How To Write An American Resume

By Heidi Cope - Apr. 19, 2021
Articles In Resume Guide

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If you are an international job seeker looking for a position in the United States, you are probably wondering what in the world an American resume is.

American resumes are different than many other international resumes and not keeping the style guide in mind when writing a resume for an American company can hurt you in the job-seeking process. Because of privacy and anti-discrimination laws, revealing too much on your resume might make American recruiters automatically dismiss your resume.

What Is an American Resume?

American resumes are concise documents that only contain information relevant to the job you are applying for. American recruiters want to see a summary of your skills and experiences, but usually, don’t want to read about it for more than a page.

You may have heard of the American single-page resume rule. For most resumes, especially for recent graduates and entry-level positions, recruiters want to see a one-page resume. It allows them to see an accurate snapshot of your skills and expertise quickly and effectively without having to read through many pages for the same information.

Because of these page limits, an American resume is very concise and to the point. It is not the same as a CV that many other countries often use.

You will typically only include relevant information related to the job you are applying to and make sure that everything you add to your resume helps speak directly to your ability to perform the job you are applying for well.

When writing an American resume, there are other stylistic changes that you should consider. If English isn’t your first language, be sure to check to make sure you are spelling words according to American English, versus British English.

You also want to note the American way of addressing letters. Be sure to list your address in the American format in your resume.

American resumes require active language and many resumes are first read through by a computer. You read that right — your ability to make it to the final cut is often first determined by a computer. For that reason, you want to be sure to include relevant keywords throughout your resume that the computer can pick up on.

These are the basic large differences between an American resume and an international resume. But let’s take another step closer to see what is best to include in an American resume and what you should leave behind.

What Is an American Resume Format?

American resumes tend to be shorter and include less information from earlier in your education and careers than you may be used to. Most American resumes are limited to a single page, which can be a daunting task to create if you are used to writing multiple-page CVs.

Luckily, there are a few standard American resume formats that make it easy to transfer your CV’s info into a resume. The three major resume formats in America are:

  1. Chronological resume. A chronological resume is the standard resume format that most job-seekers should use. It details all of your work history in reverse chronological order, meaning that your most recent experience is at the top, and your older experiences are at the bottom.

    This format showcases recent, relevant work history and demonstrates a career of consistent upward movement. It also shows that you’ve worked without any major gaps in your employment.

    Chronological resumes work just as well for entry-level workers as they do for people in the middle of their careers because the focus is the same: work experience that’s relevant to the job you’re applying for.

  2. Functional resume. Functional resumes focus more on your skills as opposed to your work history. That means putting your skills section above your work experience section and going into more detail about each skill you list.

    On a chronological resume, the skills section is relatively short, and not much description is given for each skill.

    But on a functional resume, you should give a 2-3 sentence description of each of the 4-6 skills you choose to list. The experience section, on the other hand, is relatively brief, with only 1-2 bullet points for each of your previous jobs.

    The functional resume format is a great choice for applicants who have long gaps in their employment history or want to change career paths completely.

  3. Combination. A combination resume combines elements of the chronological and functional resume formats. This means including a lot of details for key skills and work experience.

    This resume format is reserved for high-level executives and those aspiring to the upper echelon of American business. It won’t work well for entry-level job-seekers, but if you’re changing to a totally different job, field, or industry, then a combination resume can be a good choice.

What to Include in an American Resume

You might be thinking that a good portion of your old resume is no longer allowed to be in an American resume. You might be asking, “What can I include?”

American resumes are all about being concise and relevant. If you are applying for a nursing position, for example, recruiters don’t want to read about your lawn mowing side hustles back in high school.

When writing an American resume, pay close attention to the job description. Make sure that everything on your resume can point back to one of the skills or qualifications needed for the job. If you are wondering what the relevant keywords are, look at the job description and use similar keywords and terminology they do.

An American resume should include the following sections:

  • Resume header. A resume header should include your contact information. In the United States, employers will like to see your full name, phone number, email address, and location ([City], [State] is fine — you don’t need to give your home address).

    You can also include links to your online portfolio with samples of your work, your LinkedIn page, or your professional website, but these are all optional. There are plenty of ways to format your header, so look for examples and imitate a style that you like.

  • Resume summary or objective. If you’re an entry-level applicant, using a resume objective is a good choice. This should be a 2-3 sentence summary of what skills you hope to use in the occupation you’re applying for.

    Most job-seekers, however, should use a resume summary statement. It’s a far more powerful tool that tells the hiring manager about your qualifications and proves them by including achievements from your past work experience. If you have the option, always use a resume summary statement over an objective.

  • Work experience. Work experience is the main focus of most American resumes, and it follows your resume objective/statement in the chronological resume format (the most popular choice).

    For each job, list the company name, your job title, the dates you were employed, and then follow that information with 2-4 bullet points describing what you did at that job.

    Most hiring managers know the responsibilities you had based on your job title, so don’t list everything you did. Instead, focus on your most impressive achievements. If you can, always use numbers to paint a more vivid picture of your impact.

    For example, instead of saying “Answered customer calls,” write “Responded to an average of 40 customer calls every day.”

  • Education. Next, you’ll want to list your educational background. If you have had any jobs before, you don’t need to include your high school experience. Start with your most recent university degree.

    Give the school’s name, the name of your degree or program, and the dates you attended. If you have very little work experience, you can include relevant coursework here.

    If you think it will help your chances, you can also include your GPA (if it’s 3.5+), your honors/achievements from college, your minor, and any impressive extracurricular activities or volunteer experiences you were involved with. When you’re later in your career, you can start removing this information.

  • Skills. Next, you’ll want to include a skills section that has a healthy mix of hard skills (skills that can be taught) and soft skills (skills that relate to your ability to be a positive coworker, like time management and collaboration).

    If you’re using a functional resume format, you should give a brief 2-3 sentence description of 4-6 of your most impressive skills.

    If you’re using a chronological resume format, your skills section will be at the bottom of the page (unless you’re including optional sections). You can simply list 5-10 skills or list fewer and give a one-sentence description of each.

    If you don’t know what skills to put on your resume, read the job description carefully. Look for what the necessary skills and qualifications are and use some of the same language. Of course, if you don’t actually have those skills, then don’t lie.

What Not to Include in an American Resume

American companies are required by law to not discriminate against a job applicant based on their ethnicity, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, or disability. Because of these laws, the American resume doesn’t include some of the information other international resumes might.

For example, you should not include a picture or headshot of yourself in an American resume. Adding a picture is one way a potential employer can discriminate against you as an applicant.

You also want to limit the amount of personal information you include in an American resume.

American resumes should not include:

  • Marital status

  • Whether or not you have children

  • Disability or health information

  • Sexual orientation

You might include some of these details perhaps, if you were to apply for a job at a children’s hospital, for a disability services office, or perhaps an LGBTQ+ advocacy center.

Just know that employers are not allowed to ask you specifically about your personal information related to these subjects and that disclosing them should probably be avoided unless it is relevant to the job position.

Other things to keep in mind when changing your resume to an American format include:

  • Limit your educational history. In an American resume, you don’t include anything before your college degree unless the furthest education you’ve had is a high school diploma or General Education Degree (GED).

  • Don’t include your references. Unless the application asks for it. Adding references takes up precious space when you have a one-page limit. Recruiters will ask you for reference information if they want it, so you also don’t need to include the phrase References available upon request.”

  • Other personal details. Don’t include your date of birth, social security number, or any other identification numbers.

  • Don’t include your full address. The company doesn’t need to mail you anything at this point in your relationship, so there’s no reason to tell them exactly where you live.

  • Remove country code from your phone number. Americans like to see 10-digit phone numbers with an area code, like this: (555) 444-3333.

Final Thoughts

This article listed the main differences between an American resume and many international resumes. When writing an American resume, keep in mind what kind of information that you include in the resume.

Make sure that you keep your resume concise and to the point, while also giving employers a detailed look at you as a potential employee. Now that you’ve got all the information you need, it’s time for you to head back to writing your own American resume.

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Heidi Cope

Heidi Cope is a former writer for the Zippia Career Advice blog. Her writing focused primarily on Zippia's suite of rankings and general career advice. After leaving Zippia, Heidi joined The Mighty as a writer and editor, among other positions. She received her BS from UNC Charlotte in German Studies.

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