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Anyone can benefit from a resume critique. Does your resume present your skills, accomplishments and experience in the most professional and convincing way? Will hiring managers be compelled to read your resume from top to bottom, or will they quickly lose interest and set it aside?
Use this page to perform your own resume self-critique. Find out how well your resume stacks up against your professional competition. See if you have everything you need to present yourself to hiring managers in the most effective way. Do your resume critique using the same criteria Business Advisors Press resume writing professionals use to assess client resumes and determine the changes necessary to command attention and win interviews.
Let’s Get Started!
Read through this page quickly to get an idea of what is involved in a resume critique. Then print a copy of your resume and a copy of this page. Sit down at a desk or table with some clear space and go to work. You will probably want to make some notes on your resume and on a lined pad as you work through the material. It will take a while to do this job well. Don’t be in a hurry.
Some Basic Principles
Your resume must do two things well. First, it must present a concise summary of who you are, what your essential skills are and what you have accomplished by using those skills for your current and previous employers. Second, it must present that information in a way that is easy to read and in a logical sequence that conforms to current professional practice for your industry or career path. You must be able to do make both presentations in polished Standard English. Your resume self critique will help you decide what changes are necessary for your resume to do both things well.
Does your resume begin with a Summary?
Every good resume begins with a strong summary. It is the most important single element in your resume. It may be titled Summary, Qualifications Summary or Profile. Your summary should be capable of standing alone and effectively communicating your industry, your value, your record of achievement, your most significant personal attributes, language skills and some indication of your career goal. You may also indicate willingness to relocate, travel or both, if applicable. You should be able to communicate all this in no more than six or seven lines. If you don’t already have a summary, creating one must be a priority task.
Does your resume begin with an Objective statement?
Do not include an explicit Objective statement. As noted above, you should provide an indication of your career goal in your Summary. Separate Objective statements aren’t used much anymore. Since they are an indication of what you want a new employer to do for you, rather than emphasizing what you can do for them, an Objective statement does nothing to market you to a hiring manager. It is a waste of valuable page space.
Does your resume include specific information on accomplishments and achievements?
Career accomplishments are a second critical ingredient for your resume. If you have been working for a few years, you may have accumulated some impressive specific achievements with numbers attached to them, such as dollars, percentages or units of growth, improvement, savings, etc. This information is extremely valuable. If you don’t already have it in your resume, don’t fail to add it. The numbers don’t have to be dead accurate or auditable, but they should be good enough approximations to be recognizable when your references are checked.
You have a choice of location for your career accomplishments. You can either highlight the most impressive ones in a separate section entitled Selected Career Accomplishments on the front page of your resume, or you can include all of them with other job information in the professional experience section. Either way can be highly effective. If you elect to list them separately, be sure to identify the employer they relate to.
How does your resume present your work history and experience?
Professional Experience is the second or third section in most resumes. Carefully worded descriptions of your work history go here. Clearly identify each employer in reverse chronological order. Provide the employer’s full name, city and state. Cite the year your employment began and the year it ended. If space permits and you wish to do so, you can provide a one line description of the employer to help the reader understand the context of your experience in that job.
For each job you’ve held, provide a series of single sentence descriptions of the work you are doing or have done. Each must be carefully crafted to communicate a powerful, accurate message. Include as many specific accomplishments as possible, especially those with specific numbers. Even if you have highlighted a few accomplishments in a separate Selected Career Accomplishments section, include all the others in the appropriate job experience descriptions.
The length of these job experience descriptions will vary, depending on how long you held the job and what you did. And your more recent jobs are the most important. As experience ages, it becomes less significant to hiring managers, and experience older than 10 years must be very special to merit inclusion in your resume. For that reason, your most recent job experience description will probably be the longest, unless you have been in the job for a very short time. Any job worth mentioning will require at least a line or two of description. Rarely will any job require more than half a page. Longer ones should be broken down into logical sub-headings to promote better information flow and encourage readers to read all the material you present. Include all the material you need to make your case; then stop. Don’t add anything just to fill up space. It wastes the reader’s time, and busy hiring managers hate that.
Does your resume include military experience?
If much or all of your work experience is military, convert your military title to something recognizable in the civilian world, such as manager, supervisor, team leader, etc. Unless you are specifically targeting defense-related employers familiar with military terminology, translate military jargon into civilian terms and avoid acronyms. Often the work you do or did in the military is directly translatable to relevant civilian experience if you take the time to make the translation for the civilian hiring manager. Be sure to include awards received for superior individual or unit performance, but don’t include service or campaign ribbons.
How does your resume present your education credentials?
Your Education section should present your most recent degree or diploma first. For each institution, provide the full name, city and state. Then provide the full name of the degree and major. You may or may not wish to include the date, depending on potential for age discrimination. If your degree was recently earned, you may wish to include your GPA, if 3.6 or higher, and any honors earned. If you have little or no prior professional work experience, your education section should appear right after your opening summary. Otherwise, it belongs toward the end of your resume, following your professional experience.
How does your resume present your professional or technical training?
If you have received additional training relevant to your current career goal, you can include it in a Professional Development section following the Education section. List the most significant or recognizable training first. Include the title of the course, seminar or event and the organization that presented it, if possible.
Do you have significant technical skills?
If you have an array of Technical Skills that are relevant to your current career goal, you can include them in a separate section. If the list is of any length at all, break it down into logical sub headings, such as Software Applications, Programming Languages, etc. Don’t just jam everything together in one long string of items separated by commas. No one will read that. If you are an IT or software development professional, or something similar, you may wish to place your Technical Skills section on the front page of your resume, right before the Professional Experience section. That will help a technical hiring manager fully appreciate the context of your professional experience.
How does your resume deal with your memberships in various organizations and assocations?
If you are a member or officer of a professional organization, you may wish to include an Affiliations section. Include your status (member, vice president, etc.) and the full name of the organization. Unless you are employed in sales or retail banking, don’t list memberships in civic or alumni organizations. Omit religious or fraternal organizations entirely.
Does your resume include your references?
References should never be included in a resume, and the statement “References Available Upon Request” is unnecessary. It is assumed that any applicant will be willing to provide references. Instead, create a separate sheet with complete contact information for your references and take it with you to interviews. If you wish to present references at that time, you will have them immediately available in a professional format.
This is the hardest part of the resume critique for many people due to the amount of detail involved. There are a lot of things to keep in mind, but the job is easier if you take your time and “eat the elephant one bite at a time.”
Does your resume’s overall format encourage the reader to read it?
Overall Format is a good place to begin your self critique of resume mechanics. Start by selecting a type font that is professional looking and will be readily available to anyone who may be receiving your resume electronically and printing it out. The best bet is to use Times New Roman or Arial. Any computer will have both of these fonts. Choose the one that you like best.
How Long is Your Resume?
Two pages is the most common resume length today, and three pages is not uncommon for executives or professionals who have been employed by several companies. Avoid a fourth page.
Does your resume smoothly transition from one page to the next?
It is important to have a brief header for a second or third page. This provides a professional appearance, and it preserves your identity if a page should become misplaced in a busy hiring manager’s cluttered office.
Does your resume include something especially creative to attract attention?
A final word on content for your resume critique – avoid any temptation to be “cute” or otherwise unusual in an attempt to attract attention. Doing so will destroy the professional image you must portray to be taken seriously. The only exception to this otherwise hard and fast rule may be in entertainment or art-related resumes. Here creative license is more readily accepted or even expected.
Have you used a narrative writing style?
Writing style is another key ingredient to consider in your resume critique. Professional style begins by omitting all personal pronouns, such as I, we, my or our. They simply are not used, partly because they take up valuable space without contributing anything to your case. After all, you are crafting a sales document, selling yourself, not writing an autobiography.
Does your writing syle include powerful action verbs?
Begin every sentence in your resume body copy with an active verb. Use a thesaurus, if necessary, to find appropriate words to make your case in the most powerful way. Words like “drove, slashed, collaborated, established, initiated or created” are good. There are many other good ones. Words like “responsible for, helped, handled, assisted or started” and others like them have no selling power at all. Don’t use them. They will drag you and your resume down.
Is your resume tightly edited or a little wordy? How much space do you use to make each point?
Use as few words as possible to cover each point you make, covering most points in a single line. Use no more than two lines, if at all possible. For one point in 50, you may need to use 3 lines. Use active voice for most or all of your material. That will cut down on the number of words required and provide a more direct, powerful statement.
Final Thoughts on Your Self-Critique
It is supremely difficult to do an effective resume critique of your own work. It is simply human nature to be protective of one’s own efforts and to rationalize inadequacies. Unless you are exceptionally self-disciplined, you are likely to need a second, third or fourth opinion regarding your resume’s strong and weak points. Do yourself a very big favor and seek out those other opinions. An effective resume critique is that important.
Should you ask your friends for help?
Avoid asking good friends for this kind of resume critique help. It will be difficult for most of them to be truly objective or, if they are, to be entirely truthful with you. They simply won’t want to hurt your feelings. If you do ask them, they will find a trivial thing or two that can easily be fixed, and you will erroneously conclude that all is well – until you realize after you begin using your new resume that no one is responding to it.
Find someone whom you respect who has well-established resume writing or resume evaluation credentials, or both, and ask for their honest help. You may have a business associate in the HR department of a large company or someone who screens a lot of resumes in the course of hiring new employees. They can provide a resume critique of real benefit to you.