Raise your hand if you love it when someone asks you to review their resume. Me neither.
It’s not my thing. I don’t have the brain to go into the detail on something like that… maybe it’s just that I don’t want to be your eleventh grade English teacher… maybe it’s because resumes are boring… maybe it’s just because I’m not nice.
Or, perhaps I assume that what you are really saying is “take my resume and you’ll be so impressed, you’ll feel obligated to send it to a bunch of people at your work, or in your network…!”
Okay, all of those excuses are my problem. The truth is, if you are a close friend I’ll definitely check out your resume. However, I also send you to some other resources who are much, much, much more qualified than I am to review your resume.
Having said that, if you ever feel like you should, could, or want to review someone’s resume, here’s my primer on what to look for. I’m no expert, so take it for what it’s worth.
Proofread: You are looking for typos and grammar. I look for consistency in periods at the end of the bullets. I hate it when you have a bulleted list and some lines have a period while others don’t. Aside from that you are looking for any typo (too easy to do, hard for the job seeker to find), or grammar that just doesn’t make sense. Also, look for a strong action verbs at the beginning of each bullet, and consistency on each bullet with these verbs.
Messaging: What is the primary, main message the resume conveys? Is that aligned with the role they are applying to? This is critical. If someone wants to list their entire history, but only 30% of it is relevant to what they are looking for, their resume will not be effective. A resume is not a brag sheet… it’s a marketing document. Make sure the marketing message is the right message for the audience and purpose.
Substance: The resume should be meaty. The reader should walk away thinking “wow, this person is qualified! They have done some great things in their career!” The easiest way to do that is by quantifying achievements… that is, are there percentages (“increase production by 400%”) or hard numbers (“decreased expenses by $200,000”)? I’m not saying that has to be on every line, but every time a resume shows a quantification it strengthens the message that you really get results. The hiring managers wants someone who will get results (as opposed to someone who might just bring drama, be a warm body, etc.).
Story holes: After you read through the resume do you feel like something is missing? Specifically, if your friend is trying to paint a picture of their expertise, or show what they have done in the past (something that is valuable to the job they are applying to), is there a complete, compelling story? I’ve seen resumes that start to build up to a narrative and then end it at a point where I think “did you do anything? Or did you fail? I don’t get it…” (see note below on cover letter)
Distractions: On the other end of the spectrum from story holes is having stuff that should not be there. Is there information about roles that is better suited for a different job? In other words, perhaps your friend worked as a gear head at one company, but they are applying as an analyst at another company. They need to bring out skills that an analyst has or needs… don’t talk about the screwdrivers they were so good at. Instead, talk about how they analyzed screwdriver brands, quality, etc. to pick the best screwdriver for the job. Think: transferable skills. Again, this isn’t about listing all the stuff they have done (brag sheet), rather it is about showing they have the skills and experience to do the job they are applying to. If something does not support their main message, or show they are qualified for the job they are applying to, take it off.
Those are the main things that I look for on a resume. It doesn’t take terribly long to do this… it’s pretty clear where a resume is missing the mark. As long as you think of a resume as a marketing piece that is trying to compel the reader to think about you differently, and not just a list of cool stuff you’ve done, you should get closer to a great resume.
Finally, let me talk about the cover letter.
I recently had a call with a recruiter who said “send me your resume, and an email with either a few paragraphs or bullet points to specifically talk about the main things my client wants.” This is also known as a cover letter. I believe a cover letter is a “must!” A cover letter is a great complement to the resume, and can fill in some gaps that a resume just isn’t formatted to address. Like, “I’m perfect for this job because,” “I want this job because,” “Here is a little more information about your particular needs, and how I fill those needs.”
Maybe the person getting your resume should already understand that you are the best person, the right fit… but remember, they have a bunch of resumes that all kind of look the same. Writing a few paragraphs to show you are the right fit, add more information that just don’t belong on a resume, and even express enthusiasm is well worth your time.
Now you have the cheat sheet to review someone’s resume… I hope this can help you help them. If you are a resume writer who does this for a living, feel free to add your two cents in the comments!