Translating a (lack of) qualifications when I move to the US
September 2, 2008 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Help me translate my (lack of) qualifications when I emigrate to the US.

I'm emigrating to the US next year (on a K1 visa — I'm marrying a US citizen) and need to figure out how to best present myself to potential employers.

I have 7 'O' levels which is equivalent to high school graduation, roughly, but I don't have a degree. It's a long story but I chose not to take the final exams. However I did successfully finish the first two years which is the equivalent of an HND in the UK (an associates degree in the US) though I don't have the actual paper qualification. On my CV I have always written: Completed two years of University, equivalent to HND. It has never been a problem - most likely due to my age (I'm now 40), my experience and the fact that I work in a field that's used to self taught people and doesn't always rate qualifications — I'm a linux/unix sysadmin.

I've been doing this for sometime however (10 years), and I really don't want to carry on in this field, so I want to take this opportunity to re-invent myself. I understand this might mean starting at the bottom, and take some work to end up where I want, but I'm prepared for this (how and what will be the subject of further askme questions). My question is about I how I can make the best of other skills and qualities without letting a relative lack of, or unfamiliar, qualifications get in the way.

I will be using a functional CV. Is writing

7 O levels (equivalent to High School graduation)
Successful Completion of Two Years at UK University (equivalent to an associates degree)

going to be fine?

Are there other options I could explore? I've thought of trying to get a GED while I'm waiting for my work permit to come through, but I'm not sure that wouldn't be a regressive step.

What about getting a minimum wage/service industry type job while I'm finding my feet? How might this be affected?
posted by tallus to Work & Money (7 answers total)
Best answer: 7 O levels (equivalent to High School graduation)
Successful Completion of Two Years at UK University (equivalent to an associates degree)

An American would probably read this as:

High School grad with two years of community college.

Education is a threshold test. All you want to do is avoid the circular file. I'd keep it as you had it:

7 O levels
Two years of U.K. University, equivalent to HND.

No one in America knows what O levels are - or an HND - and these seem sufficiently impressive and sufficiently vague to keep you out of the bin of high school graduates with two years of community college.

What about getting a minimum wage/service industry type job while I'm finding my feet? How might this be affected?

As a general rule, in America, it is always better to have a job - any job - whilst looking for a new one. No one likes a freeloader. Lest of all a foreign one.
posted by three blind mice at 8:07 AM on September 2, 2008

Best answer: Be much more vague. Much, much more vague.

June, 1989: Your Uni Name Here
Medium Size City, Somewhereshire, UK
Are of Concentration: Computer Science

June, 1987: Your School Name Here
Little Puddle by the Sea, Oxfordshire, UK
O Level Qualifications: English language, English literature, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, History, Geography.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:25 AM on September 2, 2008

A small side note: in the USA they tend to use the term resume instead of curriculum vitae.
posted by furtive at 8:59 AM on September 2, 2008

Best answer: I agree with all of the above. Definitely list your O level qualifications as DarlingBri says, and if you want to put HND on your resume, no one will know what that is anyway. I think a lot of people, at least most of the ones I speak to about it, believe that the UK educational system is superior to that of the US. Plus, people will assume you're smart because of your accent so you already have a natural advantage. I think that as you're now 40, your education will be mostly skimmed over and you can highlight all the things you've done in your career since leaving school. I think that employers will care more about that.

Also, even if you're just temping, it looks as though you have initiative and drive, which will affect favourably on you. I started temping within a week or two of moving to the UK and I think that my determination to jump in and get experience working here helped me to get the job I have now.

And I'm sure you already know this, but keep your resume to one page and don't put any personal info on it (e.g. your age), as people sometimes do in the UK.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:23 AM on September 2, 2008

Actually, you're far enough removed from your O levels that you could probably omit them from the resume. Just list your university time. This is a pretty common approach.
posted by onhazier at 9:24 AM on September 2, 2008

Ditto to agreeing with all of the above, but I will add not to bother getting a GED. You don't need it, since your 2 years of Uni are more important, and a GED is looked-down upon by some employers. No need to add a negative keyword to your resume, especially when you have already surpassed that level of education. Definitely get a job of some kind as soon as possible, assuming your K1 allows it.
posted by Joh at 10:32 AM on September 2, 2008

Best answer: People in the US who are over 25 don't generally put their high school education on their resume. Employers assume that everyone who does university-level studies has a high school diploma, so doing anything to flag that you don't is a huge mistake.

This is good news for you, because you really shouldn't say that your O levels are "equivalent to high school graduation" because they're not, exactly. If you get someone who doesn't know what O levels are, they will look this up and then ask you why you didn't take your leaving certificate. Don't go there--just let them assume you finished high school.

What onhazler says is the correct approach. Under "Education" put your university studies, dates of attendance, and area of study, as darlingbri suggests. Look at this, for instance.

"Education" should be the last heading, and you should only include your university training and any professional training or certificates you hold.


University of East Anglia, Norwich, England 1991-1993
Coursework in Computer Science Theory, C++, Database Management, Information Theory

Online Computer Training Place 1997
Linux/Unix System Administrator Certificate

See? Easy-peasy. DON'T get into the "X is the equivalent of Y" thing. It will confuse and annoy the low-level people who sort resumes at the entry level. You have two years of university study, and that's all they care about. Why don't you have an Associate's Degree? Because they don't have those in England. Don't get into the whole "What I have is really the equivalent of an HND" stuff--just say, "After two years of university, I really wanted to get into the workplace."
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:43 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

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