So, you have arrived in the United States and now need employment. But you feel intimidated because you do not have U.S. work experience. Remember that your international professional experience is valuable in your new home country—you just need to think strategically about how to leverage it. The nine tips below should put you on the right path.
1. Create a curriculum vitae.
You may already have one, since many professionals outside of North America use curricula vitae to apply for jobs. In Canada and the U.S., curricula vitae are primarily used for academic or research positions. For just about all other positions, job hunters in North America use résumés (see below).
However, having a curriculum vitae, or CV, which is a comprehensive account of your professional and academic achievements, will make drafting your résumé easier. The CV is a master document that is usually several pages long.
The aim of writing your CV is to capture in one document all of your professional experience, job skills, and educational background so that you can target specific employment opportunities. This document is just for you, so feel free to include every single course you have ever studied, every conference you have attended, every project you have completed, every achievement you have earned, and every honor you have been awarded.
Every employer you have worked for should be included, along with dates, job titles, quantifiable or qualitative goals achieved, job functions, and supervisory and reporting relationships.
Next, you will use this master document to draft your résumé.
2. Draft your résumé and cover letters.
Narrow your job search by focusing on the industry you want to work in the most. When you have identified prospective employers in that sector, use your CV as a guide to create a résumé that is tailored to those jobs. A tailored résumé, which is a summary of your professional history and achievements, is typically one page; two pages is the maximum. One résumé might work for all job opportunities within a certain sector, but you might need to adjust it slightly for each job to achieve best results.
You will also create a cover letter that is always specific to each individual job; this will accompany your résumé. In your cover letter, explain why you are the best fit for the job you’re seeking.
If the search in your ideal sector yields few responses, you might need to expand your search and draft a new résumé that will be suitable for a wider scope of jobs. Return to your CV to see if there is more experience or accolades that you can add, now that your audience has changed. You might also want to review your cover letter with a trusted friend (see below).
The main point is to send résumés and cover letters that look like they were created specifically for the job you send them to, which will improve your chances of getting noticed.
3. Explain the value of your overseas education and work experience.
Despite some political rhetoric that would seem to contradict this, U.S. employers are trying to be more socially conscious and making an effort to diversify their staffs. Having an international background is an asset, so be sure to highlight yours. If you have worked with people of various cultural, language, ethnic, or racial backgrounds in your home country, then you should mention it. If you have had specific training in how to best cooperate and communicate in diverse environments, then you should make note of that, too. These are important skills and experiences that employers are now seeking in the U.S.
4. Highlight special skills.
Many professionals come to the U.S. with valuable qualifications that don’t fit into the education or experience fields on your résumé. Those might include fluency in various languages, legal or medical training, STEM proficiency, or a background in computers (software, hardware, programming). Make sure your résumé includes these skills. You can create a special section to draw attention to these qualifications.
5. Note any previous leadership roles.
Include any former leadership roles, such as team leader or supervisor, on your résumé. Describe how you provided added value, and make note of any specific goals that were met while you were in charge. If you did not have a leadership title, refer to times where you might have led a single project from start to finish, put forth an idea that the company adopted, empowered a fellow employee, or otherwise exhibited leadership-type traits. Instead of saying that you do not have leadership experience, demonstrate that you understand what leadership entails.
6. Focus on outcomes when describing former jobs.
Think of what you achieved in your previous professional roles. U.S. employers often ask for measurable outcomes. However, many people who are new to the country are unfamiliar with this approach. Now is the time to think about it. The outcomes can be modest and even qualitative, but they must be verifiable.
7. Provide references from your home country.
When asking former colleagues or supervisors to be your references, be sure to obtain their current email address. During the job search process, prospective employers will likely use email to communicate with job seekers and reach out to their references. Be sure to obtain the correct email address for all of your potential references early in the process. That way, you won’t get slowed down at an important point in the interview process.
8. Mention volunteer work.
Social consciousness and service to others are characteristics that many employers value in their employees, so be sure to cite your previous involvement in formal or informal service clubs. Describe the role(s) you played, how they benefited the communities they served, and how they helped you to become a better person (and, by extension, a more valuable employee).
9. Have someone you trust review your résumé and cover letter.
Ask someone trustworthy to read your résumé and cover letter. Ideally you will ask a friend with either writing expertise or a lot of professional experience in the U.S. They can provide constructive criticism and help your qualifications stand out to a prospective employer.
There are professional résumé writers, but you will have to pay for their services. You might be able to find free résumé editing help from the same organizations that will also help with your job search. For example, take advantage of free resources offered by your local public library. Find out if job placement and referral organizations in the area where you live also provide services related to finessing your résumé.