The 3 types of resume feedback you’ll get


While putting the finishing touches on a resume, some of my clients get feedback on the document–some of it solicited, some of it unsolicited.

Over the years, I’ve found that this feedback runs the gamut; some is helpful, some is “happy to glad,” and some is out-of-touch.

Out-of-touch feedback

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of outdated resume advice circulating. Self-anointed experts share this advice on LinkedIn and in articles on various websites (some of them otherwise trustworthy). Then, people who don’t know that much about current resume trends and best practices read these tips and articles, believe them to be reliable, and share them with friends and family members.

Then there’s the folks who presumably have some expertise–someone who worked in HR 10 years ago, for example. This can be tricky. Hiring trends have changed a lot in the last decade. LinkedIn and resume best practices are constantly evolving, and someone whose experience was years ago simply might not be familiar with current practices.

Then there are the executives, managers, HR people, college career counselors, and even resume writers whose understanding of resume best practices is based on what they learned 20 years ago. The knowledge from 20 years ago helped them land a job, and they just assume nothing has changed.

So they might think that all resumes should be one page, have an objective at the top, and be black and white without even the most conservative color accents.

There’s also flawed advice circulating about how to make a resume ATS-friendly (for employers’ applicant tracking software). Some of it is based on what was needed back when companies were scanning paper resumes using OCR and primitive ATS, circa 2001.

“Happy-to-glad” feedback

Some of the feedback you’ll receive is fairly benign, yet inconsequential. Example: “Use Arial, not Calibri” for the font. Or say “developed” instead of “formulated.” Why would someone even waste their time (and yours) with these kinds of suggestions? Simple: it makes them feel important! If you’ve read Dale Carnegie’s work, you know how significant that is.

Having nothing to say presumably happens when someone lacks the knowledge to share any expertise!

Helpful feedback

Sometimes we get resume feedback that is truly helpful. A suggestion about a bullet that might be added, for example. Some of the best advice often comes from people who have hired for the roles you’re seeking. In other words, someone at the level of your would-be boss. It might even be a former boss of yours. Just bear in mind that these folks often give a mix of helpful, “happy-to-glad,” and out-of-touch feedback! So you’ll need to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff–that’s something I help my clients do.

In fact, more often than not I find that advice coming from a particular person doesn’t ALL fall under one category. That’s what can make it so tricky–if one suggestion is solid, it’s easy to assume the rest are, too.

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When is servant leadership a bad thing? On your resume!

Most savvy executives nowadays have embraced the model of servant leadership–rather than being authoritarian bosses their teams are afraid of, they actually listen, use the power of persuasion to influence others, and work to lift up their team members (among other things).

This style of leadership requires humility. In general, this is a good thing–putting ego aside and being a leader people truly admire and want to follow.

However, the one time you DON’T want to be humble is when you’re writing your resume.

During a recent meeting with an executive client, I asked her about some of the things on her existing resume. For her current job, it stated that she “supported” three particular departments–but these were the departments I would think she would be running.

“Are you being modest there?” I asked. Sure enough, these are the departments she runs.

“I try to be a servant leader, so saying that I support them is the language I would normally use at work,” she explained.

Here’s the problem: a recruiter or executive who knows nothing about you might take a statement at face value.

If you say you “supported” something or “assisted” with something, they don’t have any way of knowing the true nature of your role. Don’t expect or hope that they’ll somehow figure it out based on delicate nuances.

Bear in mind the way recruiters and executives normally look at resumes. They do an initial scan that might take only 6 seconds (research supports this). They’re usually looking first at your current title and company, then the title and company before that; and if that interests them, they might read the first sentence of the description about your current position.

They might not read anything else if they’re not sufficiently interested based on what they read in that initial 6-second scan.

So we need to make sure we’re using clear, accurate language that gives you proper credit for the scope of your responsibility. Don’t downplay anything.

Save the servant leadership language for the office!

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Can you speak to your resume?


In addition to the plethora of common interview questions you need to prepare for, you should also be prepared to address questions about your resume. About ANYTHING on your resume–even the smallest of details.

If you stumble or seem confused when an interviewer asks about something on the resume, that could be the end of your candidacy.

Here are the three ways you should be ready to speak about your resume content:

  1. Discuss and expand: Be ready for questions about any of the experience or summary bullets and even any of the skills if you have a list of core competencies. You should be ready to expand on any of those things. If a bullet point is referencing a specific success story, be prepared to expand on that with a full CAR story (Challenge you faced, Action you took, Result that was achieved).
  2. Clarify any misunderstandings: No matter how well-written and thoroughly proofread your resume is, there will still be instances when a reader doesn’t understand something, or a mistake somehow slipped in there. Be ready to clarify without getting flustered. Apologize for the mistake or lack of clarity, explain the correct information, and move on.
  3. Explain the actual resume: This doesn’t happen often, but you might be asked questions pertaining to the writing and designing of the resume. Decide beforehand if you’ll confess to having help (if you hired a professional), and how to explain that choice. If you’ll pass it off as your own, be ready to answer questions about how you created it or used a template.

Make sure you’re familiar with every word on your resume and DON’T be caught off-guard by questions about it.

Interviewers will often interpret any confusion on your part in the worst possible way–assuming that you must have lied or fabricated information (remember lies is harder than remembering the truth, after all).

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Why you shouldn’t use an objective on your resume


Ah, the resume objective. They were once a requirement for the top of your resume.

Now, those who are savvy about modern resume trends know that objectives are considered outdated and ineffective in today’s job market.

A couple of the key reasons objectives have fallen out of favor are:

  • The objective statement focuses heavily on what you are seeking rather than what you have to offer.
  • Most job seekers end up writing cliche-filled objective statements that are likely to result in readers rolling their eyes.

Here are a couple examples of objective statements people might have used in the past:

  • “Objective: A rewarding position within a dynamic, growing company”
  • “Objective: A software sales executive position with unlimited growth opportunities”

Doesn’t everyone want a rewarding position? Does anyone want to be in a shrinking company? What does this tell the employer, other than the fact that the person wants a marketing position (which is way too vague–there are so many flavors of marketing)?

The objective statement was intended to inform potential employers about what type of positions you are seeking and suitable for, but there are other ways to accomplish this.
What to do Instead of an Objective

You can use a summary, and possibly a headline, to convey your qualifications and the type of position you’re seeking.

Examples of headlines:

  • “Award-winning digital marketer with history of boosting website traffic, increasing conversions, and growing e-commerce revenue”
  • “Senior-level software sales executive fueling profitable growth through strategic partnerships”

Does that tell the employer more right off the bat compared to the objective statement example above? Of course it does! It hits on exactly the types of things an employer would want in a digital marketer. And there isn’t any question about what type of jobs you’re seeking–you’re obviously seeking digital marketing jobs; no confusion there, and no objective needed.

Your sizzling headline can then be followed by a summary consisting of a few bullet points, or a paragraph, or a short paragraph followed by a few bullet points. You can also include a core competencies section (a list of skills) if you want.

Nails in the coffin of the objective statement

Resume experts started using headlines and summaries instead of objectives about a decade ago, but it takes a VERY long time for every professional, executive, and career counselor to hear about the latest trends in resume writing. So there are still a fair number of folks who are using objectives and recommending objectives.

If you have a resume book that recommends the use of an objective, check to see when the book was published. Any book published more than a decade ago is likely to contain a lot of outdated information.

Here are a couple relatively recent books that emphasize the use of a summary instead of an objective:

  • Resumes for Dummies, 8th Ed. (Wiley, 2019) [I was a contributor to this book]
  • Modernize Your Resume (Emerald Career Publishing, 2016)

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Introduction to “resume speak”

Resumes are a little weird. You might wonder if the wording you see on professionally written resumes is grammatically correct. It’s correct–sort of. Welcome to the world of “resume speak!”

“Resume speak” is the unique style that has become the standard for resume writing. Decision makers, executive recruiters, and HR executives usually expect and appreciate resumes written in this style.

With that being said, there is really no right or wrong in resume writing, and 10 different “experts” will give you 10 different opinions about a resume.

How is resume speak different from normal writing?

Two main ways:

1. Writing in “first person implied,” omitting personal pronouns.

Resumes should be written in first person, meaning it’s written as though you’re writing about yourself. However, the standard, accepted practice is to leave out personal pronouns like “I,” “my,” and “me.” This style is referred to as “first person implied.”

Examples for present tense (for a current job):
– First person: I develop marketing campaigns…
– First person implied: Develop marketing campaigns…

Examples for past tense (for previous jobs):
– First person: I launched a marketing campaign…
– First person implied: Launched a marketing campaign…

What is the alternative?

Some people, when writing their resumes, use phrases like “develops marketing campaigns.” Which means they’re essentially writing in second person implied. Ultimately, it’s your resume and your choice. But the standard among professional resume writers (and my preference) is to use first person implied.

Are personal pronouns ever acceptable?

The occasional, thoughtful use of a personal pronoun or two on a resume can be perfectly fine–innovative, even. HR guru Liz Ryan advocates “human” language with personal pronouns in a resume, although this has yet to catch on.

In some cases I’ve opted to use “my” if it allowed me to elegantly express a thought in one or two lines rather than writing a long, confusing bullet point. If the reader won’t understand what you’re saying, there’s no point in writing it.

2. Omitting articles

In resume speak, we don’t include many articles. Articles are “the,” “a,” and “an.” It doesn’t hurt to include them, but resume statements can be much more powerful when we limit unnecessary use of articles.

Sometimes articles are necessary to ensure that the meaning of something is understandable, so I do include some articles–just not all the articles that I would include if I were writing a different type of document, like an essay for an English class.


– Normal writing: I launched a marketing campaign that resulted in a 30% increase in sales over a 12-month period, enabling the firm to hire an additional marketing associate.

– Resume speak with limited articles:
Launched marketing campaign that resulted in 30% increase in sales over 12-month period, enabling firm to hire an additional marketing associate.


Additonal resources on resume speak:


Other Style Considerations: One Space or Two After a Period?

I always put only one space after a period, which has become the preferred practice in modern times — even though you probably learned to use two spaces back when you were in school.

Read more here:

Slate — Space Invaders: Why You Should Never Use Two Spaces After a Period

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8 unexpected benefits of executive resume writing

Traditionally, the purpose of a resume has been to secure an interview. Today, the advantages extend beyond simply landing interviews–and there are also some bonuses to going through the resume writing process properly that don’t have anything to do with the resume itself!

5 advantages of a professionally written resume (beyond simply landing interviews!):

  1. It gives your interviewer a road map for a successful interview. Interviewers, after all, will typically have the resume in front of them during the interview.
  2. It positions you for the level of salary you are seeking. A blah, unbranded, poorly written resume that doesn’t highlight your accomplishments in the most impressive way possible won’t position you for an increase in salary.(Thanks to renowned career guru Don Orlando for his ideas that influenced #1 and #2 above!)
  3. Even if the hiring manager knows you and wants to hire you, if it’s a larger organization, he still needs to convince colleagues and his boss that you’re the one for the job.Hiring has changed. At larger companies, there are usually several people involved in the hiring decision nowadays besides the hiring manager (hiring manager = the executive you would be reporting to). If another candidate looks incredible on paper and you don’t, the other stakeholders who don’t have prior knowledge of you and your work might be more impressed with the other candidate.Let’s face it, the hiring manager’s life will be more difficult if he has to explain to HR why he wants to hire a candidate none of the other people favor, or if his boss isn’t convinced the candidate is the best choice. Relationships are the #1 key to awesome executive jobs; but don’t assume that the relationship alone is enough. The hiring manager’s life will be easier if your resume and interview performance both knock it out of the park, and he doesn’t need to work hard to convince anyone that you’re “the one.”

    I once had a client hire me even though the hiring manager wanted to hire him. The hiring manager said he needed a great resume tailored to the position in question so he could convince his boss the candidate was the right fit.

  4. The resume is written documentation that will help sell you even after you walk out the door after the interview.

    After interviewing multiple people, interviewers often get confused and can’t remember which one was which. They may stare at a resume afterwards saying, “Wait a minute, was he the one I liked, or he was the one with the weird handlebar mustache who was rude to my secretary?”Leaving behind an impressive resume (and perhaps other leave-behind materials), and then following up with a compelling post-interview thank-you/follow-up letter, will help your interviewer remember you and help “sell” you long after you’re gone.
  5. And, finally, your professionally written resume is like an insurance policy in case your new job doesn’t work out.I’ve had clients who went to work at jobs that ended with an unexpectedly early departure. Though unlikely, there are myriad reasons why you might lose a job or decide to quit after just a few weeks or months. Job security is a thing of the past. Layoffs are common nowadays, and managing your brand and image with an effective executive resume and LinkedIn profile should be an ongoing effort.

3 positive side effects of professional resume writing:

  1. It helps you prepare for job interviews and networking conversations because it forces you to identify your personal brand, specific accomplishments and success stories, and the key messages you need to get across to your target audience.
  2. It boosts your confidence. Clients report feeling great after seeing their resume draft–especially executives who haven’t had their resume updated in several years, and those who had previously written their own resume or used a lower caliber of resume writer.
  3. It provides the foundation for a strong LinkedIn profile, and LinkedIn is an important networking and brand management tool for all professionals. LinkedIn is not something to only think about when you’re job searching and ignore when you’re employed. If you want to be continuously employed and always in demand, you want to be effective in managing your brand and online presence. This begins with LinkedIn.

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