Dirty little secrets – how to write a resume with more impact

by 05 Aug 2008

Q. I am an HR generalist with a global fortune 500 company. I have worked for my current employer for three years and have a total of six years experience working within HR. I have just completed my MA in Human Resource Management and would like to move into an HR managerial role. Given my experience and qualifications, I have applied for several middle management and even junior management positions, however I cannot seem to even get an interview. I think this may have something to do with how my resume is being perceived. Do you have any tips on how to make a better impact?

A. This is a really common question. Being HR recruiters we see many resumes and while it is easy to critique others we understand how devilishly difficult it is to write your own.

We struggle to write about ourselves because we lack objectivity about ourselves and as Australians we tend to be pretty modest and self-conscious when it comes to talking ourselves up (OK, except for the cricketers).

However, there are two things we must bear in mind when writing a resume. First, this is our only opportunity to make a good first impression so it needs to be a positive one. Second, this is what is going to win you an interview; this is a competitive job market, no matter how opportunity-rich it is there is always competition for great jobs with great companies.

One of the biggest pitfalls I see in resumes from candidates of all levels of seniority is that many of them do not take the opportunity to describe their current employer. It is highly relevant to know what industry you currently work in and how big and complex the business is. It is important to avoid making assumptions that everyone has heard of your Fortune 500 company – whether it be an investment bank or IT business. Furthermore, you always need to write the resume with the reader in mind. Never assume, always state employee numbers and HR team numbers. Allude to scale and complexity of the business using facts as the underpinning content and remember to say who you report to.

The second totally vital point is the use of those same types of facts when it comes to telling the reader what you have done well at and what you are good at. It is always nice to see that someone has run a project to roll out this or enhance that. The reader will see your role as part of the action – so what?

So what is the question which needs to be echoing through your mind when you are writing your resume. You have to back up your participation in something with a measurable fact. It is common to see even the most senior of people provide a list of so-called achievements and not help the reader understand the impact, AKA facts.

I will give you a great example which I have made up for the purpose of this article. A candidate lists one of their responsibilities and/or achievements to be: “The rolling out of a new recruitment process involving line managers and in-house recruiters”. The statement itself seems to be an achievement and possibly could be a great one – however the candidate has omitted to include any facts backing the achievement. The reader’s conclusion: Nice, but so what?

So what in this instance is that the new process which was implemented led to a drop in expenditure with recruiters. The spend in 2006-07 was $3 million, the spend in 2007-08 was $1.5 million – a saving of $1.5 million! The cost of increased infrastructure was $1 million – delivering a bottom line improvement to the business of $500,000. This is clearly a great commercial outcome.

Further, the impact this new process has had over the past 12 months has been an improvement in the time it takes to fill jobs. It used to be a 60-day average and is now a 30-day average, boosting productivity and morale/engagement. Consequently the attrition rate for 2006-07 has also fallen. The attrition rate among new starters was 25 per cent, now it is only 15 per cent. This will further drive bottom line savings to the business because there are less training costs and higher engagement scores to drive productivity and business efficiency higher. Not a bad achievement at all.

Try to look after not just the “so what” factor but also the impact your HR efforts have on the effectiveness of the business.

We are always asked to help companies find commercially savvy HR people. If you follow these tips you will be showing you are exactly that, which should ensure you a position on that shortlist.

By David Owens, managing director, HR Partners