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Heidi Scott Giusto, PhD
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Offer Thoughtful Resume Feedback in Less Than 60 Minutes

Posted By Administration, Friday, April 3, 2020

When I was in graduate school, I worked at Duke University’s Writing Studio as a writing tutor—a role that initially terrified me. How would I provide constructive feedback in only 50-minute sessions? What if what I thought students needed didn’t align with their top concerns? My fears subsided after realizing that if I had questions about something, another reader likely will, too. This empowered me to offer feedback in areas that maybe weren’t on the writer’s mind, but were vital to address.

Providing targeted feedback on a resume under a tight time constraint is a valuable tool for career service professionals, whether you are a self-employed resume writer offering hourly consulting, a higher education professional working in career services, or a government/non-profit employee helping veterans.

Here is an approach to help you improve the resume while honoring the concerns of your client or student and conveying what you see as the greatest areas for improvement—which can sometimes be different. You can apply this strategy whether you have 10 minutes or 60. This process works equally well for in-person and virtual meetings that occur by phone or video conferencing.

1) Ask what the person is most concerned about. Doing so helps you identify their perceived pain points. For instance, someone might be concerned about one particular bullet point. Or, they might wonder how to add a Volunteer section without extending the page length.

2) Ask what industry and job they are targeting. To keep the person focused, I recommend using language like “In one or two sentences, please tell me what industry and jobs you are targeting.” If they struggle, you can ask thoughtful, clarifying questions to guide them to their answers.

3) Take a minute or two to assess the resume. Tell the person what you’re doing. “Thanks for letting me know your top concerns. Let me take a minute to review your resume.” Stick to that timeframe. You shouldn’t need more than that for focused sessions like these.

When you’re reading, assess first for Higher Order Concerns (HOCs). These are “big picture” concerns such as not having a clear industry or job target, poor readability, and lack of accomplishments and keywords.

 

Next, evaluate for Lower Order Concerns (LOCs). These often align with the person’s stated concerns. Examples of LOCs include bulleted information simply conveying a task but not a metric of success, inconsistencies in formatting, missing name and contact information on a second page, and an occasional typo.

4) After reviewing the resume, quickly reconcile what the person stated as their concerns and what you noticed to be areas for improvement. If they asked about something minor—an LOC—and you have major concerns— HOCs—then request permission to give additional feedback. “I know you stated you were concerned about X, and I’m happy to address that. Would it be okay if I also gave feedback on other areas that I noticed could be improved?” Then, honor the person’s preference. Maybe on that day, they can’t handle suggestions that would require overhauling the resume. (You can always invite them back for another consultation or to work with you in greater depth at a later date.)

5) Offer up to three pieces of feedback that target HOCs. Anything more will overwhelm a person in a short session. Discuss each suggestion and ask if they have questions. Some people will want directive feedback (“fix it for me”) while others will hear your feedback, restate it (which shows you they truly understand), and then be ready to move on because they are confident they can fix the issue independently. If you only have 10 minutes, consider offering only one suggestion and then dig into it deeper. Aim for quality of feedback over quantity.

If the person did not have any HOCs, or they were able to easily handle your feedback regarding HOCs, then move to LOCs. Similarly, limit your recommendations to, at most, five suggestions. A seasoned professional like a veteran transitioning out of the military might be able to handle three HOCs and five LOCs, whereas a student applying for an internship might be able to apply feedback effectively about only one HOC and one LOC. A good indicator of what the person can absorb is how engaged they are. If they are taking notes, asking questions, and implementing improvements, then they can handle as much as time allows. If they have a deer-in-the- headlights look, then it’s better to help them directly with fewer suggestions.

6) Ask if your feedback has been clear and whether they have any questions. If they do, address them. At the end of the session, express thanks for the opportunity to assist them. Never forget they are trusting you to help them in one of life’s most important areas: financial security.

After more than 1200 sessions at Duke’s Writing Studio, I gained confidence in providing targeted suggestions during short sessions and immense satisfaction knowing I was doing my part to help a person improve their situation. With a structured approach to providing feedback, you’ll be ready for whatever a client or student throws your way! 

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Dylan T. Houle says...
Posted Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Great advice Heidi - I like how you distinguished between HOCs and LOCs. I work primarily with college students, and I agree with you that undergraduates can typically incorporate only 1-2 suggestions per session.4
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Don Orlando says...
Posted Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Excellent advice as always. It cuts through the "folklore" that focuses on format or personal opinions. Your approach let's people know how their resumes can be useful tools to reach their career goals. Perhaps a good follow on subject is to cover the roles and missions for that document.
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Don Orlando says...
Posted Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Excellent advice as always. It cuts through the "folklore" that focuses on format or personal opinions. Your approach let's people know how their resumes can be useful tools to reach their career goals. Perhaps a good follow on subject is to cover the roles and missions for that document.
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Don Orlando says...
Posted Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Too many confuse a metric ("getting interviews") with the roles and missions. The first mission is to give hiring decision makers (who are often not in HR) clear and compelling proof our clients will make their target organizations more money than it takes to hire them. That's why some statement of the brand is so important. Since the brand statement is an assertion, the CCAR stories are the supporting proof. That allows the resume to serve as a template for outstanding interviews. And since some of the results may be shown in dollars, the resume is also a powerful tool to negotiate compensation.
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Robin Reshwan says...
Posted Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Thanks Heidi - such a practical and helpful article. I really appreciated that you focused on learning what concerns the person seeking help (as well as the tip to include "In one to two sentences.") Setting expectations is so helpful for a productive interaction.
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