HR Strategy
HR heal thyself: How we portray ourselves as HR professionals

By Brian Orr
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/05/2003

Why do too many HR professionals have a difficult time presenting themselves as credible professionals? Why are very few HR professionals’ own resumes suitable models of a well-prepared resume?

Recently I had the opportunity to review the resumes submitted for a position as director of human resources for a medium-sized, respected public-sector organization. This vacancy offered a talented HR professional an ideal opportunity to gain experience running a small HR department and functioning as a member of the senior management team of a dynamic organization. The disappointment for me was the poor quality of most applications.

Was I being realistic in expecting HR professionals to submit high quality resumes and covering letters? Surely, HR professionals have some expertise in preparing resumes and covering letters. As HR professionals, we spend a significant amount of time reviewing resumes of applicants for vacant positions, as well as advising staff on how to prepare resumes.

A reflection of expertise

For other professions, we base our judgement of their expertise, in part, on the quality of the work they produce.

We judge architects on the quality of their buildings and structures, lawyers by the quality of their legal opinions. I believe it is reasonable to assume that the quality of a resume and covering letter reflects the professionalism of an HR specialist.

Perhaps I am naive in my expectations. After all I confess that it has been awhile since I personally screened applications for a senior HR position.

Let me summarize the nature of the concerns I have with the quality of the material that applicants submitted for the director of HR position.

•Many of the covering letters did little to present the applicant’s qualifications as they related to the criteria described in the job ad.

•A few letters appeared to be generic form letters. Some of the letters either were poor quality photocopies, or were hand written.

•The lack of careful editing was evident in grammatical and spelling errors.

•Some stressed areas of expertise that had no direct or apparent relevance to the job ad.

•One letter was a major essay that provided a narrative of the person’s entire career and effectively duplicated the content of the resume.

•Very few letters focused on describing the candidate’s fit to the vacant position in a clear, concise and professional manner.

Similarly many of the resumes did not present an overall image of a seasoned HR professional.

•A number of resumes were poor photocopies including some in which parts of the resume were unreadable.

•Many of the resumes focused on describing the range of skills and experiences using a functional format. Unfortunately this approach provided little information on the circumstances in which the person gained work skills or HR experience.

•A number of resumes provided very little information on work history. It is difficult to judge the nature of a person’s work experience when the resume only lists dates, the name of employers and job titles.

•Some resumes had unexplained gaps in the work history.

A lose-lose situation

Too many of the applicants did a poor job in presenting themselves in a clear professional manner. Too often the information was either not helpful or created confusion when I was trying to figure out whether the applicant had sufficient background and qualifications to make the “short list” for an interview. The sad part is that a poor covering letter and resume can create a lose-lose situation whenever the best candidate fails to get past the initial screening of the applications.

What can be learned from this experience?

•Make sure your covering letter and resume presents a professional image. Ideally, submit original documents that have been carefully proofread.

•Provide a covering letter that focuses on why you applied and how your qualifications match those for the vacant position. Think of the letter as a marketing brochure that summarizes how you can meet the needs of the organization.

•Provide a resume that highlights your major qualifications, skills, and experiences. Indicate how you obtained these skills and experiences. Provide sufficient information about your work history so that a stranger can understand how your career has progressed over time. Explain any gaps in your work history.

As a HR professional, your resume represents an example of your professionalism. Make sure that it is a good example of your capability to provide high quality products. In addition, only apply for positions when you have the appropriate qualifications. Finally an important question ask yourself is whether your application will impress a tired reviewer when your covering letter and resume is at the bottom of a large stack of applications.

HR veteran Brian Orr is currently taking a personal break from work. He can be reached at

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