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My friend has come to me for advice with their CV. I'm happy to help - and would like to - but I'm conscious that I sometimes go overboard with advice that nobody asked for, or am overly critical without meaning to be. This is something I've been trying to improve both in and out of the workplace. I would be in the same situation if a colleague asked me to review a report they had written, for example.

They've asked me for general feedback ("Let me know if there's anything I've missed, or that isn't valuable", etc.) and I have identified some positives and negatives, but I'm struggling to know where to draw the line, and at what point I will have given "too much" feedback. My current approach is to pick one or two things which can be improved and focus on those (as well as pointing out the good things), without assessing every detail, but would like to know if there's anything else I can do, or another way of approaching it or realizing when to stop.

There are other questions about how to give demoralizing feedback, or how to feed back on a particular issue. I'd like answers which focus on when to stop giving feedback when it is requested in a general way.

How can I give meaningful feedback or constructive criticism without going overboard and tarnishing our relationship?

Edit: it's worth noting that I am not a hiring manager. We are both relatively new to the workplace after college, though I've been working for a few years. I enjoy reading up on CV/resume/general workplace issues regularly, review some CVs at work (though don't make final decisions on them) and have applied/interviewed for more jobs than my friends. So, I'm more educated than my friends on the subject and do feel I can give them useful feedback, but I am by no means an authority.

closed as too broad by Philipp, scaaahu, The Wandering Dev Manager, gnat, Masked Man Aug 23 '15 at 4:30

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • It won't be enough for an answer, but what I like to do in the case of a CV for a friend is to offer to "correct" it myself. I modify it the way I would do for myself and then propose a version. it is a bit more time consuming but if you're eager to help you'll avoid the defensive reaction of pointing out every single thing. – Puzzled Aug 17 '15 at 14:52
  • @Puzzled Good point but of course it's just as easy to go overboard there and rewrite the whole thing. – Lilienthal Aug 17 '15 at 15:17
  • @Puzzled I do like the idea, but I feel that correcting the whole thing falls under the category of too far, as Lilienthal points out. – user29632 Aug 17 '15 at 17:11
  • When approaching the "too much" range I tend to shift to "this is probably just a matter of style, but if I was writing it I'd have tried this...Just a thought; use it or adapt it if it makes sense to you." – keshlam Aug 17 '15 at 23:14
  • And I meant for a friend. So I know the person and I can adapt to he/her. Definitely it can be too much in some cases. This is why I don't like the verd "to correct", it gives the feeling that it was wrong before. Maybe "improve" or "tailor" can be used to explain. And I was not talking about rewriting, but having just a bit more freedom to rephrase some parts for example. But I agree generally with your comments. There is a thin line between OK and too much. – Puzzled Aug 18 '15 at 9:28
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1. Focus on work, but not on the writer: Make sure you phrase your criticism properly:

You are stupid. No one writes that in CV (wrong)

vs

This part feels bit odd to me. I think it needs rephrasing, maybe even deleting (correct)

2. Select main areas which need to be improved and stick to them

No one wants to hear that their CV has 302 issues. Select two most important and stick to them

3. Use "sandwich" approach:

  1. Tell something good about a part which needs to improve
  2. Tell what needs to improve in that part
  3. Tell something nice (something else than in step 1) about the part which needs to improve

Example:

I really like the whole "skills" part of your CV. However, writing "MS Word knowledge" in that skill set for IT related position is bit odd. But I liked the fact, that you put your programming languages knowledge on top of that list.

4. Watch body language: Most people tell you using body language that they "had it enough". Watch for crossed legs, crossed arms, overall look of being annoyed and voice change. If your friend becomes angry, stop immediately.

My personal trick?

5. Drink water during giving feedback: If you feel your friend had it enough, drink from a glass. Slowly. It will:

  1. Make you shut up immediately
  2. Create room for your friend to either speak or let you know they had it enough.
  3. And, most commonly. Create ... tension inside you about an hour in where you will either need another drink or need ... a break. (Which both allows you leave safely the topic being discussed)
  • I like this answer - plenty of opportunities to stop when you're more in danger of annoying them than helping them, but might also benefit from focussing more on what the suggested changes would add rather than what's wrong with the existing version. – Hazel Aug 18 '15 at 10:30
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First, know how they perceive constructive criticism. Do they see it as constructive or an attack? One of the best ways to approach constructive criticism is to open with something like "What you have is a great start. However what I would revise is (fill in the blank)." Then you just explain your reasoning for your recommendation. Constructive criticism can be delivered in a way that is not taken as a personal attack but speaks to the heart of the issue they request your feedback on.

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Perhaps you could bucket the feedback into must-fix, general advice, picky, really picky, and then ask them how far they want you to go? Maybe give them an example from each bucket - "I have a few critical items like omission x", and "I also came up with a list of smaller stuff like prioritizing bullet points, if you really want that level of granularity.", etc.

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Why did your friend come to you for advice? Is it because you deal with a lot of resumes, and therefore have expertise in judging resumes? If so, then I would explicitly say, before offering any criticism, something like, "As you know, I deal with a lot of resumes, and I see a lot of good and bad ones. I looked at yours as if it were any other random resume that came across my desk. Here is what I think is good and bad about it."

If your friend sees you as an authority, then be that authority. The fact that you are friends should not stop you from giving negative criticism. The truth is, that's probably what your friend wants to hear the most. Every once in a while, remind your friend that you do know what you are talking about. Something like, "As a hiring manager, it really bothers me when people do this...." or "This is nice a touch. Hiring managers love to see this...."

  • Thanks for taking the time to answer. I am not a hiring manager (and have edited this into my answer). We are both relatively new to the workplace after college, though I've been working for a few years. I enjoy reading up on CV/resume/general workplace issues regularly, review some CVs at work (though don't make final decisions on them) and have applied/interviewed for more jobs than my friends. So, I'm more educated than my friends on the subject and do feel I can give them useful feedback, but I am by no means an authority. – user29632 Aug 17 '15 at 17:16
  • Having said all that, perhaps there is something to be said for the fact that I am seen as having knowledge on the subject - and perhaps your approach of "Hiring managers love this..." will help temper it (one of my main concerns is that I'll end up with too many "I think this is the best way..." without the authority to back it up). Thanks for your answer :) – user29632 Aug 17 '15 at 17:18