sealPurdue News

June 1995

What's in a resume? Employers say more than a name

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Although education and employment history are important parts of a resume, employers say it's the little extras that tell them what kind of an employee you'll be.

According to a Purdue University study, employers say they can identify less tangible characteristics by comparing "other activities" with the traditional information included in a resume.

The study was the doctoral dissertation of Barbara K. Brown in Purdue's Krannert Graduate School of Management. She now is doing marketing research for Quaker Oats in Chicago. Michael A. Campion, professor of management in the school, was chairman of Brown's doctoral committee.

"Recruiters say they can look at your outside activities, combined with your education and employment background, and identify things like motivation, emotion, leadership and other interpersonal and communications skills," Campion says.

For those standing in employment lines, the research means applicants must go beyond "tailoring" a resume to a particular company or position.

"Employers are looking for that little extra bit of information that tells them an applicant is exactly what they are looking for," he says. "If you want the job, you've got to think like the boss."

For example, an applicant for a position as a financial consultant would obviously include math and financial background, and related clubs and organizations, in a resume. An applicant must keep in mind, though, that virtually everyone applying will include those things, Campion says.

"Ask yourself what else the employer might be looking for," Campion says. "Step behind the recruiter's desk and try to figure out what 'other' attributes he or she might feel are important to the job. Then include activities or positions that signify those attributes without explicitly stating them."

In the financial consultant example, Campion says, the employer might be looking for someone with strong communications skills.

"Perhaps that particular employer feels 'people skills' are the most important aspect of the financial consulting business," Campion says. "The applicant who includes speech club, United Way chairman and public relations representative in addition to the finance club and the math club will be the one to land the job."

So how does an applicant uncover "extras" that employers are looking for? Campion says it's as important to research the boss as it is the company.

"Many people dig into all aspects of the company itself, but forget to check out the boss," he says. "Take a look at the type of people the employer has hired in the past. Talk to employees at all levels. Find out what organizations the boss belongs to, and if possible, what he or she likes to do outside the office. After all, those are the things the employer is trying to discern from your resume."

Brown's dissertation, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was a compilation of three pilot studies conducted with 344 recruiters from 28 companies. Campion says the study is important because it helps people create resumes that stand out from the crowd.

"In 1975, employers screened an estimated one billion resumes," he says. "Imagine what that number is today. Finding a job is all about being different from the applicant next to you. You have to prove you are qualified, but you also have to show an employer you are the person for the job. That's incredibly difficult to do when all an employer has to look at is a piece of paper."

Brown and Campion examined recruiters' use of biodata in making applicant screening decisions. Biodata refers to work experience, education, activities, and other life history information contained in resumes and applications. They were especially interested in what biodata told recruiters about "other attributes" beyond the obvious information found on all resumes.

"Traditionally, biodata has been used to analyze ability attributes, or basic human capacities such as language, math and physical characteristics," Campion says. "'Other attributes' refers to nonability or interpersonal characteristics such as leadership and motivation."

Those attributes, he says, are the hardest to uncover, and employers report them as being perhaps the most crucial to choosing the ideal employee.

"What employers are attempting to do is form a composite that tells them what kind of employee you will be," he says. "It's kind of like trying to create a reasonable likeness of a crime suspect. You don't know for sure who you are looking for, but you try to piece together numerous clues to find the right person."

College students are notorious for sending out hundreds of "generic" resumes, Campion says.

"Fortunately, most of them now realize that isn't the best approach," he says. "They know they have to tailor the resume to the particular company. What we discovered in the study is that applicants need to go even one step further and put themselves in the employer's shoes."

Campion cautions that resumes still should be as brief as possible.

"What you don't want to do is throw in everything but the kitchen sink," he says. "Don't overwhelm the employer with information. The key is to put in only the activities that signify attributes the employer is looking for -- nothing more, nothing less."

Sources: Barbara K. Brown, (312) 222-2749
Michael A. Campion, (765) 494-5909; Internet,
Writer: Victor B. Herr, (765) 494-2077; Internet,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Copies of the journal article are available from Michael Campion, (765) 494-5909. To receive this news release via e-mail, send this e-mail message -- "send punews 9505f18" -- to Purdue News Service also maintains a searchable data base of faculty experts and posts news releases, experts lists and story tips on a web server at and a gopher server at

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