I recently referred a friend to my workplace and asked her to send in her resume to us. She is very qualified but her resume is absolutely horrible. It's written in a terrible font and half her work experience is missing. How can I politely tell this friend her resume is bad and that's why she won't get hired anywhere?

  • @JoeStrazzere assuming the resume is a big problem, I think it's something the person needs to hear (whether they know they need advice on their resume or not).
    – user45590
    Jun 16, 2016 at 6:33
  • 3
    Don't tell her resume is awful. Don't tell her she won't get hired anywhere because of it. That's not useful. And that's probably not true anyway, because it does sound like she has found work multiple times before. Focus on the improvements she can make to improve her chances. Be specific in your suggestions. Don't forward her resume until she makes those changes. A bad resume can reflect badly on you as well. Also, see if the font issue is not a problem of font substitution because your computer doesn't have the font she selected. In any case, she needs to know about the font issue as well. Jun 17, 2016 at 5:39

5 Answers 5


I won't mince words with you:

You tell her that her resume is poor and will most likely be rejected.

Be firm and advise her what she needs to do to fix her resume such as choosing a more professional font, and ensuring her work experience fully captures her value as a prospective employee of your company. You do her no favors by being soft with her. It is to her best interest that she be a little hurt now than to be near unemployable with her current resume.

Sometimes been friends with someone, means revealing plainly, and unemotionally, an unpleasant truth.

  • 2
    yep, honesty is usually a good idea between friends
    – Kilisi
    Jun 16, 2016 at 0:09
  • Of course, there are different ways to deliver that honesty. See SJX's answer for details.
    – sleske
    Jun 17, 2016 at 12:21

I've been in a similar situation, I critique resume's along three themes: look, writing style and content. I decide, depending on my relationship with the person, if I will give them an in-depth critique or a few pointers.

Once I know how much I want to say and what I want to say, then I think carefully about how I'm going to deliver my critique.

To make the person more receptive to my critique I give the person a heads up, preferably over the phone. This ensures the tone of any subsequent emails I send are not misinterpreted.

I start with the "compliment sandwich" - good - bad - good.

E.g. [compliment] X I know you're great for the job, I noticed you did Y a few years ago? That's something which is really needed around here. [/compliment]

[bad news] We also need someone with skills A, B and C and I noticed you didn't put your experience down from P, Q and R? That is really relevant for the role and I'd strongly suggest you put them in.

As a minor point, the font doesn't come through too well on this end, I'd suggest changing it to Arial which is easier to read which would be great.

Once you've put in your additional experience I can further proof read it for you if you like? I just mention it as I've seen some resume's which resulted in a hire here and I'd hate for you to miss out because we're used to a certain structure/style of writing. [/bad news]

[good news] But all in all I think you're really suited for the role here, especially if you highlight your experience with P, Q and R. That stuff is really impressive![/good news]

If I do give in depth feedback, e.g. I get the red pen out, I make sure to write in compliments. Where I do make changes I stick in compliments too e.g. "I really wanted to highlight how awesome you are at A so I changed the sentence structure to make it really punchy and moved it to the top of your resume"

It's my experience people feel a bit exposed when their personal resume is being critiqued (including me!). If they respond to my critique like "oh it's so bad" or "it really sucks" or anything negative I acknowledge their feelings and rephrase it with a positive spin, e.g. "doesn't matter if you're resume sucks, what matters is getting help and learning from that. Far as I can tell you're nailing the second part". You rock!


There are nice ways of saying this.

One is to blame the employer and say that the bosses are a bit pedantic about stuff like font and formatting. You could send her yours as a sample.

As for the missing work experience, it would surely not cause offense to tell her that she's a lot more qualified than she makes herself out to be! Say it as a positive, "Wow, you've done way more than this, you should include x, y and z on your resume!", not "Your resume is terrible and they'll throw it in the bin"


Alison Green from Ask a Manager covered an almost identical situation, with the difference that the friend was also asking for the letter writer to recommend him. Whether you should recommend this person also depends on your relationship and whether you can speak to their actual work. I encourage you to read the full article but I'll reproduce some of the key points here:

Definitely tell him! First, you’ll be doing him a favor by bringing this to his attention before he gets much further in his job search. And second, you absolutely shouldn’t harm your own reputation by recommending a candidate who appears terrible on paper. By recommending him, you’re essentially giving him your stamp of approval — so you can’t do it if he’s going to reflect poorly on you.

Say something like this: “I’d love to recommend you for this role, and I think you’d be great at it. But so that someone who doesn’t know you would see the strength of your candidacy, could you do a version of your resume that emphasizes X and Y, and make sure it’s proofread and formatted and everything? Send me the new version and I’d love to pass it along with a recommendation.”

If he balks, this isn’t someone you want to recommend for a job, believe me.

And if the next version comes back and is still something that would embarrass you to have as your own, do not just give in and pass it along at that point — because, again, your reputation is on the line here. At that point, I’d say, “Joe, I’m so glad you’re interested in this job but I know that the people hiring for this job aren’t going to be able to get past the lack of formatting and errors in here! I wonder if it would help to talk with someone who helps with resumes to get it cleaned up a bit?”[ 1 ]

And if you feel bad about not just giving in and passing it along anyway, remember that you’ve given him the specific guidance he needs and he’s chosen not to take it. And while it’s his prerogative not to take your advice, it’s your prerogative not to stick your neck out for something you think is shoddy quality.

In your case your friend already submitted her resume so her chances of landing a position at your company are probably shot. But it would be very kind of you to offer to help her with her resume or at least point her in the right direction. As Alison mentioned in her article proofreading, conveying information clearly, and knowing how to find or accept help when you need it are all key skills to have in the workplace.

In a related post she also discussed the limits of giving career advice to friends. The key takeway is that you can definitely offer to help someone but that you can't force your help on them. So if your friend refuses to recognise the problems her resume has there's little you can do.

1 - Editor's Note: This could be you! Resume reviewers may have their place but anyone can help someone with basic formatting and resume writing.


One more to thing add to all good answers above: It's a certain possibility that your friend doesn't want the job in the first place.

It's more than a social problem rather than professional, but if it's a friend, and you have no superior experience/position on him, it's best to keep it to yourself. Taking advice from her equal will most likely trigger some hostility towards you. You can help her by risking your friendship. And she most likely will ignore your thoughts anyway.

And since handing it over to your manager, it's %100 professional issue now. You have the right to get her resume, not to deliver to your manager and tell him/her you changed your mind and/or the resume is bad, and inform your friend you delivered it. That's how you treat to people doesn't do their responsibilities. And it's all her fault.

  • The poster clearly does have superior experience to their friend, because they are aware of what makes a good resume. Aug 31, 2016 at 7:34
  • @Philip Kendall You are wrong on this. I have been in the exact same situation. My friend (who was also my ex colleague as equal degree) had sent me a horrible resume once for my referral, and I warned him to make some changes. He didn't answered back. I forwarded his resume as it is, and not I believe it was a mistake.
    – Pecheneg
    Aug 31, 2016 at 8:23
  • There are 19 upvotes for the answer saying "tell them" and 2 downvotes for your answer. What makes you believe you are right and the rest of the world is wrong? Sep 2, 2016 at 22:30
  • I don't. Rest of the world is right: Ethical thing to do is to tell it to your friend and lose him forever. My answer is most helpful, and wrong.
    – Pecheneg
    Sep 4, 2016 at 1:48

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