put in there — the more experience and prominence you have. Here, brevity is the soul of wit. No one has time and/or desire to read through your 3-page English composition. If you are a good specialist, you will find the way to filter through and highlight only the important achievements in your career. The most recent experience values most, hence feel free to expand on your latest role but be really brief about the 1st out-of-college job.

Believe me, I’ve been there, it’s possible. Be short, precise and to the point.

  • No “can do anything” type of thing

Back in Belarus, there were times when I’d do a bit of biz dev, a bit of account management, a bit of project management, I did user acceptance testing if needed — I could do it all! Working in the same company, I led projects in entertainment, home automation, healthcare, fintech spaces. Forget it. Here it’s valuable when you specialize in a specific niche and have experience with a specific role. When I set for myself that I was looking only for PM jobs moving forward, I didn’t put much focus on my Account Management and Biz Dev experience (don’t get me wrong, this experience has been super helpful in my PM job, but resume is not the right place to focus on it). If you are looking for Visual design roles, do not list User Interface design and Animation skills into the same resume. Focus. If you are applying to multiple types of jobs, have a separate resume for each.

The best workable structure from my experience is-

HEADER: Name, Desired position, Address, Phone, LinkedIn account (if you don’t have one, I suggest you stop reading this very moment and go get one).

SUMMARY: Tell your story in 3–5 sentences. People read it. That’s your chance to grab the attention. Do not be vague and tell about everything and nothing at the same time. There is a reason it’s called Summary — it should summarize your work story that would follow below. This is the place where you list years of experience, industries you worked in, relevant certifications, and … something memorable and catchy about yourself.

RELEVANT SKILLS/TOOLS: “Relevant” being the key word. Do not dump every single skill (aka “detail oriented”, “responsible”, “quick learner” etc.) paired with the Word and PPT knowledge. This is white noise for recruiters. List only those skills and tools that are specific for the position and/or listed in the job opening.

WORK EXPERIENCE: Brevity. Brevity. Brevity. What made you stand out.

  • Facts, numbers-almost anything can be measured, you don’t need to be an accountant to use numbers in your resume. If you are an HR, you can calculate employees retention and the adoption rate of the new program. If you are a PM, bring up the budgets you managed, number of portfolios, KPIs.
  • Avoid words/sentences like “Worked with the team on…”, “Collaborated on …”. It’s important to be a team-player, but it’s your resume, and it should be about You and what makes You the ideal candidate for the job- “Achieved”, “Led”, “Accomplished” etc.
  • Do not forget about the basics- names of the companies you worked at, geographical location, dates of work. It is frowned upon and make people think you are covering something up (in 99% of cases — rightfully so) if dates are missing and/or work experience is not listed in the chronological order. Some people might not want to mention geographical location if the latest job was outside the US or the dates if there is a gap, but I hope you agree with me here that, ultimately, it’s better to mention and explain these things at the interview than being left without a response because the recruiter didn’t appreciate your cover up business.
  • Besides company name, provide a few sentences about the companies you worked at, if those are big multi-billion dollar companies like Google, Microsoft or Amazon, don’t be shy and provide some blurb about the department(-s) you worked at. It’s good to give people some context to add to the picture.
  • Take a look at other people’s resumes and LinkedIn profiles in your field. You need to pick up the local language, professional slang and know the general skills/tools there are in the market to be competitive.

EDUCATION, TRAINING, COURSES: This is pretty straightforward. I always list my formal college education followed by the rest of courses and training. There is no hard rule though. One piece of advice to Eastern European expats and immigrants from India and Middle East — in our languages the names of colleges and higher educational establishments can be pretty long and, let’s be honest, unpronounceable for a regular English speaker. If that’s your case, I’d put the main idea of the university into the name or a comprehensible English translation (vs. transliteration) and list the full official name when there is a background check.

Cover letter?

I feel there will always be an open question of whether a candidate needs to send a cover letter along with the resume. Cover letters are definitely important in Europe. What I see in the US though is that people are generally too busy (very different work pace) to really read through your cover letter. Moreover, your initial application usually needs to go through 1–2 recruiter rounds, while the cover letter is generally composed for the hiring manager. As you can guess, I personally think the cover letter is only worth spending time and efforts for if it is mentioned in the job opening. Otherwise, contribution-result ratio is really poor.

Good luck! And remember-be short, precise and to the point.

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