How do you get hired to be one of the hire-ers? That’s the question facing those of you interested in becoming a human resources professional as a career. Often, we think of HR generalists as part of the machine—reading our resumes, putting together offers, brokering interviews, and sending out benefits statements. But like all other professionals, they have to go through the hiring process too. If you’re thinking about joining the field or are already in it but want to brush up your resume, we’ve got some tips to help you put together your best HR generalist resume.
HR generalists are members of a company’s human resources team who manage the day-to-day operations of the department. In a big company, that can mean working as part of a large team. In a small company, it may be more a lone wolf kind of scenario. These professionals manage a variety of responsibilities, including recruiting and staffing, employee relations, employee communication, developing and enforcing company policy, managing compensation and benefits, counseling employees, and generally handling personnel-related issues. That’s a lot going on—and it means that an HR generalist resume has to cover a lot of ground, very effectively.
Stand out with a bold headline.
If you want your resume to stand out, make sure you’re grabbing attention right away. You’ll have plenty of space to flesh out your professional accomplishments, but starting with a snappy one-liner (or a two-liner) helps you set the narrative right away. You want to make the most of your resume space—and that doesn’t mean cramming more information in there. It means taking the information you have (your skills, your experience, your strengths) and getting the most power out of them. A headline tells the reader up front who you are, as a professional, and what you can bring to them.
Your headline should be short and to the point, but not too short. If you write something like, “Human Resources Professional,” that doesn’t really tell anything. On the other hand, if you add just a little color it tells the reader more about you. It’s a chance to show off your expertise, at least enough to keep the reader’s interest.
Here are some great examples:
Certified Human Resources Director with 10+ years of experience
Expert Benefits Manager
Employee-Oriented Human Resources Coordinator
Proven Leader in Recruiting and Innovative Employee Retention
The headline isn’t meant to tell your whole work-life story. It’s meant to get the reader interested enough to read on to the skills and experience, which should back up what you include in the headline.
Emphasize achievements, not responsibilities.
Your resume should be results-oriented, to show the reader that you’d bring that focus to your job in their HR department. Make sure your bullet points show growth and achievement. If you worked as part of a team that implemented new employee policies, what was the outcome of that? If you helped roll out a new program, what were the results? Obviously, only include achievements with a positive thrust—or spin them a bit.
Spearheaded an initiative that improved employee retention by 25% over two years.
Innovated new workflows for onboarding new employees
Designed and implemented an employee wellness program that cut employee sick days by 10%
Don’t those sound more appealing than “processed new employee orientation forms” or “served on a committee to improve employee retention”? The trick is making sure you’re using potent action verbs to show that you’ve been busy achieving, not just showing up. Keeping the focus on your achievements also shows that you’re goal-oriented.
Use the right keywords.
As an HR professional, you probably know better than anyone how automated tools and digital systems are shaping the hiring process. Make sure you’re taking steps to beat that system as well. That means including keywords that can be caught by all readers, human and robot. One way to help boost your keyword quotient is to spell out things you might otherwise abbreviate, assuming that your fellow Human Resources peeps will understand and taking the space for something else. For example: SHRM Certification becomes Society for Human Resource Management Certified. You can abbreviate it elsewhere in your resume, but having it spelled out once can help you with a scanning algorithm.
If you’re stuck for key words, read the job description carefully and make sure you’re mirroring the words it uses. You should also make sure you’re sprinkling the key words throughout the resume. It can be tempting to cram them all in a “skills” or “core competencies” section, but putting them throughout can help keep the reader’s interest throughout the whole resume.
Make sure you’re up on the latest technology.
HR has become a field that is highly dependent on digital tools and databases, so it’s important to know what the big software names are, as well as any trendy apps or programs. Be specific in your Technology Skills section. Everyone’s going to include things like “Microsoft Office” and “Excel,” but the more specific you can be about your tech expertise, the better it enhances your resume. Make sure you’re calling software or programs out by name.
If you have only passing familiarity with a particular database software, don’t call yourself an expert, but if you have advanced-level understanding, say so. And again, be aware of what the current trends are—if you are a ninja-level master of a program that has become obsolete, that’s not going to do you much good.
Give information about the companies where you’ve worked previously.
As an HR professional, you know what where you work can tell someone almost as much about your career as what you’ve done. Providing some context for your previous employers can help the reader frame your experience. If you’re trying to show that you already have experience at the kind of company where you’re applying, emphasize the similarities in your background. If you’re looking to get away from the kinds of places you’ve worked before, emphasize whatever qualities you think will translate well.
You don’t need to write a novel—a context sentence or two after you identify the company and before you launch into your bullet points works well. For example:
Bunco Industries, 2010 – 2017
Coordinated benefits management for a multinational company with 1,000+ employees worldwide
The Happiness Fund, June 2012 – present
Served as the primary Human Resources employee liaison for a nonprofit company devoted to educating baby seals
Together with your bullets, this information helps shape the narrative about your experience.
Make it clear and easy to read.
Your resume should be a clean and concise document. That means not having large blocks of uninterrupted text and ensuring that all information you include is essential to the story you want to tell. The layout should be visually appealing (think short bursts of potent text), but also classic—don't use odd fonts or crazy formatting.
And every word in your resume should be carefully read, considered, and tweaked if necessary. Careless mistakes can undo all of your “I’m detail-oriented” supporting points, so make sure you’re proofreading carefully. Always find a trusted person to look over your resume as well. It can be very difficult to catch your own typos after the third or fourth pass through, but having another pair of eyes can also help you catch points that aren’t clear, or ring false.
Working in HR, you know that it’s about the quality of candidates, not necessarily the quantity of words or experience. Make sure you’re taking that to heart for your own application package, and write a resume that reflects your best work narrative, your strengths, and your goals. Good luck!