Writing a resume is challenging. Even more challenging is writing a resume that stands out. To write a good resume is to take stock of your experience, curate your accomplishments, and select your most impressive skills and abilities. These are all nuanced and complicated tasks, and once the resume is complete you may find find difficulty in remaining clear-eyed about the overall quality of the resume. It is not easy to be objective when appraising your own work, and you are likely not the best judge of your own experience. Something that seems interesting or impressive to you may not impress or interest others, including potential employers.
For these reasons, having your resume reviewed by another person is an essential part of the resume writing process. A different set of eyes can see things that you don’t and return valuable feedback on the quality and effectiveness of your resume.
But, you wonder, who to ask? Who can be trusted with such a task?
A simple option is to ask friends and family for resume feedback. These are the people closest to you, and likely those most willing to do you a favour. Your friends want what is best for you, and they want you to be successful, so they should do their best to help you create your best resume.
For these reasons, however, this means they may not be the most forthright sources of feedback. Unwilling to hurt your feelings, they may not give you the criticism you need. While their feedback is still valuable, you must make sure they aren’t holding back constructive criticism to keep from offending you.
To get candid feedback without leaving the family, Johann Beishline of Brazen Blog recommends asking your “not-so-nice brother-in-law” to review your resume. Just because you are family doesn’t mean you like each other, and if he doesn’t like you he’s less likely to sugar-coat his opinion. When it comes to a competitive job search you don’t need the feedback to be nice, you need feedback that works.
People who have worked with you in the past can be great source of insight. This includes coworkers, but in particular look for advice from former employers and supervisors. These are the people with hiring experience. Louise Fletcher of Blue Sky Resumes recommends asking “managers, former managers or colleagues who have hiring authority” for feedback. According to Fletcher, these individuals “know you, they know your field and they know what managers are looking for when they read a resume.” They also know your work history, or at least some of it. They may even think of achievements of yours that you didn’t think to include.
Another feedback source with hiring experience can be found organically in your job search: your interviewers. If you pay attention, you can glean some important feedback from the interviews that you attend, even if you are passed up for the job. Explicitly asking for feedback may be too awkward in this context, but there are questions you can ask yourself about the interview that will return meaningful answers. As Lis McGuire from Social Hire asks, “What parts of your CV are mentioned and asked about at interview? What parts never get mentioned?” In answering these questions, you can see what parts of your resume are working and which parts aren’t. You can then remove or rewrite the content that isn’t remarked on by potential employers.
And if you aren’t being asked to interviews in the first place? A lack of response is feedback too, argues McGuire. Indeed, she calls it “feedback you can’t afford to ignore”, noting that “it could be that you aren’t targeting the right roles, or your CV needs improvement”. Consistent rejection before the interview step of every opportunity is a strong indication that your resume isn’t leaving an impression. If this is the case, it is time to give your resume a second look.
An unusual but potentially useful source of feedback can be found in people you haven’t met. Johann Beishline advises asking “strangers in coffee shops” for their opinion of your resume. Strangers will have the objectivity to see your resume as just a resume, without their opinion of you clouding their judgement. Further, because they don’t know you, they will be less likely to hold back their critiques for fear of offending you as friends and family might.
Talking to strangers is difficult enough without asking them for a time-consuming favour, however, and many will not have the confidence to make this request. In this case, the best place to look for advice from strangers is on the internet. Keep an eye out for online resources and job-search related forums. Reddit’s /r/resumes subreddit, for example, is a great place for having your resume reviewed. Simply anonymize your resume and share it there; the subscribers to the subreddit will respond with their feedback. This is an effective way of showing your resume to several people at once, and due to the anonymity of the internet, the criticism you receive will be sufficiently objective.
The obvious place to go for help writing your resume is to a resume writer. There is an industry of recruiters, writers, and HR professionals who would be happy to review your resume (typically for a fee). This article from The Guardian recommends professional resume writers as people who are “prepared to take the time to unearth your core accomplishments, choose exactly the right words for maximum impact” and understand “what and where to edit”.
Many resume writing services offer a free preliminary resume review. If you are looking for only brief feedback, consider submitting to TopResume, for example
Contacting a professional resume writer will likely yield the best results, as these companies intimately know resumes and the hiring industry. Their full writing services will cost a fair amount of money, however, so this option is best for those with cash to spare. Further, the cost may be unnecessary. This depends primarily on your experience level - if you are an experienced professional with years of work in your industry, the assistance of a resume writer can be a great help in reducing your many accomplishments onto a single document in an effective way. If you are just starting out in your career and have only a few years of experience, however, hiring a resume writer may be more money than it is worth.
Getting feedback on your resume is an important part of making progress in your job search. “At a minimum, have someone else check your resume for logic, grammar, spelling, and punctuation”, asserts Amy Gallo at Harvard Business Review. Small, simple errors are all too easy to overlook during the writing process. Having your resume reviewed is an effective way to identify any mistakes that you may have missed.
Gallo adds, “It can be hard to be objective about your own experience and accomplishments. Many people overstate — or understate — their achievements or struggle to find the right words.” Even if you excel in your occupation, putting your life and work into words can be a challenge. Checking in with another person is the best way to ensure that your resume is easy to read and to understand, and that it contains the most notable aspects of your work history. You may have included details that you think are important, but others will think that they are irrelevant or find their importance unclear. Good feedback from a trusted source will help you to identify the details that will make your CV great - and the ones that don’t.
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