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June 3, 2014 at 1:00 AM

What hiring managers want, straight from HR’s mouth

Finding a job these days can feel a little like being a mind reader. Every day, thousands of amateur Kreskins in the Seattle area rack their brains trying to figure out the thought processes of hiring managers. How much will they care about my job hopping? Is my resume detailed enough? Will my cover letter grab their interest?

Fortunately, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has taken a bit of the guesswork out of the process with findings from its latest “Resumes, Cover Letters and Interviews” survey. After contacting more than 400 of its members, SHRM got some answers about what hiring managers want to see from a job candidate. Here are a few highlights:

Go with the chronological flow. While some job seekers are switching to “functional resumes” that are organized by the various skill levels required for each position, the SHRM survey shows that two-thirds of the HR professionals and recruiters questioned preferred the tried-and-true chronological resume, which lists a candidate’s work history in reverse order.

Don’t judge an application by its cover letter. In this age of applicant tracking software, the once-essential cover letter has lost some of its utility in recent years. The SHRM survey shows that only 22 percent of respondents considered the lack of a cover letter in a job application to be a “mistake.” The survey also says that about half of the hiring managers contacted want cover letters to explain how a candidate’s skills can meet their specific job requirements. Also, 45 percent say they want cover letters to show why the candidate wants to work at their organizations.

Be direct about resume gaps, but only in the interview. Have a few gaping holes in your work history? HR folks understand, SHRM says. Hiring managers deserve an honest explanation about layoffs, but a resume or a cover letter is not the place to address it. More than three-quarters say in the survey that work-gap stories are for the interview stage. So don’t feel the need to overshare in your resume — just stick to your positive points and don’t try to hide your dates of employment.

You have less than five minutes. That’s about how much time 76 percent of hiring managers spend reviewing the average resume before deciding whether to move forward, SHRM says. It’s no surprise, then, that 43 percent of respondents say they like resumes that present information in bullet-point format and that include accomplishments tailored to their specific industry. Make sure your resume is designed to help them connect the dots quickly.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at randywoods67@gmail.com.

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: cover letters, HR, interviewing, resumes

Blog contributors

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

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