“Should we do away with HR?” This was the question posed in a 1998 Harvard Business Review article about the future of HR entitled “A New Mandate for Human Resources.” The author’s conclusion was a resounding no, but also a call for Human Resources to shift toward being a more strategic player.
A little over two decades later, HR’s role as an essential business partner to the rest of an organization is widely known and acknowledged, and today a career in Human Resources is a dynamic one. With the opportunity to work cross functionally and interpersonally, develop strategy, use data to inform decisions, and drive employee engagement, Human Resources professionals have the chance to affect change across an entire organization.
But to land a job in this desirable job market — HR managers have faster-than-average employment growth and a median salary of more than $120,000 in 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics — you need a stellar resume that stands out.
“A resume is key to getting a recruiter to say, ‘Yes, I want to speak to [them],’” said Jodi Brandstetter, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, recruiting expert and author of Hire By Design: A Hiring Blueprint With Design Thinking. “This is your marketing tool that highlights all the reasons why you are the best fit for this role.”
We spoke to Human Resources leaders, recruiters, consultants, and resume experts to hear what they think is most important when it comes to creating resumes that’ll best reflect your HR experience and land you a great job in this competitive field. Whether you’re applying for an entry-level Human Resources position, securing your next role as an HR generalist, or pursuing an executive-level position, here are seven tips for building a strong HR resume that will stand out in a crowd.
7 Tips for Creating a Standout HR Resume
1. Optimize for applicant tracking systems.
As an HR professional, you have the benefit of the behind-the-scenes knowledge of how applicant tracking systems (ATS) work and the role they play in narrowing down the pool of candidates.
ATS, the HR software that recruiters use to receive, process, scan, store, rank, filter, and search resumes, can be a black hole for poorly composed ones. “Since these systems track and even rate incoming resumes, a resume that is a loose fit will easily slip through the cracks,” cautioned Alison Pearson, head of HR at personal injury law firm Hal Waldman & Associates. Optimizing your Human Resources resume for the ATS by following the best practices below can mean the difference between an application that recruiters never see, and one that’s ranked highly as a good potential fit for the open position.
It’s important to note that because there are so many different ATS programs, and because recruiters are individuals who have their own habits and preferences for searching the system, a candidate can’t ensure a perfectly optimized resume. However, following these best practices will help:
- Include keywords from the job description. While writing resumes and submitting job applications can seem like a guessing game, the key is to use the same keywords and language that’s in the job description. “It’s the ATS’s job to parse your resume for a match to the job, and this is done via keyword search,” explained Cheryl Czach, CPC, ACC, career coach and former HR executive. “If the job post calls for a particular experience and you have it, be sure that it is reflected on your resume in matching language,” she said.
- Use acronyms for your qualifications but also spell them out. “One trick I like to use is to include abbreviations and the full word so the hiring manager can still find your CV in the ATS regardless of the words or abbreviations they use,” said Michael Moran, owner of Green Lion Search Group, a Texas-based staffing and recruitment firm. For example, if you have the SPHR and SHRM-SCP qualifications, spell these out as “Senior Professional in Human Resources” and “Society for Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional” under the Education and Professional Credentials section of your resume, in addition to using the acronyms at the top of your resume next to your name.
- Keep it simple. When it comes to resume format, simple is best. The most advanced ATS can handle elaborate formatting like text boxes, various fonts, and headers and footers, but it’s unlikely an organization is running these systems, said Czach. “HR tech is usually underfunded, which means the ATS systems used by many organizations are outdated,” she noted. Instead, Czach said to keep it simple, or opt for two versions of your resume: “The first version should be simply formatted and easy for the ATS to handle. The second can be a bit more visually appealing,” she suggested.
2. Highlight your tech stack.
While Human Resources is decidedly human-centric, technology is the driving engine behind any successful HR function, and there is a program, software, or app for nearly every HR task. Professionals in the field use recruiting software, ATS, pre-employment screening software, benefits administration and payroll platforms, performance management systems, and an HRIS (Human Resources Information System), among others. “There are so many different HR technologies out there, and each company uses something different,” said Brandstetter.
She recommended listing each system you’ve used in the past to highlight your experience, but also to demonstrate that you’re able to learn new systems. Shy away from using generic verbiage like “ATS experienced” and instead be explicit and write the brand and name. And if you’ve used highly specialized or obscure systems in the past, that’s okay, too. “If you don’t believe the recruiter will know what type of technology it is, just tell them,” Branstetter said.
To illustrate her recommendations, Brandstetter shared an example of how she’s formatted her own technology experience on her resume:
- Applicant Tracking System expert including RightThingRecruit, PCRecruiter, Brassring, AcquireTM, Taleo
- HR System experience including PeopleSoft, Kronos, Lawson
- Pre-Employment Assessment System experience including People Clues, eSkill, ProveIt, and CEB/Gartner
- Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, Outlook, SharePoint, and Skype
3. Write a strong professional summary.
If you make it past the ATS, you’ll have a brief window to capture a recruiter’s attention with your resume, so a strong professional summary is crucial. “Any recruiter will tell you that they take about 30 seconds to a few minutes to review a resume,” Brandstetter said.
Candidates should be tailoring their resume to every job they apply for — and including a personalized cover letter — but nowhere is this more important than with the resume summary. “Your professional summary should change each time you apply for a role because it should focus on how you are the best fit for that position,” advised Brandstetter.
Effective professional summaries will give the recruiter all the information they need — in an easy-to-read format — to say yes to you as a candidate. Brandstetter recommended using bullet points to make it easy for the recruiter to scan through your professional summary, and said to use the job requirements as a writing guide. “The bullet points need to paint the picture that you are the best fit for the role,” she said. “You do this by using the requirements section of the job posting and emphasizing all the areas you meet [it] in your summary.”
4. Share concrete, practical examples.
A great HR resume goes beyond your qualifications. “Highlighting education and certificates is common practice, but the practical application of that knowledge is what shines in an HR resume,” said Andrea Tienprasid, VP of Human Resources at HomeTown Ticketing, a digital ticketing platform for schools. Tienprasid recommended including a skills section in list form that emphasizes the scope of your professional experience at a high level. “Then break those down in more detail under each of your jobs, as applicable,” she said.
For example, it could look like this:
Human Resources Manager, Lattice, San Francisco, CA
[Role, Company, Location]
- Employee Relations: Debuted employee relations and communications programs to resolve previous labor and management issues and restore the integrity of the HR organization as employee-centric.
- HR Technologies: Led transition from legacy HR systems into a single, fully integrated people management platform from Lattice. Streamlined daily HR operations while improving reporting, analysis, and strategic planning ability.
- Onboarding and Retention: Drove manager adherence to new hire onboarding program which improved employee retention by 10% for new hires after one year.
5. Tailor your resume to the job and industry.
As a Human Resources professional, you already know that candidates should have an individualized resume (and cover letter) for every job they apply for. That’s because competitive resumes are optimized for the ATS, which means they include specific keywords and phrases from the job posting. Since no two job postings are alike, strategic candidates do a quick refresh of their resume for each position.
But there are two other factors for which you should tailor your resume, too:
- Specific HR Vertical Mentioned in the Job Description: HR is a field with several disciplines, so “unless the position calls for a generalist, you need to tailor your resume to highlight your experience in the field emphasized in the job description,” Moran said. To do so, use bullet points and list direct experience that corresponds to what the job posting is looking for. For example, if the employer is seeking someone to increase employee engagement and boost company culture, use bullet points to highlight your experience in related disciplines, “such as employee relations and diversity, and organizational consensus-building,” Moran advised.
- Industry and Organization: Traditionally conservative sectors, like finance and law, call for more formal language and a no-frills layout, while creative or design-driven industries allow for a more personalized resume. Just remember to save your resume as a PDF to ensure it displays the way you’ve intended. ATS can scramble fonts, formatting, and bullets in Word documents, so stick with PDFs.
6. Highlight specialized HR experience.
Human Resources professionals are teeming with specialized knowledge and work experience. For example, they know the rules and regulations around FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act), what Title VII means for businesses, and how to verify employment eligibility. Rules and regulations that to other employees mean little more than bureaucratic red tape are part and parcel of an HR professional’s direct experience. So share that.
“Candidates applying for HR jobs must emphasize their experience in HR-related matters, including recruiting, conducting employee relations and investigations, EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commision) actions and tasks, and ADA-related (Americans With Disabilities Act) actions and tasks,” said Dawn Boyer, PhD, CEO of resume-writing company D. Boyer Consulting and former senior HR manager.
While compliance-related tasks and employee administration may not be the most exciting aspects of your job, they’re required standard knowledge of any HR professional, and therefore important to include on your resume. Use the formatting tips highlighted in the “Share concrete, practical examples of your HR expertise” section above for advice on how to best articulate your skills and experience.
7. Be clear and concise.
HR is a data-driven, technology-enabled function in which professionals juggle the demands of compliance and regulations, data interpretation, and employee relations — but at the end of the day, Human Resources is about people, interpersonal skills, and communication
“Yes, drop all those acronyms of SaaS tools you know by heart, but also show that you are [the company's] resource for professional development and excellent communication,” urged Mike James, HR manager at Coffeeble, a website for coffee aficionados who want to brew great coffee at home.
To demonstrate your knack for communication, write clearly and concisely and opt for an easy-to-read format. Avoid big blocks of text to help ensure that the reader is digesting the information, as opposed to skipping over it, by using bullet points and clear, descriptive headers instead. Action verbs, like developed, executed, launched, and collaborated, for example, create impact by providing instant information about your contributions, so aim to use them wherever possible. If you’re stuck on action verbs, check out these helpful lists by Purdue University and University of Wisconsin.
You’re applying for a role in a human-centric, communication-focused field, so you need to go beyond just listing your experience, qualifications, and accomplishments; make your resume come to life by also representing your interpersonal and human side.
Human Resources jobs offer the best of both worlds: an opportunity to engage interpersonally and meaningfully with employees, while also creating impactful business strategy. Whether you’re seeking your first position in HR or you’re a seasoned professional, remember to write with the ATS in mind and share your skills and expertise through examples that demonstrate practical application of your knowledge. Personalize your professional summary and resume to reflect your qualifications and experience, and use keywords from the job posting where you can. And keep in mind that a clearly and concisely written, well-formatted resume goes far in demonstrating your communication skills and ability.
After managing the workforce challenges and implications of the pandemic, HR cemented its role as a change-maker and key driver in organizations. Today, a role in the people center of a company is one of the most exciting opportunities available. For those new to the field and longtime People professionals alike, applying these tips will help your resume shine so you can land your next great position in Human Resources.