Resume writing is a learned skill. Nobody starts out knowing how to write a perfect resume. American students spend hours learning how to write a resume that shows off their professional experience. As an international student, it takes longer to get resumes right because resumes differ by culture. In some countries it is ok to include a photo, religion, marital status, and birth date. In the US, employers will not read your resume if you include those details. In the US, resumes are shorter, action-oriented (they want to see results over academics), and zero errors.
To help you improve your job search outcomes, here are common mistakes by international students and ways to avoid them.
American employers do not forgive mistakes. Though it’s hard to write a resume in your nonnative language, American employers will not care. If they see a mistake they will throw out your resume. So make sure you have someone to look at it before you send your resume. Ask your career services to help you or find an English major to help you.
Too many awards and scholarships
In many countries, awards are the most important credentials. I’ve seen many resumes from international students that take up half a page by listing awards. Awards are good but they aren’t enough. You need to show experience. American employers want to see what you’ve accomplished or led. So limit your award or scholarship mentions two or three and focus on your experience that is relevant for the job: work experience, volunteering, club leadership, project work, etc.
Your resume should be no longer than one page. That seems short. But recruiters – the people who are reading your resume – are very busy people. Imagine they get 100 resumes for a job. If every candidate submits a 2 (or 3) page resume, they now have to scan 200 (or 300!) pages to find a candidate. You are being nice to a recruiter by keeping it to one page. It also shows that you know how to be concise.
If you have no experience, you will have a hard time finding a job. American employers want to see experience and results over education. If you have no experience, look for opportunities to get experience while in school. Find volunteer projects, ask a professor to TA her course, find work on campus, help out a startup, join a club and take a leadership role. Include those on your resume as experience. Always keep looking for ways to get work or volunteer experience.
All bullet points must start with verbs. Don’t start bullets with “responsible for.” Instead describe the action you did in your job. Don’t forget to add some detail to tell them what specifically you did.
Bad: Responsible for managing event logisitics for speak series
Good: Managed event logisitcs for weekly speaker series
Best: Managed scheduling and wrote speaker bios for weekly speakers series
The former head of HR at Google, Lazlo Bock, who oversaw all Google hiring, shared the secret to writing a good resume. When you write resume bullet points, you must follow this formula:
Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z].
Start your bullet point by tell what you accomplished (action verb), how you measured that accomplishment, and how you did it.
Imagine you’re an employer hiring a web designer. Which statement would impress you most?
Bad: Responsible for building websites for student clubs
Good: Built many websites for student clubs and improved processes
Best: Built 5 websites for student clubs in 3 months by improving the creative submission process
Even if you can’t put numbers on an accomplishment, be specific about what you did. Do not expect an employer to figure it out on their own.
It takes a lot of practice and language understanding but the better you can articulate what you have accomplished, the more you will stand out to an employer.
Relying on a resume only
The average position receives over 100 resumes. Only 2% of those resumes are invited to resumes. A recruiter spends an average of 10 seconds looking at your resume. It’s means it’s very very hard to get noticed. You can’t rely on only your resume to get a job. You need to build relationships with American professionals who can help you in your search. Relationship building, also known as networking, is the secret to the U.S. job search.
Resumes are hard. They’re hard for American students too. You will likely rewrite your resume 5-7 times (it will feel more like 27 times though). That’s ok. Nobody is good at it their first time. So be patient. Your English language center or career services office are good resources to help you revise your resume.