A résumé should be structured in tabular form and in reverse chronological order. (In the United States, the term ‘CV’/‘curriculum vitae’ is used only in an academic context, i.e. if you are applying for a professorship; in this case, there are also different standards for the academic CV than for an ordinary résumé.) In other words, your résumé should start with your most recent place of employment before working backwards through your career to date. Do not include the current date or your signature. A résumé should cover only your professional activities during the past two or three years in great detail; any previous employment should be referenced only briefly. As a result, an American résumé is much shorter than a German CV. The résumé should be one page in length – two pages maximum. This is very important! The fact remains, however, that your résumé is no place to be overly modest about your accomplishments. You should always emphasise your qualifications – particularly those that reflect the requirements listed in the job description – by underlining them or marking them in bold. At the same time, you must limit yourself to the two or three most compelling examples.
Furthermore, personal information such as your age (date of birth), nationality or country of origin, marital status, number of children, etc. should not be included in your application. This is due to the strict laws against discrimination in the United States, which protect job applicants from being disadvantaged because of where they come from or the colour of their skin. This is also why you should not include a photo of yourself (though there are some exceptions to this rule, such as the performing arts, where a ‘headshot’ is required). Otherwise, an American résumé essentially includes the same information as a German CV: your education and training, employment history including internships, special skills, extracurricular and volunteer activities, any awards or honours you’ve received or work you’ve had published.
However, your activities outside of work can sometimes be more important to hiring managers in the US than in Germany, for example relevant volunteer work in the field you’re applying in. This information can sometimes be almost as important to your prospective employer as your professional qualifications, as it helps them to assess your personality.
References are very important in the United States. Letters of recommendation from former employers are better than copies of Arbeitszeugnisse (formal letters of recommendation using boilerplate phrasing). The usual approach is to write ‘References available on request’ at the bottom of your résumé, then have the letter of recommendation itself ready to submit if the prospective employer asks for it.
In order to prevent the employer from thinking you completed your secondary-school degree in a sports facility (due to the fact that the German term Gymnasium is a false cognate with the English word gymnasium), you should write ‘secondary school’ or ‘high school’ instead.