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Put Negative Resume Feedback to Work

By Kim Isaacs
February 2007

Were you gung ho to receive a resume critique but are now faced with a seemingly insurmountable list of suggested changes? If you're feeling overwhelmed, follow these tips to get your resume on track.

Consider the Source

Critiques from professional resume writers or hiring managers in your industry should be given careful consideration. But if you've received negative feedback from a friend who is unfamiliar with your field or whose last job search coincided with the market launch of the Rubik's Cube, consider the source, and seek out additional opinions.

Absorb the Feedback

"What I have found in more than 19 years in the resume-writing business is that job seekers get overwhelmed by the feedback," says Kathy Sweeney, a resume writer and president of the nonprofit National Resume Writers' Association. Even with detailed recommendations, job seekers can find it challenging to incorporate suggestions, she adds.

Sweeney advises job seekers to avoid getting defensive when faced with criticism and take time to absorb the feedback. She recommends studying job postings to identify the credentials employers find desirable, comparing your findings to the resume advice received and incorporating changes to your resume that show how you meet or exceed employers' requirements.

Don't Take It Personally

"Honest criticism is hard to take, especially from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance or a stranger," author Franklin P. Jones once joked. But there's truth to this statement. Keep in mind why you asked for feedback in the first place. It wasn't to bask in praise but to collect solid, constructive advice.

"Writing an outstanding resume is not something that is taught in schools," observes Sweeney. So don't be too hard on yourself. "Resume-speak" is a unique form of written communication, and even accomplished writers can find it challenging to convey their achievements on paper.

Daniel Drubin, PhD, author of Letting Go of Your Bananas: How to Become More Successful by Getting Rid of Everything Rotten in Your Life, points out that negative feedback on your resume is not the same thing as negative feedback on you as a person. "Your resume may tell what you have done but does not necessarily indicate the quality of your character," Drubin explains. "The better you feel about who you are, the less sensitive you will be to the opinions of others."

Let Go of the Past

Most job seekers are grateful to have spelling or grammatical errors detected, and these are usually easy fixes. But criticisms of your resume's content can be tougher to digest.

For example, a systems analyst spent months on a Y2K readiness project and gave it top billing in her resume. Her resume reviewer suggested she omit the project, because it is not as relevant as her more recent accomplishments. The job seeker invested hundreds of hours on this project, so it was hard for her to accept this advice.

Drubin calls this letting go of your "rotten bananas" -- overcoming barriers hindering your success by moving beyond the past and finding the courage to make changes. "You let go of your rotten resume bananas by living in the 'now,'" he says.

Ask Questions

Don't be afraid to ask questions if the advice is unclear or you're unsure how to proceed with revisions. Also, consult the resources available at your local library, bookstore or online that offer resume tips and examples of winning resumes. If you find sample resumes that mirror the suggestions you've received, this is a good indicator the feedback has merit.

Road-Test Your Revised Resume

If the critique is from a qualified professional, incorporate the changes, and take your resume for a test drive. "I usually tell my clients they should receive at least one interview for every 20 resumes sent out," says Sweeney. "The caveat to this advice is they have to be applying for positions for which they are qualified." She adds that employers want employees who can "hit the ground running."

Your resume may take a few tries before it is perfect, but with diligence and an open mind, you can turn negative feedback into a recipe for career success.

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