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TORI Resume Writing Award Judges Share Tips & Strategies – Part One

You’d like to enter the Toast of the Resume Industry (TORI) awards resume writing competition but you’ve got questions. So we got answers to your resume writing questions direct from the TORI award judges! We posed 8 questions to all our former judges (many former TORI winners) and 8 replied with their advice, strategies, and insider scoop.

For part one of this resource, we’ve shared their answers to:

  • What are some of the common mistakes you see that keep an otherwise strong resume from being nominated or winning?
  • What do you look for in a TORI winner?
  • Do you feel that you judge writing and design equally in the entries? If not, what are the elements that make the decision for you?
  • I’ve heard that all the entries are really strong and it can be very hard to pick the top five and the winners. Have you found this to be true?

Meet the respondents:

Dawn BugniDawn S. Bugni
Write-Solution.com

Laura Labovich

Laura M. Labovich
TheCareerStrategyGroup.com

Gayle Howard

Gayle Howard
TopMargin.com

TORI Award Judges Answer Your Resume Writing Competition Questions:

(Part One of Two)

What are the common mistakes you see that keep an otherwise strong resume from being nominated or winning?

The simple answer would be spelling and grammar errors, and mundane writing, but bad design plays a role in the decision, too. Document design and content should align with the target and design should enhance, not distract. Not paying attention to detail can also land a document in the no pile. Inconsistencies in spacing, design elements, or color can make the difference between nomination and elimination. With the quality of entries, sometimes it boils down to “nit-picky” details being the deciding factor.– Dawn S. Bugni, CMRW, MRW, CPRW 

I would group several of the things I see under ‘ trying too hard’ – awkward fonts, colors that are too bold or divisive. Some entries seem to try to do too much on the page.– Laurie Berenson, CMRW, CEIC, CPRW

Trying to do too much in the resume, when a more simple, elegant, and less dense approach might have been more effective. Less is more.– Grant Cooper, CARW

Just a single typo will kick a resume out of the running. I’d run my submission by 3 proofreaders just to be safe!– Laura M. Labovich, MA

The most common mistake for me is a resume that looks and sounds like ‘most’ other traditional resumes. Outside of this, typos, grammar, spacing inconsistency, intermittent use of passive and active voice, and a brand identity that seems incongruent with the target audience are common mistakes that stand out for me.– Skye Berry, CMRW, CGRA, CES, CIS, CRS, CTCC

Often there are several equally-strong samples all vying for a finalist spot.

When this is the case, it can come down to small but telling differences. Sadly, it’s often an overlooked typo, an inconsistency in design or writing, or a spelling error that costs an excellent writer a nomination spot.

My tip to avoid this is to apply multiple proofing strategies, including getting someone you trust in the industry to proof your sample before submitting it. A fresh set of eyes is invaluable in picking up these tiny but potentially devastating mistakes.– Gillian Kelly, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, CARW, ATSC

Weak wording, too much fluff, repetitive content. I also see content that is really spun and could have been written more concisely.– Erin Kennedy, MCD, CERW, CMRW, NCOPE, CEMC, CPRW

Spelling errors. Like Mange instead of Manager. Strenghts I see too. Proofreading is critical.– Gayle Howard, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, MCD, MCPLAA, MRW, CPRW, CCM, BIC, HRCC, CWPP, CARW

What do you look for in a TORI winner?

TORI winning documents make me want to get to know the job seeker and hear more of their story. A resume’s job is to entice engagement, so a well-written TORI entry should do the same. I also look for a clear direction regarding the target role. I evaluate whether the content reinforces the job seeker’s unique value proposition in relation to the target audience and check to be sure the document is not cluttered with unnecessary, superfluous information.– Dawn S. Bugni, CMRW, MRW, CPRW

A resume that pops and sells the candidate well while also being well received by employers. When I judge, I do consider if a resume would be positively received by a hiring manager.– Laurie Berenson, CMRW, CEIC, CPRW

In addition to submitting a resume that has a strong and persuasive content theme, using formatting that is modern, doesn’t look dated, and is not crowded on the page all help to improve the scoring of the entry.– Grant Cooper, CARW

I look for a balance of design and compelling content. If the focus is too much on formatting pizzazz, I tend to be turned off. But, subtle colors, photos, design elements that support the storytelling turn the document into a piece of art. Overly designed resumes distract from the message, and resumes with sparse content typically do not get high scores from me.– Laura M. Labovich, MA

When I review a resume, I look for powerful words that add value and context while eliminating confusion and possible red flags. A creative design that grabs attention and harmonizes the career story with the target industry in a professional, yet impactful way helps a submission stand above the rest.– Skye Berry, CMRW, CGRA, CES, CIS, CRS, CTCC

TORI-winning resumes use compelling content, clear positioning and a visually-powerful design to create a document that positions the candidate for success in competitive markets.

I look for resumes that incorporate:

  • a strong top third that engages the reader;
  • strategically curated content and storytelling that helps the reader understand the applicant’s background, brand, achievements, and value-offering;
  • content that taps into the target audience’s hiring needs and problems;
  • well-considered resume strategies that make the most of the applicant’s USP and mitigate potential concerns;
  • a visually-appealing resume design that optimises the reader’s experience through appropriate typography, spacing and colour schemes;
  • effective featuring of metrics and achievement stories that are concise and powerful;
  • appropriate and balanced use of imagery, graphs, quotes and other visuals that reinforce personal brand attributes or emphasise key selling points.
    – Gillian Kelly, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, CARW, ATSC

Strong content. Focus on branding. Nice format (but it doesn’t have to be TOO much–that is distracting, IMO). Interesting to read. The best ones are when I am done reading I think, “Wow. I want to meet this person. I would hire them in a minute!” 🙂– Erin Kennedy, MCD, CERW, CMRW, NCOPE, CEMC, CPRW

Smart strategy. Has this document been written with the right audience in mind? Do I understand that this person is a strong contender for the role they’re seeking?– Gayle Howard, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, MCD, MCPLAA, MRW, CPRW, CCM, BIC, HRCC, CWPP, CARW

Do you feel that you judge writing and design equally in the entries? If not, what makes the decision for you?

Writing and design go hand-in-hand, but the deciding factor for me is the writing. A great design might attract attention, but the content must live up to the design and convey job seeker value, boldly, unequivocally.– Dawn S. Bugni, CMRW, MRW, CPRW

I do. I start with design because that’s what the reader sees first. I eliminate some entries based on poor design (as compared to their peer entries) and then go back and read for content and writing.– Laurie Berenson, CMRW, CEIC, CPRW

TORI candidates deserve the most objective, fair, and open-minded judging for the hard work, time, and resources they put into their entries, and that is precisely what I provide when judging.– Grant Cooper, CARW

First, I go through and look at the resumes as if they are all ATS resumes. I try to ignore the design, initially. Often, there is usually a clear winner or two on the writing. I rank them. Then, I look at all of the resumes just based on design, and I often have a very clear winner or two on the design. Once I rank those, I see if there are any matches, if I do, voila!

However, if the one with the best format is the one with the weakest writing, they definitely won’t win or rank. But, if the opposite is true (best writing/blandest format), they could definitely rank.

Having said that, with the submissions typically being so incredible, I have to use the design elements as a way to rule some out.– Laura M. Labovich, MA

Yes and no. My initial process includes eliminating all entries that appear to use a standard template (this does not happen often, but the odd one arrives). From here, I look for distinctive format and design that is complemented with writing that adds meaning and power to the brand identity. Design can have impact, but I have seen wonderful black and white designs with a sleek presentation where the written word had enough punch to help the resume stand out. The point here is that color is not always necessary for a winning resume.– Skye Berry, CMRW, CGRA, CES, CIS, CRS, CTCC

Both content and design come into play – if the content is excellent, but the layout is cramped or makes it hard to read, then the resume sample is unlikely to be ranked highly. Conversely, a great design is worthless if the content isn’t robust and powerful.

I’d also add strategy as a third element that influences my judging. Choice of design elements, focal points, and content inclusions are part of a resume writer’s strategic decision-making process. I take these strategy-elements into account when judging.

Bottom-line – you need the trifecta. I’d say that content weighs most-heavily in my decision, but all are important and play their critical part.– Gillian Kelly, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, CARW, ATSC

Yes. You want the document to read succinctly and crisp, but you also want the format to help certain areas to stand out. It’s achieving a nice balance between the two.– Erin Kennedy, MCD, CERW, CMRW, NCOPE, CEMC, CPRW

I try to look beyond design. I believe that the words should not be undermined by the design and sometimes that happens when the design encroaches on the wording and I can’t read the content clearly. It is just lost.– Gayle Howard, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, MCD, MCPLAA, MRW, CPRW, CCM, BIC, HRCC, CWPP, CARW

I’ve heard that all the entries are really strong and it can be very hard to pick the top five and the winners. Have you found this to be true?

Definitely. Absolutely. YES!! The level of creativity and writing talent in our industry is astounding.– Dawn S. Bugni, CMRW, MRW, CPRW

Some years, some categories – definitely! There are a few categories that are consistently popular – executive, new grad. With this in mind, be open to submitting entries to other categories – not just the obvious ones.– Laurie Berenson, CMRW, CEIC, CPRW

While nearly all entries show a great deal of effort, I would say that some entries are stronger than others, which is why I give them superior ratings. It is true that most entries are generally excellent.– Grant Cooper, CARW

Absolutely! This is 100% true. There have been years that I look back and forth at each resume and take hours to make my final decisions.– Laura M. Labovich, MA

Yes! Yes! Yes! Competition is fierce. Judging can be challenging because all submissions are awe-inspiring. The level of creativity in written content and design is first-class.– Skye Berry, CMRW, CGRA, CES, CIS, CRS, CTCC

Absolutely, and some categories are more competitive than others – particularly the executive category. Each year I am blown away by the resume writing community’s talent.

As judges, we look for samples demonstrating excellence against recognised resume writing criteria. Still, it’s common to have several equally strong entries all contending for the top spots that require a judgement call. I think it would be unlikely to see two judges rank the samples in the same order, which is why the judging process has so many reviewers to get a consensus.– Gillian Kelly, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, CARW, ATSC

Yes! It’s always hard. Those top ten are the best of the best. Usually, once I narrow down the top ten, I give myself a few days span and go back to them every day to review until finally, the final five are the ones I keep going back to. By that time, I know which order I want them to go.– Erin Kennedy, MCD, CERW, CMRW, NCOPE, CEMC, CPRW

Not all entries are strong but there are typically five or ten for each category that are so far ahead of everything else. They are the ones that you have to get super picky about because they are the very top of the tree so unfortunately it means looking for things to cull them. Very much like real life!– Gayle Howard, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, MCD, MCPLAA, MRW, CPRW, CCM, BIC, HRCC, CWPP, CARW

About Part Two

Watch for part two of this resource, which will include judge answers to the following:

  • What are some of the little extras that help push a resume to the top?
  • What are your pet peeves in a TORI resume entry?
  • If you could give a resume writer any advice on how to get ahead in the TORIs, what would it be?
  • Is there anything else you would like to share with resume writers about the TORIs?

Read part two here >>

The TORIs Are the #1 Highest ROI, Lowest Cost Way to Grow Your Resume Business

There’s no denying the success that former TORI winners and nominees have attained by participating in this annual resume writing competition.

Whether you want to be easily found by job seekers, stand out from the competition, or attain accolades that put you in demand, the TORI awards have done that for resume writers around the globe since 2000.

For 2021 we’ve expanded the competition by adding classic design categories to the lineup. There are now opportunities available to any talented, professional resume writer.

Don’t wait! Registrations are accepted until Friday, July 16, 2021.

Learn More About the TORI Awards

Learn about the competition & new classic resume categories >>

Additional Resources

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