Personnel Administrators' Preferences for Resume Content: Ten Years After

Article excerpt

The heavy reliance upon resumes for securing employment and the volume of materials available on resume construction attest to the significance of a quality resume for the employment market. Indeed, Keyser (1974, P. 64) argues, "the resume is the most important document you may ever write." Textbooks (Adler, 1992; Hamilton & Parker, 1993; Stewart & Cash, 1991) are replete with suggestions on the construction of successful resumes, but these suggestions are often "based on opinions and on tradition supported by only anecdotal evidence" (Stephens, Watt, & Hobbs, 1979, p. 26). A comparison of these sources occasionally reveals contradictions, and since there is a dearth of empirical references, the suggestions are seemingly based upon intuition. Concern that intuition is not an adequate barometer of employers' preferences and the observation of the lack of empirical evidence on resume construction create difficulties for teachers in business communication. Many teachers of resume design prefer an empirical basis for suggestions and employers' admonitions to their students on the content of resumes. In addition, some research on resume content has limited research samples to one geographic area, such as Chicago (Dortch, 1975), Texas (Penrose, 1984), or Wisconsin (Schramm & Dortch, 1991) a limitation which may reduce the usefulness of these results for instructors outside the investigated region. Because only a small number of studies looked at organizations nationwide (Spinks & Wells, 1987; Wells, Spinks, & Hargrave, 1981), Hutchinson (1984) undertook a survey of Fortune 500 personnel administrators to learn their preferences for resume content.

The purpose of the research reported in this article was to contribute additional empirical data on resume content by updating knowledge on personnel administrators' preferences for resume content, and to extend, compare, and contrast current findings with those presented by Hutchinson (1984) over a decade ago. Thus, the instructor may be confident of reconfirmed findings and alerted to changes in preferences over the last decade.


Since one goal of this paper was to extend the empirical base on resume construction, a survey questionnaire was constructed. The purpose of the survey was to gain information about the preferred content of the resume for college students entering the job market.

Personnel administrators of the 500 top-ranked organizations in the United States (Fortune, 1992) were sent questionnaires to seek preferences for resume content. The questionnaire was as brief as possible to facilitate responses and increase the overall return rate and modified from similar studies (Hutchinson, 1984; Janes, 1969; Schramm & Dortch, 1991). The majority of the survey asked personnel administrators to check the appropriate responses on a five-point scale, from "not at all important" to "essential." The questionnaire included a personally addressed cover letter and a stamped, return addressed envelope. Of the 500 surveys mailed, 122 were returned for a response rate of 24 percent.


This segment presents the survey results in terms of each of the traditional elements of a resume: job objective, educational background, previous work experience, personal information, and references.

Job Objective

According to the survey, including a job objective or professional objective was a relatively important item for hiring officers, and thus a job objective statement probably should appear on college students' resumes (see Table 1).

Educational Background

Comparable to previous research, educational qualifications received the highest ratings for the areas surveyed. Not surprisingly, personnel officers overwhelmingly indicated that the inclusion of the college degree, the educational institution, and academic majors was "essential." The date of graduation; any scholarships, awards, or honors; a grade point average only if it is high; and academic minors were considered to be "somewhat" to "very important" for inclusion on a resume. …