Having worked for seven years in the US in accounting, finance, and non-profit management, I have experience both as a job seeker and a job recruiter. I have spent a lot of time talking to students about job searching in Korea and have learned that the job application process in Korea is very different from the process in America. In America, few companies require a skills test or an application form. Your only opportunity to distinguish yourself as a great candidate is through your resume and cover letter.
When you are writing your resume and cover letter, it is important to recognize that American companies do put the same value on grades and certifications as Korean companies. A grade point is a starting off point for job recruiter, and is a good way to show that you are intelligent and hard working. However, a person with a 3.9 GPA and a person with a 3.7 GPA are likely to be seen as similar candidates, and a person with a 3.4 GPA is only a little behind the person with the 3.9. In regard to certifications, Americans generally do not have these types of tests, so an American reading your resume may not understand the purpose or value of your certificates. Mentioning your certificates on your resume is a good idea, but you should not depend on them to get a job.
Rather than focusing on your grade point and certifications, American recruiters will be focusing on your experiences. Experience includes work experience, volunteer experience, and leadership experience in clubs or other organizations. American companies believe that studying at school and working in a business require two very different skill sets, and American companies want to know if you will be successful in a work environment. They want to know if you have good written and oral communication skills, if you work well in a team, if you can be creative or innovative, if you can selfmotivate, if you can multitask and manage your time efficiently, and if you are dependable and trustworthy. Your grade point may suggest that you have these skills, but an American job recruiter wants clear examples of your abilities.
Although you are only a college student, and have limited experience, you probably have more to write on your resume than you realize. When you managed your club’s food tent at the Soongsil Student Festival you were demonstrating leadership and teamwork skills. When you worked part-time at Outback Steakhouse you may have shown that you were trustworthy with money and capable of multitasking and working under pressure. As a volunteer tutor for underprivileged students, you were likely creative while developing lesson plans and improved your oral communication skills. You may not realize it, but you have had many experiences in your life. An American job recruiter wants to know about the skills you have learned from those experiences.
Once you have identified your unique experiences, it is time to convey that information to the recruiter. In many cases, you will have only two pages to do this: one page for your resume and one page for your cover letter. Your resume should highlight your educational achievements, experiences, and additional information such as language skills, club memberships, and certifications. (I strongly recommend the resume format found here: http://www.bus.umich.edu/pdf/bbaresumehelp.pdf). If you have too many experiences, and the information will not fit on one page, choose the experiences that best show your qualifications for the job to which you are applying. Recruiters do not want to know everything about you: they only want to know about your special assets that will make you a good employee. When a recruiter has a pile of 700 resumes, they are looking for reasons to throw out candidates. A resume that is too long, might mean the recruiter rejects you without even reading your resume.
After you have completed your resume, move on to your cover letter. Your cover letter should showcase the most important experiences and skills you have mentioned on your resume. A cover letter is an opportunity to sell yourself and demonstrate your writing ability, much as you would do with a job application in Korea. A cover letter should not merely mention the job you are seeking: it needs to convey a lot of information. The cover letter should be four or five paragraphs long, with an introduction, two or three body paragraphs highlighting your best attributes, and a concluding paragraph.
With only two pages to convince a recruiter that you are a great candidate, you need to be very careful about what you put in your resume and cover letter. In America, there is no test to get an interview, and grades and certifications alone won’t make you shine. Your resume and cover letter are your only foot in the door to an American company. Be sure they give the best possible first impression.