Spinning Resume Criticism into Revision Gold

Take these professional tips to evaluate feedback on your resume.

Resume critiques can feel like a barrage. You might have been excited to revamp your resume by getting a critique from friends or a professional resume writer. But the results can leave you defensive, deflated and confused about what’s legitimate feedback and how to incorporate it all into a new and improved resume.

To get you there, we spoke with a career-transition coach who gave us some tips on how to put feedback to work for you.

Not all critics are created equal

Adriana Llames, a veteran career coach with Career Transition Success Coaching, tells her clients that when it comes to evaluating what feedback is relevant, they must consider the source.

For example, friends and family are a frequent source of feedback on resumes. That’s nice, not to mention free. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that they know what they’re talking about.

Here’s an example: One of Llames’ clients is now working through the process of rewriting her resume. When she first approached Llames, she had just rewritten the resume in a functional format, a format that resume professionals almost universally frown upon because it doesn’t explain what experiences, duties and accomplishments happened when or where. (Professional resume writers prefer a traditional, chronological resume that lists experience in reverse chronological order, or, in special circumstances, a hybrid format, that first lists a summary of skills followed by a chronological listing of job descriptions and achievements.)

“It was all over the place,” Llames said. In fact, the woman’s title (VP of marketing) was buried on the bottom half of the second page.

The culprit who recommended the functional format? A girlfriend, the client told Llames. “I said, ‛She probably gave you a great idea for her, but, from my experience, a recruiter won’t get past the first half-page of this. It’s too information-heavy and it has no bullet points. Although you have great information, it’s buried, and you’re going to get lost in the shuffle of competing resumes.’ ”

Stories like these are why Llames recommends that her clients get their resume advice from professionals. If you do go the professional route and hire a career coach or resume rewriter, you’ve got a good chance of getting back feedback that’s relevant and pertinent. After all, as Llames said, “We look at hundreds of resumes a day.”

Short of paying for a professional resume critique, the best advice comes from those who work in your field; they’re likely to have a much better grasp of the most compelling way to sum up your strengths and accomplishments, she said.

Don’t be defensive

Like most of Llames’ clients, the marketing VP’s ego was attached to the document, but Llames managed to convince her to reorganize. That’s not always so easy, she said. One client in particular, a vice president of online marketing, was a tough case when it came to his bruised ego.

The marketer was committed to a less-than-legible font that he felt represented his personality and refused to budge. “I said, ‛If you send this resume out and a recruiter or hiring manager can’t read it, you are going to lose the job.’ I said, ‛You can commit to your job search or to your font.’ ” After four conversations about the font, the VP of online marketing finally said conceded but dug in his heels on another issue.

Unsurprisingly, he has suffered serial layoffs. “The way you accept feedback (on your resume) is probably consistent with how you accept feedback in other areas of life,” Llames said.

Don’t take constructive resume criticism personally. If it’s coming from a credible source, there’s probably at least some valid justification for it.

Let go of the past

Most resume pros have stories about clients who stubbornly insist on highlighting a relic from their professional past, such as “Y2K computer system remediation skills.”

There are a few problems with that. First of all: Nobody cares. It’s done, it’s gone, and besides, what have you done lately?

Second, if you list experience that’s no longer relevant, it will date you, which can leave you vulnerable to age discrimination, Llames said.

Resume pros recommend their clients stick to the past 10 years of experience — 15 years if absolutely necessary — and limit the older experience to brief descriptions.

Y2K computer skills are a great example of irrelevant experience, she said, but there are plenty more categories to avoid. If you’re in your 30s and were a waiter in college, for example, “For God’s sake, don’t put it on your resume,” Llames said.

The same advice applies to extracurricular activities that don’t relate to your profession, she said.

Ask questions

The best use of feedback? Probe it mercilessly. Ask questions of whomever offered the feedback. If a piece of advice sounds fishy, ask about it. Get the rationale for a change, so you understand how your resume will be stronger if you incorporate it.

Llames had one client, a graphic artist who asked questions that not only cleared up any issues she had about the critique but actually resulted in a stronger document than it would have been had she simply incorporated the suggested changes.

First, the client asked, “Can I personalize my resume?” Specifically, she wanted to add a personal quote on the front page. It was a great idea, Llames said, particularly given the quote – a former boss had said she’s “as cool as a cucumber in difficult situations and completely put together.” Llames had never heard the question before. “Go for it,” she told the client, and the quote wound up in the upper right corner.

The client’s next question: “Can I add color?” Specifically, she wanted to put her name in color. Llames’ answer: Put it in green to match the cucumber. (Note: An art director or other professional in a traditionally creative role enjoys more license for self-expression than most job seekers; listen if your resume writer tells you personal flourishes are out of bounds for your career goals.)

When you have a professional available, ask those kinds of questions. Ask which bullet points are most effective. Ask which ones can be combined and condensed so you get more bang for your buck. Ask these questions and more, and you should receive the best possible feedback.