Reading Between the Lines
What a Résumé Can Say — or Not Say — About a CandidateCynthia Landry says that, despite many advances in the process of recruiting, evaluating, and eventually hiring talent, the résumé remains one of the most critical pieces of the puzzle.
It presents the candidate with a chance to make a case, she explained, and thus do what every job seeker strives to do — get their foot in the door. And yet, many simply don’t make effective use of that opportunity, and sometimes that’s why the door doesn’t open, said Landry, a human resources generalist for Health New England (HNE).
“The résumé is for you to put your best attributes out there so we can match your skills to the requirements of the job,” she told BusinessWest, adding quickly that such attributes can be lost amid too many words about things that don’t matter — someone’s hobbies, for example — and too few about what does matter, such as how an individual has helped a company grow revenues and reduce expenses.
Katherine Lamondia-Wrinkle, a partner with the law offices of Thomas M. Libbos, agrees. She said too many candidates fail to take full advantage of a résumé’s ability to make a good first impression. Meanwhile, she advises business owners and managers to maximize their opportunities to use a résumé to learn about a candidate, and thus pose effective questions that will enable them to ascertain more.
Kim Kenney-Rockwal, director of human resources for HNE, said there is an art and science to both writing and reading résumés, and she stressed the importance of using the document to not only present a past employment history, but also — and more importantly — explain what one has accomplished and how.
“If you have two people that are equally qualified, it’s hard to differentiate each one,” she explained. “You have to show how you stand out, and you need to show how you can bring more to that position than anyone else.”
For this issue and its focus on employment, BusinessWest talked with several résumé readers and writers about what a résumé can say — and why, all too often, it doesn’t say enough.
The Write Stuff
Jill Grindle, a certified professional résumé writer who owns A Step Ahead Résumé in Agawam, said there are three styles of résumés.
The first and most common is the chronological résumé. While entirely overused, it serves a purpose for someone younger — say, a recent college graduate who doesn’t have much work history to report. The next is what’s known as the combination or hybrid, and it lists not only the dates and places one has worked, but also what they accomplished in that job. For instance, did the applicant start a new process that saved himself and others in the office time and effort? Did she go above and beyond her sales goals? Were they rewarded by their former employer for certain accomplishments?
The third style is the functional résumé, and, according to Grindle, this is the “job obituary.”
“It’s typically used when someone has a spotty work history and feels they need to minimize those gaps, but it’s a red flag for most employers, and it’s very hard to track when a skill was learned in what job during what dates.”
The functional résumé style lists a candidate’s information by skill sets, and while it does allow the person to match their skills to what a job description is requiring, it’s difficult for an employer to read, especially when 20 seconds is about all you get to make an impression on paper or computer screen.
Typically, those with many years out of the workforce — due to, say, raising a family, military obligations, or a multi-track job history — might use this style, but the hybrid should still be the number-one style choice.
Kenney-Rockwal says that fewer than one-quarter of the résumés that Health New England receives are in the hybrid format, and this is regrettable because opportunities are missed to showcase how a person has truly benefited a company.
“How much money did you save the company in what amount of time?” she said, referring to one question that a résumé should help answer. “Don’t just tell me what the role was; tell me what you did in that role to make it different.”
She adds that one of the biggest mistakes that people make is taking their former job description and simply transfering it onto the résumé.
Mind the Gap
But what about those gaps in a work history? According to Grindle, candidates should just be honest.
“If you were home raising children, say so,” she said. “If you had to leave full-time work to care for ailing children, you’re not alone. Many Baby Boomers, who are still a major force in the labor pool, are facing this same issue and will continue to for many years. If you were off for some time, what did you do during that time to gain more skills, or what effort did you take to make use of that time for the future?”
Kenney-Rockwal agrees, and said that the effort to keep strengthening skills during those gaps shows serious intent. “If someone is transitioning from one industry to another, then of course we are going to expect some gaps of time for education or job searching. Even using the time wisely to go back to school is important, and we recognize that.”
Elisa Rose, another human resources generalist with HNE, adds that some of the questions being asked these days regarding work-history gaps include inquires about what a person learned during their time off that can be beneficial to the company.
Lamondia-Wrinkle is leery of short-term hiccups in the work history, and uses the applicant’s references to do some fact-finding. Obviously, she’s looking for a reference to give a great review of the candidate, but sometimes the unfavorable review — if she can get it in this age of privacy laws and fears of legal ramification — doesn’t always tell the full story.
She gives the example of a recent position that had to be filled by someone who had fantastic people skills and would represent the firm at the first point of phone or in-person contact. One résumé presented the initial requirements, and after a stellar set of interviews, the reference from a former employer just didn’t add up for this particular candidate.
“Her references were not supportive of what her résumé said, but we really took a chance on who she was, how well she appeared, and how well-spoken she was — despite the poor references.”
Lamondia-Wrinkle says the situation turned out to be the result of bad feelings that lingered between the candidate and the former employer who made the past personal. “She really impressed us in the personal interview. She’s been a phenomenal asset to our company; she was the right person for the job.”
The Bottom Line
The résumé is still a force to be reckoned with and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Kenney-Rockwal says that not everybody can afford to hire a professional résumé writer, or automatically know the presentation skills that are necessary for the personal interview, but there are plenty of area organizations and career fairs that offer free services to help.
And, while there are many aspects to the job search, the résumé is one of the keys, she stressed — a key that just might open a door and allow one to get a foot inside.
Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]