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Your Resume, Not Your Cover Letter, Lands Interviews

A magnifying glass is placed on top of a resume.

Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.    

I have been a director of HR for more than 20 years. My position was eliminated during a recent acquisition. I've explored my skills and found I would like to have a position with a global company, but in an entirely different role—as an HR business partner or a specialist in benefits. I truly enjoy more hands-on work and miss involvement in the day-to-day. I am willing to take the cut in pay. My resume states what I want to do at this time, but I am not getting the first interview. With all the applicant tracking systems in use, I feel my cover letter is overlooked. What do you recommend?


Gurnee, Ill.

The problem is not with your cover letter, although the letter should be informed by and reflect the story your resume tells. I think the problem lies with the resume. You say, "My resume states what I want to do at this time," so it sounds as if your resume is an honest recitation of your work experience and what you want. Therefore, it's subjective—and this approach usually isn't very effective.

Focus on Customer Needs

When writing a resume, most people make an elemental error and forget the first two lessons they should have learned in their professional lives:

  1. The customer is always right.
  2. Find out what the customer wants and give it to them.

You can make your resume much more effective by analyzing several HR business partner job postings to identify and prioritize the needs they hold in common. This analysis will give you an objective foundation on which to base the story your resume should tell and thereby speak directly to employers' needs. This approach will make your resume much more discoverable in database searches, and your credentials will become immediately identifiable when a recruiter or hiring manager reviews your resume.

Rather than saying what you want, show hiring managers and recruiters that you can do the job. Under the target job title at the top of your resume, write a short paragraph headlined Performance Summary, beginning with a statement that aligns your experience and last job with the target job. For example:

Has 20 years of experience in all areas of human resource management, delivering the maturity, business acumen and HR experience demanded in an effective Human Resources business partner, and the sophistication for daily interaction with corporate management.

Then add a couple more lines that hit the highest priorities for an HR business partner job you identified in your analysis.

There's More to It Than a Great Resume

Your job search tactics could also be negatively impacting your progress. You can have the best resume in the world but you have to use it well, and that means going beyond responding to job postings. If you only respond to posts, your odds of getting lost in the herd increase.

You should be using network-integrated job search tactics:

  • Respond to job postings found on job and social media sites.
  • Conduct a search of your target job title to find jobs and recruiters.
  • Approach at least 10 new headhunters and executive recruiters every week.
  • Identify people who hold high-value job titles one, two and three levels above your target job.
  • Use social media platforms to identify and connect with the holders of these titles at companies with job postings.
  • Repeat this for HR recruiters and people holding your target job title at those companies.
  • Approach them directly with an appropriately worded e-mail with a resume attached in PDF format.

You should also use sites like, and to identify all companies within your target geography and repeat the above steps. Following these tips will get you better results.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.