How to Adapt Your CV for an American Company

How to Adapt Your CV for an American Company
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Updated on 11 October 2017

Many people dream of living and working in the USA, but no one would claim it’s easy. To secure a work visa, you’ll need a job offer before you leave – which means perfecting your CV is more important than ever. Don’t simply roll out the CV you’ve been using at home; there are a few key differences you’ll need to know first. Before you hit send, check through this list of tips to make sure American employers can easily see what a great candidate you are.

1 Your CV is no longer a CV!

While languages as diverse as Arabic, Spanish and British English use the term (short for the Latin curriculum vitae) American English prefers the term résumé. It’s important not to neglect this detail as the term CV is used in America, but only in academia.

2 Lose the photo

In many countries it’s normal to include a photo of yourself, and it’s tempting to try to get the employer to picture you in the office, looking dynamic and ready to work. But the USA has strict laws concerning discrimination, so employers can’t be seen to be making decisions based on any aspect of your appearance. You should also remove any details about your marital status, ethnicity, date or place of birth, parents’ names or religion. All you need in terms of personal information is your name, contact details and where to find you on LinkedIn.

3 Keep it short

The name change signals a change of attitude. This is a summary of your skills and achievements, rather than a detailed account of your working life. On average, employers spend only six seconds looking at your résumé! Aim for a single page, or two at the very most. Cut out irrelevant hobbies or unrelated positions you held years ago. After your contact details, recruiters will be looking for:

  • Summary statement – a few short, strong statements that sum up why you’re the perfect candidate for this job
  • Professional experience – start with the most recent position and work backwards
  • Skills – this could include relevant computer programs you can use or languages you speak
  • Education – unless you are a very recent or current student, keep this down to a line or two and put it toward the end of the résumé, not at the beginning

If English is your second language, you may be tempted to prove your proficiency by including your TOEFL score. Don’t! Your fluency should speak for itself. But the fact that you are bilingual is a big bonus – list it under skills.

4 Third or first person?

Should you write “Maria has exceptional organizational skills,” or “I have exceptional organizational skills?” This question raises some surprisingly strong feelings. Not so long ago, the advice was to use the third person, and some employers still feel this avoids the impression that you’re just stating your own opinion of yourself. On the other hand, you are stating your opinion of yourself, and as a result many employers hate third person résumés, finding them weird and artificial. Our advice: where a pronoun is unavoidable, use “I,” but in so-called “résumese,” it’s acceptable to avoid pronouns altogether and even to drop the occasional verb. For example: “A manager with exceptional organizational skills. Successfully increased staff retention by 50%.”

Whatever you do, don’t mix “I” with “he/she”!

5 Use action verbs

American culture isn’t big on modesty. Where some cultures would see boastfulness, Americans see confidence and straightforwardness. This doesn’t mean you should make grandiose claims of personal perfection, but it does mean that when explaining your employment history, you should focus on the successes you achieved, not just your duties and responsibilities. You can approach this by avoiding the passive voice and by replacing verbs like “worked on,” “handled” and “was responsible for” with bolder alternatives like “accomplished,” “created,” “increased,” “transformed” or “led,” as well as by giving specific examples of your results.

For example, “handled fundraising” could become “raised $105,000 in new donations in 2017.” Don’t worry about showing off – if you think back, you’ll probably find more relevant achievements than you expect!

7 Avoid clichés

Don’t claim to be “passionate” about your field – is anyone really passionate about, say, data management? And even if your work truly is your passion, the word is so overused that it no longer communicates anything. Instead, tell a story that demonstrates your depth of commitment in your cover letter, or include a bullet point that showcases the results your enthusiasm has helped you achieve. Don’t claim to be a “good team player” or “hard worker” and don’t boast of your “communication skills.” These are vague virtues that employers will tend to assume everyone should have! Give examples of times you’ve taken on extra responsibility, or times you’ve collaborated with others to accomplish something tangible.

8 Don’t forget American vocabulary!

Make sure to use American terms throughout. Even if it feels strange to change your job titles, use “attorney” instead of “solicitor,” “realtor” rather than “estate agent.” Write all dates in the American format: month/day/year. Finally, switch your spell-check to “US English” and do a last sweep to be sure you’re describing your skills as “analyzing” data, not “analysing” it and writing “programs” not “programmes.” And of course, you’ll want to proofread multiple times to be sure that your spelling and grammar is perfect.

9 Nail the cover letter

In some countries a cover letter (or these days, a covering email) is optional, but an American employer won’t even consider an application without a letter – which needs to be individually tailored to every job you apply for. If at all possible, find out the name of the person who will be receiving the letter and address it to them, “Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs. [xxx].” Even if you really can’t find a specific name, don’t lead with “Dear Sir” – female recruiters will not appreciate it. “Dear Hiring Manager” is an acceptable alternative. Like your résumé, your cover letter should be short – no more than one page. It’s the first thing that employers read, which means it’s your best chance to grab the recruiter’s attention: make it clear why you are interested in this particular company, and why they should be interested in you.

Once again, don’t be shy – Americans appreciate self-confidence and will expect you to be proud of your achievements.

Kaplan International English is part of Kaplan Inc., a global education and career services company. With 40 language schools across 6 English-speaking countries, Kaplan helps 50,000 students from 150 countries each year go further with English. Our courses include Business English and preparation for exams such as TOEFL® and GMAT®.

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