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Finding a Job, CVs, Interviews and Etiquette for Expats in the United States Of America

Submitted: November 2013

Finding a job

The USA has always been a popular destination for expat workers and continues to attract large numbers of expats each year. The most popular destinations include New York, Washington D.C., Miami, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The most convenient way to search for jobs in the USA is by using online job portals. These enable you to filter your search according to job function, industry, salary and location, or search for keywords. Popular job search sites in the US include:

Other useful job search sites include:

It is also a good idea to have a look at local daily newspapers which include job listings. To search for other local employers and local employment statistics have a look at the Careers.org Local Careers Guide.

Another popular option for job seekers is to register with an employment agency which can assist with finding a suitable job for your profile. There are a number of such agencies in the USA. However, make sure the employment company is licensed and check online reviews before selecting one.

Finally, do not forget to look directly on the websites of US companies/organisations that interest you. These will often include a section called Employment or Vacancies, where their present job openings are announced.

Job Applications

Resumes

Most employers in the USA will demand a resume as part of your job application. It is essential to have a strong resume highlighting your qualifications and past work experience since this is your way of introducing yourself to the employer.

Note that there is no general resume template as different sectors have different preferences. However, there are certain guidelines that apply to most resumes in the USA. Most of all, keep in mind that American resumes tend to have a different format than curriculum vitae (CVs) which are, for example, typical in Europe.

First of all, it is vital that your resume is concise. Unless otherwise specified in the job advertisement, a standard resume in the USA should be one to two pages long. For entry-level candidates the standard length is one page.

Furthermore, your resume should be well-structured. You can achieve this by dividing it into various sections and using subheadings to denote these sections. Typical sections include Contact Information, Work Experience, Education, Skills and Interests. Note that if you are a recent graduate it is better to list your education first, followed by any work experience you might have.

Commonly, you list your personal details first by putting your name and surname on top of your resume and including your contact details (address, telephone number and email) underneath. Avoid listing your date of birth, nationality and marital status as US employers are subject to strict anti-discrimination rules and might not consider your application if you list these details. Photos should also not be included, unless specifically requested. This is, for example, common in the acting or fashion industry.

The sections devoted to education and work experience are generally arranged in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent academic qualification and employment. When listing previous employment, clearly indicate the start and end date, job title and name of the company/organisation you worked for. It is also recommendable to include a brief description of your primary responsibilities and achievements in your recent jobs. The section devoted to skills should include your language skills, IT skills and other skills relevant to the job. Finally, you can add a brief section on your personal interests.

Last but not least, your resume should be written in a positive tone, emphasising strengths and achievements throughout. Whenever possible use action words, such as ‘achieved’, ‘obtained’ or ‘developed’. Also make sure that your spelling and grammar are correct and avoid using informal language.

For further resume writing tips see iAgora’s guide on US resumes or Monster Jobs’ site on Resume Writing Tips and Resume Samples.

Cover Letters and References

In addition to resumes most US employers request a cover letter. Cover letters should normally not be longer than one A4-page long and drawn up as a formal business letter. The purpose of a cover letter is to explain your motivation for applying for the position, how your skills and qualifications match the employer’s requirements and what you will bring to that particular role. When writing cover letters, pay attention to the requirements mentioned in the job advertisement and comment on how you fulfil these. For further advice on writing cover letters in the USA see the Monster Jobs tips for writing Cover Letters as well as the American University guide on Cover Letters.

When applying for jobs in the USA, you might also be asked to provide references. These should typically be from previous employers (or academic supervisors if you have started working recently) who can comment on your skills and qualifications.

Job Interviews

Job interview types in the US vary from employer to employer. They differ in length, interviewing technique and the size of the panel. Usually they take place in person. However, telephone and Skype interviews have also become common, in particular if interviewees are located abroad at the time of interview.

Generally interviewers first give you the opportunity to introduce yourself, present your motivation and argue why you are a good candidate for the position. Then employers ask questions about your previous employment and test how your skills match their requirements. Finally, you are given the opportunity to ask questions about the position. For further advice on interview preparation, see for example the American University guide on Interview Preparation and the Career One Stop guide on Interviews.

Some large US companies also use assessment centres as their recruitment technique. Such assessment centres last a day or two and include a range of tasks, such as presentations, group activities and written tests, to test your suitability for the position.

Etiquette

When applying for jobs in the US always make sure to use formal language and polite wording throughout the application process. In written applications, short versions such as “don’t” or “isn’t” should be avoided and instead spelled out as “do not” or “is not”.

When attending a job interview in the USA it is crucial to arrive on time or a few minutes early. Another important rule is to dress appropriately. Even if the company/organisation does not have a specific dress code it is still advisable to opt for business-wear in discreet colours and avoid using eye-catching jewellery or heavy make-up.

Throughout the interview make sure to sit straight and make eye-contact with the interviewers. The tone of the interview is likely to be quite formal, with some small-talk at the beginning and end of the interview. Show that you are professional and do not forget that a smile can take you a long way!

 

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