Building Your HR Resume While Building Your HR Career

By Wendy Enelow Sep 26, 2017
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​There are essential building blocks within every great HR resume, as well as key actions you need to take to create one. 

To be sure, every job seeker is unique and, therefore, so is every resume. There is no single template, and it's not a standard process. Rather, it's customized to your personal experience, achievements, education, professional credentials and, most importantly, your current career objectives. 

Think of your resume as a living document that will change in content, format and presentation over time as your career develops. Job requirements that were very important when you started your career might not be consequential enough to include 10 years later. You'll constantly be adding new information and editing and/or deleting older information. Your resume will develop as your career progresses. 

As you craft your HR resume, start by thinking strategically. A resume is not an autobiographical summary of your career. Rather, it is a document that markets your career, designed to showcase your qualifications and position you as a unique and memorable candidate. 

Ask yourself what it is that makes you really good at what you do and then decide how you can highlight that information to your best advantage when writing your resume. Yes, your responsibilities and general qualifications are important, but what matters most is how well you do those things, the impact you've had on organizations, the achievements you've delivered, your educational highlights, and any other details that will distinguish you from other candidates. 

Getting Started 

Give your readers four important pieces of contact information at the top of your resume: 

  • Name (including professional credentials such as SHRM-CP or MBA, if relevant).
  • Mobile phone number.
  • E-mail address.
  • LinkedIn profile URL. 

Be certain that your e-mail address and LinkedIn profile are live links—someone can click on those from your resume and instantly e-mail you or read your profile. 

Next, create a laser-focused summary. Your resume should deliver, instantly, who you are and what you want. You can most effectively do that with a headline such as: 


HR Professional: Expertise in Recruitment, Staffing, Onboarding & Training 


The above communicates that you have experience in those functions and that you're targeting a job in which you will be essential. That headline clearly and concisely introduces you. Headlines are powerful ways to position yourself and your target job, and they make a great addition to every resume, no matter where you are in your career. 

You can follow the headline with a short paragraph or two, a list of bullet points, or two columns of skills. This "Summary" section must include the information that makes you qualified, unique and memorable … your strategic qualities. The summary might include a distinguished credential, honor, presentation or other award that will serve to positively differentiate you within the pool of candidates, all of whom may have the same basic skills and qualifications that you possess. Focus on your key differentiators in the summary and throughout your resume. 

Here's a long-standing secret of professional resume writers: They always write the summary last. Why? Because it's so much easier to do after you've written the "Education" and "Professional Experience" sections of your resume. How do you know what you want to showcase in the summary until you've written the content? You'll be able to write your summary in half the time if you do it last.

Match Your Resume to Your Career Level 

Of course, the summary is the first section on your resume. But what comes next, education or professional experience? Follow these guidelines: 

  • Graduating Students: Start with education and highlight your degree, major, minor/concentration (if relevant), academic honors, and college activities or leadership roles. You might also include four to six HR classes or a list of HR projects to strengthen this section. These additions are also a great way to capture keywords.
    If you've completed internships, you might include them with your education or, if appropriate, better showcase them in the "Professional Experience" section. You'll have to decide based on your individual resume where the internships fit best so that you can get the most impact out of them. 
  • Young Professionals: After you've worked for one to three years, you'll want to move from a graduating student resume (where education comes first) into a professional resume (where professional experience is first).
    Chances are that you'll also want to trim down the "extras" that you included in the Education section, like activities and coursework. Ask yourself if that information really matters three years post-graduation. Probably not, but it might in certain circumstances. What value does it deliver to your resume and the people who read it? Remember, everything in resume writing is customized to you, your career and your objectives. 
  • Experienced Professionals: For these job seekers, there is never any question about where to position items on your resume. For 95 percent of those who have been in the workforce for a while, professional experience immediately follows the summary.  
    The only exception are individuals who recently earned graduate degrees and want to prominently position that information on their resumes. In that situation, you can put education first. My preference is to highlight the degree in the summary and leave education at the end of the resume so someone doesn't glance and think "graduating student; limited experience." 

Use Job Descriptions to Explain Your Successes 

The responsibilities of each of your jobs (and internships, if you're a graduating student or have limited experience) are vitally important to your resume and make up the "Professional Experience" section. Job descriptions communicate what you did in each position and are flush with keywords (essential words for resume-scanning systems, as you'll read about below). 

However, even more important than what you did is how well you did those jobs. Consider the difference in impact between these two sentences: 

  • Assisted with implementation of new HRIS to automate company's recruitment process.
  • Worked in partnership with technology teams to implement new HRIS and automate the company's global recruitment process. Delivered project two months ahead of schedule and 15% under budget. 

Here's another example that focuses on the size and scope of responsibility versus just the function: 

  • Trained all newly hired personnel in company HR policies, procedures and regulations.
  • Trained more than 200 newly hired personnel over a 3-year period in company policies, procedures and regulations. 

Of course, not all job functions will have such achievements or particular details that you can add to enhance the impact of the content, but work hard to integrate that kind of information when and wherever possible. 

Pack It with Keywords 

Keywords are the foundation for resume-scanning software within applicant tracking systems (ATSs). If you've worked in any aspect of recruiting, you know that when an applicant submits a resume in response to a job posting or forwards the resume to a recruiter, the resume will most likely  pass through the ATS. Make sure your resume has the right keywords to ensure that you're selected as a qualified candidate. Fit in keywords from these categories: 

  • Hard skills. These are your qualifications from work experience and education. They include: Human Resources, HR, Staffing, Recruitment, Onboarding, Compensation, Benefits, Training, Succession Planning, Employee Relations, Organizational Development, OD, Human Resource Information Systems/HRIS and Compliance.
    This category can also include technologies that you know beyond those that are specific to the HR profession.
    Note that this list includes the full names as well as commonly used acronyms such as HRIS. You never know which of these a company will use to search a resume so be certain to include both in your resume so you won't be passed over. 
  • Soft skills: These are general business skills that are essential to many HR jobs: Communications, Project Management, Organization, Leadership, Team Building, Conflict Resolution, Quality and Interpersonal Relationships. 
  • Degrees, certifications and affiliations: Keyword scans will almost always look for college degrees (BS, BA, MBA). For professions such as HR, where there are well-recognized professional credentials, searches will also frequently include SHRM-CP, SHRM-SCP and other prominent designations that instantly add credibility to your resume. A scan might also search to see if you're a member of any professional organizations. 
  • Miscellaneous: Cities, states and ZIP codes are just a few of the oddball keywords that companies might use to search for candidates that meet their specific hiring requirements. Consider the company in Chicago that only wants to hire people within the local market. In that situation, a hiring manager will almost always use the state, cities and ZIP codes that are in the Chicago area to identify prime candidates in the company's resume database. 

The first three categories above are, by far, the most important and the ones that you can control. Be certain to integrate those keywords into the content of your resume in the "Summary" section, job descriptions, the "Education" section and more. They should naturally fit into the resume since these are the things you do, the skills you have and the knowledge you've amassed. 

If you follow these recommendations, you'll be able to write and format a great resume for yourself. Then, be certain to keep it current. Update it every six months or so, adding new jobs, achievements, qualifications, certifications, presentations and the like. You never know when that next great HR career opportunity might present itself, so be prepared! 

Wendy Enelow is a master resume writer and a job and career transition coach. Have a question for her about writing resumes, LinkedIn profiles, e-notes and other career communications? E-mail queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. Enelow also offers a paid executive resume writing service. For more information, visit www.wendyenelow.com. 

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