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How to write a US-style Resume

Your resume is your personal presentation to the business world, and US businesses have different expectations from French ones. Your resume has to describe what you know and what you are capable of. It needs to highlight your knowledge, accomplishments and leadership skills. And it needs to show that you are different from the other 600 Gadz'Arts and 100,000 similar American engineering students who are competing for the same jobs. This article will give you some ideas about how to achieve this.

You are only a student, you have never worked, you know nothing . . . or maybe not.

There is a saying in the US that when looking at half a glass of water, a pessimist sees a glass half empty, and an optimist sees a glass half full. You must be an optimist and present yourself as such because US companies want to hire people who bring a positive, "can do" attitude to their work.

First of all, you are not looking for a job ("demandeur d'emploi") or begging for an internship, you are offering your services and the value of your knowledge and experience. Companies succeed when their employees invent new products and services, or improve existing ones. They want people who make things happen. You can actually bring several valuable qualities to an employer:

  • Knowledge: Acquired from courses, other jobs, clubs, hobbies, etc... Often the youngest employees are the most sophisticated with the use of new technologies because they used them in school.
  • Accomplishments: You made it to Arts et Métiers, so obviously you can reach difficult goals. In addition, you have had many other activities in your life that show your abilities to accomplish things.
  • Leadership: You have experimented with team work and leadership. You have been "Zident" of a program, or leader of a club. You are a leader in training and you have already demonstrated some ability.

You have a lot to offer, so don't be timid.

Secondly, US companies do not have the same sense of school hierarchy as in France. No jobs are open or close to you because of the school you went to. (How many Gadz'Arts are senior managers at France Telecom?) Hiring decisions, and later promotion decisions, are made on the basis of what you can do, not where you come from. If you can show you can do it, you get the job.

At the end, keep in mind that the Arts et Métiers school is unknown to the vast majority of US hiring managers. This is both good news and bad news. They know nothing, so you have a chance to provide a context and to explain things in a positive way. For example, you can say that ENSAM is "a Top 10 French engineering school". It is simple, descriptive, and true. Turn the reader's lack of knowledge into an advantage.

Telling your story

Your resume has to tell a story that explains who you are and that makes sense. It has to be interesting, and it has to be different. So the first question is: what is your story?

                         Candidate A

                               Candidate B

"I went to the lycée near my parents' house, then to Prépa. I passed the Concours des Arts, and the administration sent me to Cluny. I have completed the first 2 years of classes, and now I am looking for an internship because the school requires it."

 "I chose to go to Arts et Métiers because I wanted to become a mechanical engineer. I discovered civil engineering, and decided to focus my studies in this field. After spending last summer working on a construction site in Morocco, I have decided that I want to have a career working on large scale international civil engineering projects."

The candidate who has made decisions, chosen a path, explored and learned, is someone worth talking to. He/she will get an interview and maybe a job.

Create your own story and write it down. Edit it as often as you need until it describes you, and you like it.

Once you start writing your resume, your story will be useful to connect the pieces into a coherent presentation with points that support each other. For example:

  • Job objective: Work on large scale international civil engineering projects
  • Course work: Emphasis on advanced finite element analysis, properties of concrete in earthquake environments, soils mechanics, project management
  • Summer job: Crew chief on Casablanca-Rabat highway construction site
  • Internship: French Institute of Public Works
  • Foreign languages: Fluent in Spanish, beginner level in Arabic

As you write your resume, you will read it many times and ask yourself: what story does it tell? Is this the story I want told? Do I need to modify it? This will be hard, but it is well worth the effort.

You are still young and a student, so you are probably not certain about what career path you want to follow, or even what industry you want to work in. This is perfectly normal and understandable. However, you should develop two or three stories that are each individually strong, rather than one average story that covers everything. If you are hesitating between metallurgy and computer manufacturing, write two stories and two resumes. (Just make sure you remember to whom you send each version!).

Presenting your accomplishment

Let's now look at some practical ways to describe what you have done so far in your life, in ways that are relevant to companies. There are some simple rules:

  • Accomplishments are better than attendance
  • Numbers are better than words
  • Results are better than participation
  • Winning is better than losing

Here are some ideas about how to translate this into words.

What you were or you did:

What you might say:

 

Zident Fêtes

Led team of 20 to organize school ball. Event had 2500 attendees and $200,000 budget.

 

Stage usine de 1ère année

Member of a team tasked with maintaining aluminum smelters. Achieved 99% availability during 3-month period, a factory record.

 

Gave time to a charity

Recruited 12 runners and secured $1000 in sponsorships for Breast Cancer Awareness Week.

 

Made brakes for a MASH car

Designed and built brake system for car entered in the Shell Eco-Marathon. Car ran 1574 miles on one gallon of gas and finished 2nd in national competition.

 

Zident C'Vis

Migrated $25,000 a year student retail business to internet. Built on-line share to 45% of revenues in one year.

 

Emploi temporaire en BE

Designed nuclear fuel rod handling system for dismantling machine. Design was implemented and placed in production. 

The concept is to highlight your accomplishments and to explain their size, their importance and their impact, to give the reader a sense of why you are better than 95% of the other candidates for the job that is open.

There may also be non-professional activities that you excel in that you want to highlight. For example, you might be:

  • A concert violinist
  • A national champion in your sport
  • The winner of an award for your photography
  • An instructor in a sport, a hobby, an art, etc.
  • Fluent in a language relevant to the job you want (Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Arabic, etc.)

Anything that demonstrates your knowledge, accomplishments and leadership skills can be useful. Anything that makes you look different is useful. Remember that a typical hiring manager will spend less than 2 minutes looking at your resume before deciding to read it again in more detail, or throw it away. Be interesting!

Putting it all together

Now that you have all the pieces, the last thing to do is to prepare the resume itself. Here are a few more dos and don'ts.

Dos

  • Do write your resume in English. Have it proofread by a teacher or a native English speaker

  • Do make it fit on one page (you don't have enough experience yet to require 2 pages)

  • Do write about your English abilities

  • Do convert the data into American units as appropriate ($, miles, pounds, etc)

  • Do mention your proficiency with industry software (not Word and Excel, everybody knows those)

  • Do email it in pdf or Word format

Don'ts

  • Don't include a photo. Nobody does this. It looks very strange to an American reader.

  • Don't mention your age, sex, marital status, or religion. It is illegal in the

    United States

    to hire or refuse to hire someone on the basis of any of these criteria. Nobody will ask.

  • Don't say you have a driver's license. Everybody does.

  • Don't use abbreviations (PFE, CPGE, FITE, ENSAM. . .) and jargon your reader will not understand.

When you write the name of an organization where you worked, it might be useful to provide summary information about who they are. For example:

  • Total, the world's 5th largest oil and gas company
  • Peugeot Motocycles, Europe's 3rd largest manufacturer of small motorcycles
  • Charcuterie de la Ville, a family operated retail store

Final thoughts about describing your academic experience:

  • ENSAM = A Top 10 French engineering school
  • 2nd year student = Candidate for Masters Degree in (Mechanical) Engineering in June 2011
  • Grades: the US grading system is very different from the French one, so translating grades is a bad idea. 15/20 is excellent in Paris, but 75/100 is mediocre in the US. It is easier not to mention grades on your resume. However, rank in the class can be useful, especially if you are in the top 10%.

Examples

Here are two examples of resumes written by US students. They have been edited to preserve their privacy, but they will give you an idea of how some graduates present themselves.

[ Jane Smith, Georgia Institute of Technology ]

This document was contributed by
Claude Leglise, An74

cleglise

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