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What HR Professionals Look for in a Resume

Pamela Messier, a senior advertising manager for The Bristol Press, a daily newspaper in Connecticut, considers herself a go-getter. She frequently initiates projects, conducts research and devises success strategies at her company, where she's worked for more than 15 years. Although she hasn't needed a resume in all that time, her employer recently announced a reorganization, and she now wants to put together a top-notch document.

Yet, she's finding the process of creating an effective resume unexpectedly difficult. "I'm a 'can-do, will-do' kind of person," Ms. Messier says. "As always, I did some research first. I must've read 10 different books on writing a resume, and every author contradicted the previous one. There's no consensus! So here I am, asking for help in writing a document I never thought I'd need in the first place, and always thought I could create on my own if the time should come."

At this point, she's so confused by conflicting resume-writing advice, she's unsure where to begin. It's not surprising. In a six-year period, more than 3,100 books on career development have been published, according to Fortune magazine. Many of these books discuss how to write a resume, and there are as many opinions as there are authors.

But while the ingredients you can include in a resume have proliferated, and the debate among experts about how to produce an ideal document have grown, one constant remains: the reader. Human-resources professionals and hiring managers know what qualities are needed for each open position, and they want to locate those attributes quickly on a resume. To gain their attention, your resume must address their concerns and suit their tastes.

While career experts argue amongst themselves, human-resources professionals today agree on what constitutes a perfect competitive resume. Built according to rigid specifications, such a resume will contain:

  • an objective statement specifying a well-defined employment niche

  • an intelligent, concise summary of your best skills and attributes

  • an impressive list of accomplishments relevant to the position you seek

  • splendid educational and professional credentials

  • a solid, exemplary career history with few (but well-respected) employers

  • and a track record of loyalty and longevity, without inconsistencies or time gaps.

Of course, some HR professionals have different preferences. For example, one executive recruiter insists that his candidates omit objective statements, while a high-level insurance executive contends that he won't read a resume without one. In another case, an executive-level HR manager's resume doesn't list the year he graduated from college (revealing an insider's fear that disclosing his age could reduce his chances of earning an interview), even though many HR professionals demand well-documented employment and education dates.

In any event, the following advice from resume-readers should help you design an impressive document:

Be clear, concise and relevant.

Resumes should reveal key information about your background -- including your education, credentials and related work experience -- succinctly and readably, says Don Atencio, vice president of human resources for Loctite Corp.'s North American Group in Bloomfield, Conn.

"Don't make me guess at your areas of expertise or accomplishment," he says. "Build your resume to show experience relevant to Loctite's current needs. Show me that you understand the fiscal dynamics involved here and highlight your creativity."

Computer skills are a necessity at Loctite, a high-tech adhesives manufacturer, but Mr. Atencio also wants to see evidence in candidates' resumes of interpersonal and managerial abilities, organizational and strategic-planning talents, even maturity and self-confidence. Always remember that you're the world's leading authority on yourself.

"Be candid and honest," he adds. "Back up statements of ability with specific accomplishments."

Find the need and fill it.

Candidates who do homework on a company are much more desirable, says Diane Woolley, a human resources representative for Otis Elevator Co., an elevator and escalator manufacturer in Farmington, Conn. At her company, which employs more than 66,000 people worldwide, she says successful applicants must exhibit informed interest.

"Tell me what you know about our company," Ms. Wooley says. "We're proud of our accomplishments; show us that you're aware of them."

Then, to impress her further, demonstrate your ability to use your communication, interpersonal and problem-solving skills to increase the company's market share and improve profitability.

Display key executive skills.

There are six documented, universally essential skills that should be demonstrated within a resume, says Nick Burkholder, assistant vice president of corporate staffing for CIGNA Corp., a Philadelphia-based insurance company.

"They are: higher productivity, strong interpersonal skills, effective problem-solving capability, quality results, clear vision and a customer-driven focus," says Mr. Burkholder, who's co-author with Richard H. Beatty of "The Executive Career Guide for MBAs" (1996, John Wiley & Sons).

Today, executive candidates also must demonstrate certain entrepreneurial qualities, he says. For example, your resume should display a comprehensive business vision that highlights your skillful planning, personal direction, diligent research and development, well-tuned operations, solid working knowledge of information systems, sales and customer-service talents and proficiency in administration, financing and public relations.

"Look at yourself closely," he advises. "Tell me what you've done, can do and will do. Give me a clear picture of your objective."

The same guidelines hold true in vastly different industries. For example, while broadcast experience is important at ESPN, the cable-TV sports network, so are other basic competencies, says Lata Chawla, ESPN's staffing and development manager. "Does your resume define concisely your management, leadership and organizational abilities?" she asks. "Are you an experienced 'team player' and an informed risk-taker who lends an entrepreneurial spirit to the job at hand?"

If so, your talents will be valued by employers in a variety of fields.

Address executive recruiters' concerns.

Executive recruiters save time for their clients by pre-screening candidates, matching both technical qualifications and personality traits with the employer's aims and philosophy. For these resume-readers, intangibles are critical.

"We rely heavily on cover letters and telephone screening to identify the spirit of the candidate," says Thomas Cosgrove, principal of The Cosgrove Companies, a recruiting firm in Bristol, Conn., that specializes in the investment field.

But, as with corporate human-resources managers, clarity and brevity also are prized. "Most resumes give too much information," says Mr. Cosgrove, who prefers that candidates omit objective statements from their materials. "They're likely not to make the cut with me. With less information, they might win me over when I call them to fill out the details."

In fact, one well-written page usually will suffice, says William Spelman, an executive recruiter who targets higher-education administrators at The Spelman & Johnson Group in Northampton, Mass. In that page, candidates should state their goals and accomplishments with self-confidence. "I enjoy working with job seekers who know what they're about," Mr. Spelman says.

Brief resumes that are filled with buzzwords and interesting, easy-to-find information are impressive, says recruiter Paul Jagielski with RJS Associates, a search firm in Hartford, Conn., that covers a broad range of candidate levels and industries.

"Don't exclude vital information such as dates for employment and education," he adds. "We scan for inconsistencies and time gaps."

Go the extra mile.

Of course, depending on their industry and corporate culture, human-resources professionals look for certain extras on candidate resumes. For example, at Otis, "higher education is a primary deciding factor for employment," says Ms. Woolley. An M.B.A. is preferred for upper-level positions, she adds.

Meanwhile, because the company serves an international market, candidates whose resumes cite foreign-language skills have an edge. Ms. Woolley also looks for evidence of longevity, maturity and computer skills.

No matter what companies you apply to, consider what the human-resources representatives will be looking for. Design a resume that meets their needs, shows off your special talents and displays true self-confidence, and you're sure to win more interviews.

Debra O'Reilly, CPRW, JCTC, CEIP; ResumeWriter.com

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