Just three months into a one-year contract, Alisha, 24, was laid off from her role as an HR coordinator for a major hardware manufacturing company in Toronto in early May. She had been applying for jobs since mid-April, anticipating that layoffs were imminent.
As a recent graduate of business technology management from Ryerson University, Alisha minored in human-resources management and has landed contract roles in HR since graduating in 2018. But it was a six-month contract at an accounting tech start-up that she enjoyed the most. “It was fast-paced, and they were agile when making decisions,” Alisha says. “Tech companies also have the culture that I enjoy, like flexible work schedules and working from home.”
Alisha has been applying for three or four jobs a day since April and has made it to the interview stage with two companies, but still hasn’t landed a job. “I have noticed there hasn’t been much of a demand for junior HR roles, but there are more senior-level HR roles for which I don’t qualify yet,” she says. The bulk of her experience has been in human resources information systems (HRIS), which help companies manage employee-data such as job info, time-off requests and demographics to track trends. “I am quite specialized in my experience, which makes it harder to apply for generalist roles in HR,” she says.
Alisha’s goal is to find an HR role with a tech or fast-growth company. “Working for a growing company, I hope to have more opportunities to grow and develop as a future HR leader.”
Can Alisha find an entry-level HR role despite her specialized experience? We asked career coach Jen Narayan of Career Real Talk and Chelsea MacDonald, head of people operations at the software start-up Ada Support, to review Alisha’s resume and offer some advice for her next steps.
WHAT THE CAREER COACH SAYS
Ms. Narayan says that Alisha has relevant education and experience for her job search, making her a great candidate for an entry-level position. The recent grad’s challenges in finding work so far are likely due to overall slowdowns in hiring. “There are naturally fewer roles available and, unfortunately, more candidates floating around due to layoffs,” Ms. Narayan says. “Companies are being more conservative with hiring, so it’s taking longer to hear back, get interviews and offers.”
Meanwhile, Alisha can work on refining her resume. While she’s on the right track with putting her education up front – a smart move for any recent graduate – Ms. Narayan says that Alisha should condense her resume from two pages to one. “Use three bullet points for older, less relevant jobs and five bullet points for newer, more relevant jobs,” advises Ms. Narayan.
Each bullet point can also be refined by using an accomplishment-based approach. Resume experts call it the “PAR method,” as each bullet should identify a problem, how you acted upon it and what the result or outcome was of the action. Ms. Narayan says Alisha’s resume could also benefit from the addition of a LinkedIn URL and a career tagline like Human Resources | HRIS | Payroll & Benefits.
Some variation in colour and an increase in font sizes would also improve Alisha’s resume, according to Ms. Narayan, who suggests using a blue font for titles. She should also increase her font size to make her resume easier to read. “Right now it is 10, but 10.5 is the smallest I would use,” said Ms. Narayan.
Should Alisha choose to pivot into other roles, Ms. Narayan suggests looking into administrative positions. “With an admin role at a smaller company, you can help other departments out and perhaps assist with recruitment,” says Ms. Narayan. Finally, Ms. Narayan says that Alisha should update her LinkedIn profile to reflect the edits to her resume and tailor her resume to use the same buzzwords as the positions she’s interested in. “This way, she can rank higher in the systems she applies to.”
WHAT THE INDUSTRY EXPERT SAYS
“This resume still reads like a generalist, but Alisha has actually become an expert on HRIS, even if it wasn’t on purpose,” says Chelsea MacDonald. “In a few short years, she’s done more HRIS implementations than I’ve done in my 15-year career.” With this in mind, Ms. MacDonald recommends Alisha to position herself as an HRIS expert, assuming she enjoys this aspect of her previous work. Within each role, Alisha could benefit from including some key performance indicators (or KPIs) to demonstrate her capability, such as launching a project in a period of time or improving accuracy by a certain percentage. “You want something that shows not just that you did something but that your knowledge accumulated,” says Ms. MacDonald.
With layoffs in tech and increased competition, Ms. MacDonald says that it could take more time to find a company that’s hiring and looking for Alisha’s expertise. Meanwhile, Alisha might consider seeking out junior data-entry jobs. “Alisha is actually a junior data analyst and probably doesn’t know it,” Ms. MacDonald says. “HRIS systems are basically a CRM for your employees.” Alisha could be a fit for jobs that require data-cleaning or entry-level marketing jobs focused on enriching leads.
If Alisha chooses to use this time to improve her skill set, which Ms. MacDonald suggests as a way to build a long-term future in HR, courses in Excel, SQL and/or Python would be beneficial. “That could take her HRIS skills to the next level and prepare her for the data-focused future of HR.”
THE NEW RESUME
With advice from Ms. Narayan and Ms. MacDonald, Alisha was able to tighten up her resume to one page by reducing the number of bullet points for each position and replacing her skills section with a career tagline. She’s added a LinkedIn URL and changed her job titles to a blue font while also putting her HRIS experience front and centre and incorporating some KPIs into her job responsibilities.
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