How to write an American style resume

by Adriana Stein
November 10, 2020
set up of a laptop notebook and pen and water reading to write an american style resume

In order to give you the best possible chance of landing the job you want in the US, we’ve outlined the difference between a CV and resume in America, as well as some helpful do’s and don’ts for your resume.

Is a CV the same as a resume in America?

To give a simple answer to this question, no, a CV and resume are two completely different documents in America. A CV is more so for academic positions, in which you provide a comprehensive list of all of your work history and publications. There is no limit to its length, but is often 3 or 4 pages. 

A resume is a summarised version of your work history, is applicable to all job positions and industries, and is limited to two pages. If you’re applying to any job outside of academia, most likely you will need a resume, not a CV.

There can sometimes be confusion about CV vs. resume. For example, in Germany (and most of Europe) a CV would be the American equivalent of a resume. But please note in America, the above distinctions are more accurate. If you are unsure about which version you need to apply, ask the contact or responsible HR person for more information.

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American resume do’s and don’ts

It’s not only the American terminology that you need to keep in mind, but the type of information that you list on your resume as well. In order to help you stay on the right track, here are a few do’s and don’ts to adhere to American resume best practices.

1. Don’t state your photo, age, and marital status

Another difference between Germany and America in terms of resumes is that you don’t list your photo or your age and marital status. America has different laws regarding hiring and employment non-discrimination policies, so this information needs to be omitted. If you add it, it can even result in your resume automatically being rejected, because companies want to avoid any related legal issues.

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2. Don’t make it more than 2 pages

As stated in the first section, your resume should be a maximum of 2 pages. Many people struggle to fit all of their career accomplishments and positions into two pages (I myself can relate to this and it is tough). But consider this: create your resume in a way that a recruiter can scan it within 10 seconds and get a good overview of your experience. That’s often all the time that they have to look at it anyways (one study even suggested the max as 7.4 seconds). So worry less about the small details and consider more of the big picture highlights.

If you’re worried about whether you’ve included the right information, do that test with a friend or colleague. Can they read about you in 10 seconds and understand your skills? That’s a good indicator of where you might make improvements.

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3. Don’t include obvious skills and unrelated hobbies

It’s a give in that most people nowadays know how to use Microsoft Word. It also wastes valuable space to talk about how you love raising kittens in your free time. This point directly relates to limiting your resume to two pages and highlighting the most important and most relevant information for a particular position. If you think about your resume the same as an elevator pitch, you get the idea: maximum amount of information in the fewest words. No fluff.

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4. Do emphasise the right professional accomplishments

When it comes to narrowing things down, one strategy I’d recommend is to focus on “relevancy”. The modern career person changes job positions much more often than in the past, meaning that you’ll likely have a wide variety of skills and diverse types of jobs. And that’s a good thing! It makes you flexible for changes at new jobs, and that’s absolutely something you should play up in your resume.

However, it should also be at a balance. If you’re applying for a job as an HR Manager, then it might not make so much sense to talk about your experience with using marketing technology (unless you’re doing HR marketing haha). Either way, my main point here is this: whichever job you’re applying for, list the jobs on your resume that are most relevant for that position. It’s a good idea to even reflect the language in your resume that the job description includes, because then the recruiter knows that you have specifically those skills they’re searching for. 

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5. Do use active verbs to describe your jobs

In my experience, job descriptions are the toughest part of resume writing (kudos to you if you love it!). Here again you balance these two core concepts: the maximum information with as little words as possible to save space. And active verbs are a great way to do that. 

Take a look at these examples:

#1

  • Passive: I was given the task of mentoring new hires.
  • Active: I mentored new hires so they were fully prepared for their position and understood our company expectations.

#2

  • Passive: The department revenue was significantly increased because I helped my team meet our quarterly sales goals.
  • Active: I helped significantly increase the department revenue because my team surpassed quarterly sales goals.

You can see from here that active versions come off as more confident and specific to your own accomplishments. So whenever you’re writing your bullet point descriptions, use “I” and start the sentence with an active verb instead of passive.

6. Do use data

One thing that would make the above examples even better is to use concrete examples based on data and numerical figures. We could take example #2 from above and revise it as follows:

Active: I helped significantly increase the department revenue by 10% in Q4 2019 with the support of my team.

With this phrasing, you have truly maximised the amount of information while still also saving space.

After this, it’s up to you! I wish you all the best in your resume writing!

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