The HR Resume I’ve Never, Ever Forgotten. Neither Will You.

by Alan Collins

I was recruiting at Purdue University, my alma mater.

This was ten years ago.

I’m on the last candidate of the day and I’m anxious to get the heck home.

His résumé is “very light” — no extra-curricular activities, no sports, no nothing. 

Essentially it says: Purdue, 3.2 GPA, Masters in Human Resources Management.

His work experience: Elliot’s Fine Dining, references on request.

After interviewing all day I’m exhausted.  I’ve seen all these top candidates come in strutting their stuff like peacocks. They’ve got 3.9 GPAs, extensive summer HR intern experiences and some have even studied abroad.

Impressive group.

And now, here comes this guy.

He sits down.

His name is Elliot, so I decide to cut right to the chase.

“Elliot, let me just ask you. What else were you doing while you were here — and what’s Elliot’s Fine Dining?”

He replies: “Well, I’m Elliot Jr.  Elliot’s Fine Dining is named after my dad and that’s our family business. I leave on Friday after my last class, and I go and work there till closing. I work all day Saturday till closing, and then I work Sunday until I close, and then I drive 60 miles back to Purdue. I’ve been doing that for the last four and a half years.”

Intrigued, I conduct the rest of the interview.  We wind up talking for two hours.

At the end, I write, “Invite for Interviews,” on the attached yellow summary sheet. He was one of only two I invited that day in for second interviews.

Why did I recommend him?

Because he had an unbelievable work ethic and character. He was 22 years old and faced two sets of challenges: working in his disabled dad’s business and getting his Master’s degree one hour away.  He figured out how to do both well.  You could not determine this from looking at his resume, only by talking with him.

I could see a guy with a burning desire and unbelievable dedication and commitment. Someone who wasn’t asking for a handout.  Someone who could sell himself without bragging.  Someone who didn’t complain or feel victimized.  He just said, “That’s my dad’s business, and I work there.” Confident. Proud.

Every single one of his second interviewers saw exactly what I saw.   And Elliot was hired for one of our few, select HR entry-level positions, where…

He immediately became a SUPERSTAR.  

From day one, he quickly built a reputation as the “HR go-to person” when things need to get done. Execution was his middle name.  Everyone who worked with him regarded him as a selfless, positive, results-focused leader and someone who didn’t hesitate to put the needs of his clients and colleagues ahead his own.

Because of all this his career soared.

Two years ago, he was appointed vice-president of human resources working with the largest sales team in the organization.

I was reminded of all this because a few days ago Elliot called me.

He wanted to thank me again for interviewing him so many years ago – when his resume was thin and skimpy.

But more importantly, he wanted to let me know that after ten years, because of his dad’s failing health, he was going to be leaving the HR profession entirely to take over the family restaurant business.

Sadly, I understood and wished him well.  And I know as fellow Purdue alums we’ll stay in contact as we’ve gotten to know each other well over the years.

However, what I’ll never, ever forget is his sparse resume.

Had I decided to judge him just on just that…and not given him a shot at selling himself, he’d have never gotten hired.  And like an idiot, I would have denied our organization the talents of one of the best HR people I’ve ever worked with.

The point:

1.  Yes, you absolutely need a powerful RESUME to stand out from the crowd.   It has to be a document that can magically float itself to the top of the pile and say: “I am the answer to all your HR prayers.”

2.  But I’m also realist too.  Sometimes you can get hired even if your resume isn’t the best.   In these kinds of situations, you need a believable and powerful STORY. One that you can convey clearly and compellingly to others during networking and in interviews — one that they can pass on to others — and one that you can live up to.  Like the one like Elliot had.

In an ideal world, of course, you need both resume and story.

But Elliot didn’t have both.

So he capitalized on the gifts he had — his unbelievable work ethic, commitment and his ability to persuade – and he told (and sold) his story compellingly in that campus interview.

And the rest is history.

Good luck, Elliot. I know you’ll be successful.

HR’s loss is your family’s gain.

Be well, my friend.

Comments and thoughts.  Share your by adding them in the comments below by clicking HERE.


Give yourself all the advantages you can in landing your next HR role, by checking out: HR RESUME SECRETS:  How to Create An Irresistible Human Resources Resume That Will Open Doors, Wow Hiring Managers & Get You Interviews! 

You can get FREE EXCERPTS from the book by CLICKING HERE.

About the Author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling HR books including HR RESUME SECRETS.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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30 Responses to “The HR Resume I’ve Never, Ever Forgotten. Neither Will You.”

  1. Jennifer Says:


    Great article and so very true. I find as an HR Professional when working with recruiters some tend to skip over the resumes and forgo even wanting to hear the story believing that the perfect resume will fall in their lap. I always tell them to “dig” and find me the gems. I appreciate you sharing this article



  2. Geoff Says:

    Thanks again Alan for another insightful article. In this busy age we tend to forget that everyone has their story and what appears on paper is not always representative of the whole person. The challenge is to somehow keep the “human” in Human Resources and listen to the story instead of trusting the resume scanning software too much.

  3. Priya Says:

    Well, what to say more. But yes the story itself revealing everything. You cant judge a person simply through GD, Good Resume or low academic background until and unless you dint interact him/her personally.It is happening all over nowadays well I can wish him all the best for his dad’s business and stay happy.

    Thanks for sharing such a nice and real story.

  4. Ajay Says:

    True Allan. Not everybody is an expert in resume writing. On the other hand, many people write such fancy stuff in their resumes, which is hard to believe. To cut through the crap, one still has to meet the person 1-on-1 and understand where they stand.

  5. Raj Kumar Says:

    Thanks for enlightening us on this insightful experience.
    Unfortunately, not many HRs would have been discerning enough to call the guy. Most would have passed it up; conditioned as they are to look for patterns and conformity.
    Thanks for opening our eyes to the fact that there is always more than meets the eye.

  6. Eugenia Says:

    positive Attitude is very vital for success at work place and real life. recruiters need to be a bit more careful to spot this, the best of resume may not reflect it. i only wish Elliot the best life can offer.

  7. Vincent S. Lum Says:

    This is a great example of selection, not just reviewing resumes.

    This anecdote reminds me of a guy I hired 10+ years ago. The opening was in our corporate retail office. One applicant had retail store experience but never worked in an office. He said no one would interview him for an office position, but I saw something beyond the resume. In short, this guy rose within our company faster than anyone else I’ve known.

    As an aside, the applicant tracking system may be overlooking many potential superstars as well. After all, it’s not utilizing predictive software.


  8. ona Says:

    Nice story Allan,
    But how can we interview all candidates that send CV? And why even write a CV when we have to dig between the experienced one and not experienced one.
    In this case I think that mostly is your feeling as HR to give this guy the opportunity to meet. Often a CV like this doesn’t hide to much behind. And these are HR challenges.

  9. Muhammad Says:

    I believe the most important part of a successful career is your love and passion to what you are doing..these feelings won’t necessarily been noticed through a good résumé . If you love your job, respect and admire your workplace .. You will definitely be more productive and creative. When I was 15, and during summer vacations, I used to go working with my dad in construction under burning sun. Every time I feel a bit disappointed of something at work, I remember all the hard times in my adolescence and how I should always be satisfied working under AC in a clean place with nice furniture..

  10. Gregg Says:


    Don’t sell yourself short.You hired Elliott for all the right reasons.
    And, made a friend in the process.

    You could look back at this and say, “Elliott was the best hire I ever made because of the impact he had on so many others.”

    Especially you, Alan. I don’t think it gets any better than that.

    As an aside, statistics show that GPA or fancy stories on paper aren’t the best hires. Work ethic and passion always shine through in the end.

    Some of the best recruiters I know were successful real estate agents and car sales people.

  11. Diana Says:

    Thank you, Alan for sharing with us such a true story from your HR life experience. It is so true, sometimes behind a very well written CV and convincing on the side of professionalism, we happen to find an average skilled candidate; whilst behind an average level written CV, we find a talent/top notch candidate. Your story adds more to our HR responsibility when short listing and interviewing candidates. Simply saying, I think that during both the short listing and interviewing process whilst using good reasoning based on exact job requirements, trusting our gut feeling should also not be neglected. In the very end it doesn’t stand on a vacuum, it is based on our previous hiring experience. Many a time, it has happened to have said ‘Bravo’ to an HR colleague and/or myself for having insisted to invite in an interview a candidate who wasn’t so promising from the CV but left a space for exploring through the interview process. And still, I think that the communication rapport built during the interview and the right questions made in a relaxed environment are of uppermost importance. ..they helped you Alan, to enable Ellen tell his story and use your HR/recruiter rationale and fair hiring process, both to the benefit of the company and Ellen’s career.

  12. Roman Says:

    Nice article, it looks unbelieveable)
    Thanks for shareing!

  13. Dan Jowers Says:

    On a similar note…
    Early in my career, when I was working for a manufacturer, I discovered that farmers and kids that grew up on a farm were usually a good bet. They were not afraid of hard work, able to set priorities quickly and never complained about long hours. Heck, they were use to working ‘can to can’t’.

    I would be interested in hearing from others who have identified a background that usually merited an interview despite a weak resume.

  14. Valerie Says:

    Hi Alan
    Your story touched my heart. I think we need more people like you in Human Resources. I have just completed my BSC Health Administration/Long-Term Care. Before I completed my degree I was a Nurses Assistant for upwards of eight years. I have also had experience working in telecommunications, at an accounting company, a doctor’s office, a nursing home and a hospital. I took the initiative to sacrifice those four years to go to school after I put my son through university. However, I have to revert to being a Nurses Assistant again, because I can find no one to believe in me enough to give me a chance. I am struggling, because I have student loans, mortgage and I have to live. All they continuously say is that I do not have the experience in Health Administration. No one can see that I am ambitious, dedicated, resilient, hardworking and would be an asset to any organization. What you saw in that young man no computer program could see. Many organizations are deprived of good employees, because they do not have the time to select the right persons for the right jobs. Thanks for your very insightful article.

  15. Ruby Says:

    Hi thank you for sharing that it gives me hope in moving to the
    Next level in my HR profession , as I have been looking for
    An officer/advisor role yet no luck but after reading this it gives
    Me hope thank you

  16. Caroline Says:

    Wow, what an inspiring story. That’s what a cv should be sincere and factual. Good advise for the Recruiter too, we should see the attributes claimed in the prospective employee.

  17. Marta Says:

    Great article Alan, however, the probability of the same thing happening today is practically nil (at least for medium to larger size companies). Most larger companies now use an applicant tracking system to “weed” out unqualified applicants. What happens in reality is that they end up weeding out applicants like Elliot. It has become a demoralizing process. I yearn for the days when the “human” was still in Human Resources…

  18. Jane Says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience and reminding us all that you cannot judge a book by it’s cover. I am glad you gave Elliott a chance.

  19. Rachelle Says:

    I know my resume is too long, and that I have to find a way to shorten it, and make the important parts stand out. Thanks for posting your article.

  20. Sue Says:

    Thank you for writing this article to show us we still need humans in HR and just maybe we shouldn’t rely on only our tracking systems for all positions.

    Sometimes I think we HR/Recuirters should take a step back and put our own resumes in the tracking system and see how we would make the cut for a potision. We could help each other and ask an HR friend to test your applicant tracking system. Would help you understand your applicants. Of course it would take more time but think about the candidate you my miss it could be the next Elliot.

    Thank you Elliot glad Alan didn’t weed you out, best wishes to your future endeavors.

  21. Naomi Says:


    Thanks for sharing this story with us. This is such a powerful story. Plus, for me this story just confirms my practice as a Recruiter is to talk with the potential candidate and get more information, if there is any doubt in my mind after reviewing the resume. As, I would rather take the extra time to get to know that person, because I would hate for a “great” one like Elliot to get away.

  22. Yolanda Says:

    Wonderful story!I find that many people forget that someone saw something in them as you did with this young man. We often forget that we all started somewhere. In my opinion that is the moral of this story.

  23. Loreta Says:

    Thank you for sharing a real life story. I have a story of my own life similar to Elliot’s, but I face challenge after challenge trying to get an entry position in HR. No one has time to listen or to understand that coming from a different country, learning the language from scratch, going to school full time and working full time to pay for school and living expenses. I have done all of that on my own as a foreigner, completed a few degrees, but it is not good enough to be given a chance to interview, because I “don’t have enough work experience”. It hurts.

    I am not sure if it is the same everywhere in the USA, but Silicon Valley, CA is a sad place for people like me. There is no believe or time to look at person as an individual, just performance metrics, recent and enormous accomplishments, right connections and well known schools can bring you a cusses.

  24. Joanne Says:

    @ Dan Jowers,

    We have had great success hiring retired Military members. They have a great work ethic and are used to long hours. We are a Heavy Towing company in Ontario, Canada.

    Great article Alan, as always.

  25. Steve Oboh Says:

    …and he was lucky that you were not a quick-to-judgement puffy recruiter.

  26. Jean P. Says:

    Thank you for sharing Alan this interesting story. It is difficult to have time to go through CVs with no sign of what we would expect. Nowadays even vacancy announcements go out with Screen questions which will eliminate automatically those with unwanted answers. This sometimes does not give room to those young, talent persons who can sell themselves from interviews.

  27. Muhammad Tahir Says:

    It’s always good to have an interview with an applicant to determine his or her suitability on the job, mere look at Resume with not give a best worker.

  28. Shelly W. Says:

    Thank you for sharing Alan! I enjoy interviewing our interns and graduates, and really learning their “story”. Many of them are taking a full course load, working part-time jobs, participating in sports/activities and often are also balancing family issues as well. It’s amazing to get to know them.

  29. Raman Bharadwaj Says:

    As usual, another wonderful share and another beautiful experience.
    Couldn’t agree more, while on the one side we keep looking at qualifications solid experience etc., We do come across some rare phenomenons like Elliot. The ones with a terrific attitude, commitment and with fire in the belly. What’s even more outstanding in Elliott’s gratitude. A worthy lesson to carry.

  30. Michael Ozehor Says:

    Thanks for sharing Alan, very true. Making decision based on qualities possessed by the interviewee as discovered by the interviewer. This is highly commendable and appreciated. I must learn continuously from the HR pros. There is still more to learn as new entrant in my HR careers.