There’s no shortage of advice for job seekers who want to create a resume that will assure them the perfect position. In this two part series, CareerProPlus looks at resumes from a different angle. The key question is how your resume will be read. How do today’s HR professionals screen and read resumes? What are the challenges that the process presents for even the best candidates?
Photo Attribution: Guinessworldrecords.com
Human beings have accomplished some truly amazing feats. For example, Ashrita Fruman of Jamaica, LI, NY holds the world record for the greatest distance travelled with a pool cue balanced on a chin. The record currently stands at 1,668 meters, just in case you’re up for a challenge.
Kim Jong-Il, the megalomaniacal “Dear Leader” of North Korea, claimed to have achieved some very significant accomplishments early in life. According to his biography, he found time to write 1,500 books during his time in college and also composed six full operas in a mere two years – “all of which are better than any in the history of music.”
How do your achievements stack up?
It’s probable that Dear Kim’s claims at greatness might provoke a skeptical reaction from a resume reader. As for Mr. Fruman, while wandering around the park with a pool cue on one’s chin may indeed demonstrate an extraordinary sense of balance, the relevance of this skill to the workaday world is tenuous at best. When your resume gets before human eyes, what they will be looking for are your achievements, the real accomplishments that have defined your career.
In the last article (Robots are Reading Your Resume hyperlink), we discussed the challenges of crafting a resume that will pass the automated screening processes of applicant tracking systems (ATS). But what happens then? The right keywords and formatting may pass the ATS muster, but eventually your resume comes to the desktop of a hiring manager. At that point, you only have a few seconds (or nanoseconds) to get their attention. It’s useful to know what they’re looking for. To that end, we did some research and asked a few HR professionals to provide their insights.
Do You Fit the Position?
The resume was formatted well and somehow made it to the HR Manager, where it stopped abruptly. The professional summary for the aspiring staff accountant began with these words:
Although I am seeking an accounting job, the fact that I have no actual experience in accounting may seem problematic. However . . .
What hiring managers are looking for is fit, not desire. Your challenge is to show them that your accomplishments and your background meet the specific requirements of the position they need to fill. In practical terms, this means that the details contained in your resume must match the specific criteria required for the position.
Executive recruiter Pete Tosh calls these the “must haves.” Pete’s company, The Focus Group, has recruited talent for large multinationals and small manufacturers. His process is the same, regardless of the size of the client:
We create a description for each position that details exactly what the client is looking for. In that process, we identify the “must haves” for the position and use them to create the position posting. As resumes are screened, these criteria are the initial considerations. We don’t waste time if the resume isn’t a good match.
Diane Taylor, Director of HR for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, makes a similar observation:
My first task is to scan and see if the required items in the posting are noted in the resume. Depending on the position it could be education, years of experience, location of candidate. This scan is a quick, down and dirty elimination process.
Tailor the Resume?
Modifying your resume to exactly fit the particulars of each position description might seem like a logical conclusion, but there’s no general agreement in the HR community that this is necessary or desirable. Kim Thompson, HR Manager at GENCO, a Pittsburgh based logistics firm, comments, “I prefer the resume present skills and experience truthfully, rather than try to fit the position ‘mold.’ . . . if a person tailors their resume, it is like studying to the test.” In contrast, a KPMG recruiter comments, “I want relevant information that is based on the role I am looking to fill. I don’t want to read the same resume you send to twenty different organizations for twenty different roles.”
Your resume needs to speak the language. While it may not be necessary to completely customize each resume you send, it’s a very good idea to be conscious of keywords and the specific requirements of the job and make sure that your accomplishments are relevant. There is widespread agreement among the professionals that most resumes are strong on description but weak on accomplishments. Applicants tend to use their resumes to describe what their jobs entailed rather than telling what they actually did. Tosh comments that this is a particular difficulty when considering the resumes of individuals transitioning from military to civilian careers:
They tend to talk in terms of dollar budgets and numbers of direct reports instead of specific responsibilities, problems, and how they solved them.
The decision makers in HR need to relate work experience and achievements with the specific requirements of the position. Many will read your resume backwards to get a sense of the progression of your career. Tosh lists 3 criteria he uses during this process:
- Can Do’s – Does the candidate have the competencies, experience, and abilities needed to do the job?
- Will Do’s – an assessment of motivation. What is the candidate willing to do? Will he or she travel, work night shifts, initiate sales calls?
- Fit Factors – an assessment of how the candidate fits into the culture. Can he or she work cooperatively with managers, co-workers, and customers?
Connecting the Dots
You’re not alone if you’re thinking that this is an awful lot to get out of a resume. It is, but remember that your resume is a means to an end. It needs to be detailed and specific enough for the decision maker to sense a probability that you can and will do the job and that you will fit the organizational culture. It’s your responsibility to confirm that conclusion during phone and in-person interviews and after you are awarded the position.
You may also have a chance to connect the dots with a cover letter. It’s equally possible that your cover letter may be ignored, especially if it oversells and isn’t relevant to the specifics of a position. Avoid the flowery language. Think about it. What would you think if you met someone at a cocktail party and they introduced themselves as “an experienced multi-tasker with outstanding communications skills seeking a challenging, growth-oriented position?” Yep, HR professionals feel the same way. Cover letters should be direct and to the point.
Cover letters are getting rare these days, and granted, a lot of HR managers don’t have time to read through them. If the letter is just a cursory formula introduction, it isn’t helpful. Candidates shouldn’t waste our time. That said, I think that people underestimate their importance when experience doesn’t exactly match the qualifications or the salary requirements. The cover letter is very important when there is a career change or a lower salary expectation. Just because someone has been in management for 20 years doesn’t mean that they want to continue that career path. A cover letter should be used to explain . . .
There’s no guarantee that your cover letter will get read, and it may be the last item that is scanned. Nonetheless, a cover letter is worthwhile when there are details that augment your resume and explain how your qualifications relate to the position.
Just the Facts
Kim Jong-Il also claimed to have invented the hamburger. During his dictatorial reign, he maintained that he was the most prominent statesman in the modern world and that his birthday was celebrated worldwide with films and festivals. History and the unfortunate citizens of North Korea will remember Kim’s legacy in a light that is considerably different than his personal resume may have projected.
Your resume must be factual, realistic and believable. At it’s core, your resume needs to explain what you’ve done, what you’re really capable of doing, and how you’ll bring value to the organization. Your concrete accomplishments are the facts that support your assertions that you can excel at the job. This is what decision makers are looking for when they read your resume and make a decision to carry the conversation further.
CareerProPlus has helped over 55,000 satisfied clients with resumes that present their qualifications clearly and accurately. Our professional resume writers understand the complexities of today’s HR processes and will work closely with you to insure that your applications receive the attention you deserve. Call us for a complimentary consultation and get your career moving in the right direction today!
Sources: Interview, Pete Tosh, The Focus Group
LinkedIn Comments: Diane Taylor, Kim Thompson
HR.Com: How Others Read Resumes (www.hr.com)