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What Are You Doing Wrong on Your Résumé?

Tuesday | February 18, 2020 | by Samuel Johns

format resume u.s.

Is something in your résumé keeping you from finding a job in the United States?

While you might have a great education and plenty of experience, the way that you present this information is what matters most. If you aren’t formatting your résumé correctly, then employers will not even look at it. They will never know about your amazing qualifications.

Stop wasting time by submitting résumés that are actually holding you back. In this article, we explain how to write résumés in the U.S.

You might be especially interested in the section that discusses what to delete from your résumé. This is a topic that many newcomers find surprising and beneficial.

Keep reading to learn more!

How to Format Your U.S. Résumé

Résumés in the United States look different than they do in many other countries worldwide. The first thing you want to do is make sure that your résumé fits the standard format that employers expect. If not, they might not look at your résumé at all.

For example: Your résumé might be too long, or it might not include the most relevant details at the top. Although it might seem like having a lot of skills and background information to provide is a good thing, it could actually hurt your chances of getting hired in the U.S.

Page Length

In some countries, résumés are several pages long. But in the United States, the ideal résumé fits on a single page. This makes it easy for recruiters and hiring managers to comprehend in a single glance. Some studies have found that employers view each résumé for only a few seconds before deciding on a candidate.

There are a few exceptions. For experienced professionals—those with several decades of experience in a complex field—it might take more than one page just to outline all previous roles, even with minimum information. In this case, two pages is sometimes acceptable. But it is a rare exception. If it’s possible to outline your relevant work history in one page, that’s your best choice.

If you’re applying for graduate school or applying for a role in research or upper-level teaching, you can use a curriculum vitae (CV). A CV is more commonly used in other countries, so this might be helpful for some international candidates. It is several pages long and goes into greater detail about your experience, education, and background. An employer will likely make it clear if this is the type of application they are expecting for the role. Otherwise, stick to the one-page résumé.

Here are three tips for keeping your résumé short:

  • Only include the skills and experiences that are relevant to the role, instead of listing every job and experience you’ve ever had.
  • Write concise job descriptions to convey only necessary and relevant information about each role you have filled.
  • Adjust margins and font sizes to fit the page (but never go below a 10-point font).

Résumé Headline

Formatting your résumé is about more than length. How you organize the information can make it easier or harder for a stranger to understand your qualification within a few seconds.

You can help them scan your information and find what they are looking for by utilizing a traditional résumé template, starting with a headline.

A résumé headline is optional, but it can make your résumé more eye-catching. You should choose this template if you are going to include an introduction (see below for more about résumé introductions).

A headline is like the title of your résumé. This is not just your name (which is important but provides little information to an employer). A headline should grab the reader’s attention, while summarizing who you are and what you would bring to the position. But it must be just one line.

Sample headlines include:

  • “Honors Student with Two Years’ Experience in Accounting Internship”
  • “Associate Director of Finance with Master’s Degree in Accounting”
  • “Experienced People Manager with 6 Years in Bookkeeping and Accounting”

If you don’t want to use a résumé headline, you can instead simply write “Career Objective” or “Summary” before you begin your introduction.

Résumé Introduction

Most countries do not use a résumé introduction. However, U.S.-based hiring managers expect them. The most common introductory sections are “Career Objective” or “Summary.”

A “Career Objective” is a paragraph of text that showcases your skills and experience. You will want to choose just a few highlights that match the job you’re applying for, and then trace those examples to your future ambitions.

Here is a sample:

Recent college graduate with a B.S. in Computer Science and six months of work experience through an international internship. Seeking to use technical knowledge and leadership skills to tutor undergraduate Computer Science majors. A reliable employee dedicated to improving student understanding and success.

You might notice that this section uses incomplete sentences and imperfect English. You can use shorthand to condense the length of this section, since it needs to get straight to the point.

As you might guess, a “Résumé Summary” will condense your résumé to just a few highlights. However, it shouldn’t simply repeat information from elsewhere—instead, present your most impressive and relevant achievements.

A good résumé summary will include about three bullet points, each beginning with a bold subheading. Each bullet point should contain some quantifiable information, so that it is useful information rather than just “filler” or “fluff.”

Here is a sample:

  • Leadership: Trained and supervised 20+ administrative staff over a 4-year period
  • Management: 15+ years managing administrative departments
  • Microsoft Office: MOS Expert Certification
  • Initiative: Executed money-saving initiative that saved $4,700 in administration costs

Note: From a résumé formatting perspective, remember that your headline should go just above either of these introductory sections. Your introduction, whether a Career Objective or Summary, would precede your list of previous jobs and titles.

Delete These Details from Your Résumé

Are you including details on your résumé that might lead employers to discriminate against you?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal discrimination laws to prevent employers from discriminating against you.

These laws are designed to protect you, even as an international citizen who is temporarily or currently working in the United States.

However, there is also unconscious bias that can lead hiring managers or recruiters to bypass your résumé if you provide certain protected, personal information.

Plus, seeing too many personal details on a résumé can make a prospective employer wary. They might be concerned about treading on these laws in some way by accident, since it’s information they should not be considering at all during the hiring process.

To make your résumé as likely to succeed as possible—and make such anti-discrimination laws effective—it’s best if you leave off certain details.

Below are some of the most common pieces of information that international applicants leave on their résumés—and why you should delete them from yours.

Nationality

Although your nationality is a key part of your identity, it’s irrelevant to whether you can succeed at a job. There’s no reason to either list or indicate your nationality on a résumé in the United States, so leave it off.

Religion

If you’re applying to work for a religious organization, and you wish to explain the experience you gained in similar positions, you can mention your religion. Otherwise, it’s an unnecessary detail. If you need specific days off for religious holidays, wait until after you’ve been hired to discuss them.

Photograph

In some countries, you’re expected to include a photograph with your résumé. However, photos are not included with résumés in the United States, since they reveal your age, race, sex, and ethnicity. Unless you’re applying for a modeling or acting job, leave the photo off your résumé.

Date of Birth

If you’re offered a position, you will provide your date of birth to Human Resources. Before you’re filling out your first-day paperwork, however, there’s no reason to share this information.

Adding your date of birth to your résumé is the same as sharing your age, which can lead to age discrimination. The same goes for your year of graduation. Because employers can easily calculate your age from the date of your graduation, you can safely omit it from your résumé.

Primary Education

In the United States, you only need to include information about your postsecondary studies. For example, you will be expected to list any associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees that you have earned. (This will also include any relevant professional certifications.)

However, there’s no need to detail your high school education. If you never went to college, you might want to use your high school GPA or other qualifications to show academic success, but you might need to explain this decision with a line of text. Otherwise, you might want to save this information for your cover letter or job interview, where you will have more space to explain your background and reason for including the details.

Similarly, limit your work history, awards, and accomplishments to those you’ve earned as an adult (unless one item from high school is especially impressive). As you earn new awards, learn new skills, and gain new experiences, update your résumé to reflect recent successes.

Other Personal Details to Delete

Aside from the details listed above, there are a few other pieces of information you should definitely delete from your résumé before you continue your job search in the U.S.

Those include:

  • Race
  • Skin color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status
  • Pregnancy status
  • Number of children
  • Nationality
  • Citizenship status
  • Age
  • Disability status
  • Genetic attributes

Some of this information could be used to discriminate against you during your job search.

Some of it is illegal for hiring managers to ask during a job interview, so you should make sure that you know your rights—because you are still protected by anti-discrimination laws, even as a visitor or newcomers to the U.S.

Lastly, some of this information is simply irrelevant, and it could make you look inexperienced or unprofessional if you include it on your résumé.

Include Your Credential Evaluation

It can be frustrating to revise your résumé according to the rules listed above, especially if it feels like you are leaving out a lot of information that you feel is important. However, the only thing that matters at this stage is catching an employer’s attention; you can go into more details during a job interview.

The truth is that employers simply will not look at your résumé if it doesn’t fit their expectations.

You might already be familiar with this attitude. Immigrants and international students often encounter companies or schools that won’t recognize their academic credentials (simply because they don’t understand the format). That’s why many newcomers pursue a credential evaluation. It provides employers with an easy-to-understand equivalency report, explaining what a newcomer’s degree or transcripts would look like if it were earned in the U.S.

If you do have a credential evaluation from an organization like World Education Services (WES), you should submit that along with your résumé and cover letter to help a recruiter or hiring manager make the most sense of your background.

Additionally, you can now add a WES Digital Badge to your résumé or LinkedIn so that employers can immediately access your credential evaluation report when they review your job application.

The easier you make it for employers to understand your employment history, the better chance you will have of being invited to a job interview.

Conclusion

Finding work in a new country can be intimidating—but it doesn’t need to be difficult.

Apply these formatting tips when you write your résumé, and you will maximize your chances of impressing a hiring manager. Once you complete a successful job interview, and negotiate a fair salary, you will be one step closer to achieving your professional goals in the U.S.

Get More Great Job Search Advice!

25 Essential Job Search Tips for Immigrants

Samuel Johns is a career adviser and in-house résumé expert at ResumeGenius.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of World Education Services (WES).