The Key (Words) to Getting Your HR/Payroll Resume Seen

When you submit your HR/payroll resume online, a real person will look at it… right? I mean surely, after you take the time to answer the questions, submit a personal cover letter, etc. the organization will take at least some time to review your qualifications for their HR or payroll position… correct? Not necessarily as more and more companies are using applicant-tracking systems (ATS) to automatically sort through online applications.

The automated system goes through each resume looking for the key information the hiring manager defines as important for the position. The system scores resumes based on the presence of keywords and some recruiters only use the resumes with the highest scores to set up interviews.

So while power words, achievements, and an overall great looking HR/payroll resume are critical – you may never get your resume in front of actual eyeballs without being strategic.


Take a look at the job posting and see what words they are using to describe skills and experience they’re looking for.  A lot of times you may have the same basic principles in your resume or synonyms of words used in the job listing.  That doesn’t work with an ATS – you need to use the exact words and phrases the listing has.  We cannot guarantee that the same words in the HR/payroll job listing are the ones the hiring manager has designated as the keywords, but it’s the best insight you’ll have short of asking the HR department or hiring manager directly what keywords the ATS is looking for. Remember that keywords can be nouns, adjectives or short phrases – be thorough in uncovering them in the listing.

While we don’t recommend purely using buzz words to just get past screeners, we do recommend being specific with your experience. For example, a payroll person should include if they have implementation, garnishment, payroll tax, etc.  experience as these will be what recruiters have in their search criteria.

Once you have 10-20 keywords for the HR or payroll position you’re applying for, replace words in your resume that may be similar and add others where you can.  If keywords you think the HR/payroll hiring manager is looking for don’t fit into your resume, it may be that you are not a fit for the position yourself and it’s time to focus on other opportunities.


When recruiters conduct their searches, they often add location criteria to searches. Zip code searches are often used to identify if you live close to the organization and the job. If companies are not open to relocating a candidate, they might set a parameter search within their ATS. There’s no easy way around this if applying directly and addresses are required, but by working with a recruiting team (such as Willory), we’re able to often navigate your resume directly to the hiring manager, avoiding systems that might kick your resume out of the running.


Specific HRIS/HCM systems should be listed, as some clients want someone with experience with their specific system. And there are even times where a specific version of a system is needed (i.e. ADP Workforce Now 12.0), so please include each specific version you have experience with, as well as the various modules utilized within that system.

We understand that applying for jobs is always a significant time commitment from you and by following our recommendations it might take you longer. In addition to carefully crafting your resume, increase your chance of finding a new position by working with a staffing agency. In addition to analyzing the resumes, we also work with our candidates to ensure their resumes accurately reflect the candidate and the position.


One Response to “The Key (Words) to Getting Your HR/Payroll Resume Seen”

  1. Jon P says:

    Hey Bob… the article is really very helpful & informative. Mentioned key points are really very important to make your resume professionally attractive. Thanks for sharing in detail with us & keep up the good work.

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