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

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    TORI Award Resume Writing Judges Give Advice Part 2 of 2The best business builder for resume writers is winning or being nominated for the annual Toast of the Resume Industry (TORI) awards resume writing competition. So we’re excited to bring you the final four Q&A responses to your competition and resume writing questions that were answered by nine of our past TORI judges.

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

    • 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?

    Meet the respondents:

    TORI Award Judges Answer Your Resume Writing Competition Questions:

    (Part Two of Two)

    What are some of the little extras that help push a resume to the top?

    Uniqueness. That is a vague and intangible answer, but something that pulls me in and makes me want to linger a moment longer with the document is what pushes a resume over the top for me. Whether it is an uncommon word, an attention-grabbing quote, interesting header titles, or an unexpected use of a word feature; surprise me, in a good a way.– Dawn S. Bugni, CMRW, MRW, CPRW

    It sounds obvious, but clean, crisp formatting and an excellent balance of white space combined with stellar writing.– Laurie Berenson, CMRW, CEIC, CPRW

    While judges may differ somewhat, I prefer resumes that I perceive would be most effective in the real world market, particularly for categories that are technical or managerial.– Grant Cooper, CARW

    Pick your most unique client profession — winemaker, video game designer, cake decorator, farmer — these allow us to find a creative spin on telling the same ol’ same ol’ story. I have seen a lot of marketing and sales resumes and they seem to blend for me at times. So, find a creative spin on a marketing or sales resume, add a bit of flair to it and you could have a winner!– Laura M. Labovich, MA

    When the brand identity is in harmony with the target audience I am in love. This includes playful and creative writing that adds meaning behind critical keywords and is industry appropriate. Color and design elements that show appreciation for the audience (in other words, understanding that bright, flashy colors are not always suitable). Overall, a resume that wows me from the start and gets me excited to keep reading and leaves me wanting to learn more – that is what pushes a resume to the top.– Skye Berry, CMRW, CGRA, CES, CIS, CRS, CTCC

    From a design perspective, the extras that help push a resume to the top include a professional colour palette, cohesive visuals that make sense in the document, and effective use of contrast and hierarchy to create impact and draw the focus into the right areas.

    From a content perspective, essential elements include a powerful top-third that reinforces positioning, value and brand, and the effective featuring of metrics and success stories throughout the document.– Gillian Kelly, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, CARW, ATSC

    Interesting content. Not the usual verbiage but content that really speaks to the client’s brand and focus. Capturing a bit of their personality as well.– Erin Kennedy, MCD, CERW, CMRW, NCOPE, CEMC, CPRW

    I love a good tagline. Some people have a real talent in creating a line that is smart, unique, short and elegant. You know you’re in for a good read when you know someone has put effort into the tagline.– Gayle Howard, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, MCD, MCPLAA, MRW, CPRW, CCM, BIC, HRCC, CWPP, CARW

    • Capturing the reader’s attention from the first few ‘headline’ words. This generally is accomplished through a mashup of words and metrics; e.g., showing soaring sales, from $25K to $10M; or, articulating a sequence of events that prove startup ($0) to public enterprise growth ($1+B).
    • It also is the overall sophisticated feel of a resume; a symmetrical resume with a balance of color, design and the right, refined words.
    • A resume that tells a story that is characterized by the how and the why; one where there is a feeling of texture and nuance throughout the storied chapters vs. a hard-edged focus on bottom line ‘only.’
    • Where you get a feel for the unique individual vs. the same-old key words and stories, but done in a way that has some subtlety vs. trying too hard to ‘prove’ they are an atypical candidate.

    – Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, CMRW, CERM

    What are your pet peeves in a TORI resume?

    Documents full of tired, worn-out, overused phrases, (can we retire “seasoned professional”, please?) information with no substance, usually signaled by overuse of adjectives, and too much design, to the point of distraction. More is not always better, and creativity is good, but it must be creativity with a purpose.– Dawn S. Bugni, CMRW, MRW, CPRW

    The two extremes — too packed of a page or too simplistic of an entry.– Laurie Berenson, CMRW, CEIC, CPRW

    Using obviously fabricated numbers and figures like “improved sales by 100%” and “doubled sales”… Since you are allowed to fictionalize, use more precise numbers and figures. Employers want to hire candidates who track and monitor their performance more accurately.– Grant Cooper, CARW

    Lots of dark blocks of colors. I like resumes to feel light. So, when the borders and the boxes have significant amounts of dark blues or grays, it’s almost an automatic no for me.– Laura M. Labovich, MA

    My biggest pet peeve is the typographical mistakes and misspellings. Even though we are all human and I make mistakes too, as a judge it is difficult to look past these for the TORIs. Another one is when the document properties have not been cleared and personal information is included. As an added note, this is not really a hinderance to winning a TORI but for me, blue is becoming the new black in design templates and is no longer something that helps a candidate stand-out.– Skye Berry, CMRW, CGRA, CES, CIS, CRS, CTCC

    Over-the-top superlatives is my biggest turn-off, followed closely by cramped formatting, and design features that detract rather than add to the resume’s impact.– Gillian Kelly, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, CARW, ATSC

    Over the top graphics. It’s distracting and takes away from the content. Graphics and formatting should complement the document not make it the main focus. It should also match the field. Advanced formatting for creatives shouldn’t be the same for finance and other more conservative fields.– Erin Kennedy, MCD, CERW, CMRW, NCOPE, CEMC, CPRW

    Lack of front loading achievements. Using the same word twice and three times in a paragraph. Using words that it is clear they’ve heard before but don’t really know what it means to use it correctly in a sentence. Dangling bits on the end of sentences. People need to read their writing out loud and sometimes sentences make no sense!– Gayle Howard, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, MCD, MCPLAA, MRW, CPRW, CCM, BIC, HRCC, CWPP, CARW

    • A resume that tries too hard to be unique. For example, bold colors where a more subdued presence would work. Or, dropping in too many charts and graphs at the expense of rich context.
    • While I am drawn to power words such as ‘catapulted revenue,’ ‘blistering growth,’ or ‘pioneered ABC initiatives,’ too many of those phrases back to back is a turn off. Conversely, a blend of power phrasing alongside staid, but crisp language creates a more impactful result.
    • An entry that appears as if writing is an afterthought – it’s all graphic sizzle, but no right words and stories.

    – Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, CMRW, CERM

    If you could give a resume writer any advice on how to get ahead in the TORIs, what would it be?

    Keep your focus on the reader. Make sure what you are writing resonates with the target, and above all, is interesting. The more engaging the content and the more enticing the design, the longer the reader lingers. The longer the reader lingers, the better for the job seeker, and the TORI entrant. Make sure everything included in the document is there for a reason. Be careful, thoughtful, and strategic in the presentation.– Dawn S. Bugni, CMRW, MRW, CPRW

    I have two pieces of advice: 1) study past winning documents for inspiration and ideas and 2) triple check all of your work before submitting.– Laurie Berenson, CMRW, CEIC, CPRW

    I understand that CDI offers various forms of preparation training from courses to free expert lessons. Investing your time and/or money, even for experienced writers, would seem to be wise to markedly improve one’s prospects.– Grant Cooper, CARW

    Prior to this year, I would have said: learn Microsoft Word inside and out, and I still think that understanding how to give your resume flair will invariably give you an advantage. But, with the new roll out of the “classic” design, just make sure your writing is tight. Don’t write in 20 words what can be communicated in 10. Then, give it to a mentor you trust to review. And, a proofreader x2 (or 3).– Laura M. Labovich, MA

    Edit and proofread. Ensure formatting and design consistency. Remove all document properties. Harmonize the brand identity with the profession (target audience).– Skye Berry, CMRW, CGRA, CES, CIS, CRS, CTCC

    My first tip is – have a go! The biggest hurdle for most writers is gathering the confidence to apply. Even if you don’t immediately win or get nominated, you’ll grow your skills.

    My second tip is to start early and keep a folder throughout the year for resumes that may be appropriate to use for the awards. This folder will avoid you having to trawl through your files for something suitable.

    Finally, work to your strengths. If you specialise in an area, focus on that category to maximise your time investment.– Gillian Kelly, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, CARW, ATSC

    Go for it! I’ve talked to so many writers who won’t try for a TORI because they are intimidated. You aren’t going to know until you enter! 🙂– Erin Kennedy, MCD, CERW, CMRW, NCOPE, CEMC, CPRW

    • Front load achievements.
    • Spend time on a smart tagline
    • Read your work out loud. When you stumble there is something wrong with the sentence. Fix it!
    • Don’t change tenses in one sentence.
    • Use words that you’re familiar with!


    Study and read prolific writers outside the resume writing space and incorporate your learnings into your career storytelling.– Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, CMRW, CERM

    Is there anything else you would like to share with resume writers about the TORIs?

    Pushing boundaries and participating in the TORIs sharpens resume writing skills whether you are nominated, win, or not. Being involved with judging TORIs makes me a better writer and designer. (Thank you for that, entrants!) Pushing boundaries encourages learning, makes us all better at our craft, and lifts the entire industry.– Dawn S. Bugni, CMRW, MRW, CPRW

    Try for it! You never know! The positive press from being nominated or winning is worth the effort to submit entries. Plus, just the process of refining your work for an entry is a productive exercise for you professionally. It will challenge you to up your game.– Laurie Berenson, CMRW, CEIC, CPRW

    Being nominated for a TORI award, as well as the act of simply entering the competition are honors in and of themselves, and should be a part of a writer’s marketing outreach.– Grant Cooper, CARW

    Just do it. The first submission is always the hardest, but if you don’t win or place, you can easily compare your resumes with the winners to see what you could have done differently. I’ve heard from many TORI nominees and winners that this has pushed them over the edge. Also, taking one of CDIs courses is supposed to be exceptional in terms of giving future TORI winners an edge!– Laura M. Labovich, MA

    Don’t give up! Review past winner’s, search google for creative and trendy color combinations and trust your intuition on what looks great, polished, and professional. You must remember that you are competing with the best of the best in the world – “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale.– Skye Berry, CMRW, CGRA, CES, CIS, CRS, CTCC

    The awards are a great way of building credibility and differentiation in the market. My first TORI was a change-making moment for me and really helped me to build my business.– Gillian Kelly, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, CARW, ATSC

    Be original. Don’t try to follow other writers’ work just because they’ve won. While they are great examples of what to do, you also want to be true to the way YOU write and how YOU do it.– Erin Kennedy, MCD, CERW, CMRW, NCOPE, CEMC, CPRW

    They take a long time to prepare. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare.– Gayle Howard, CERM, CMRW, MRWLAA, MCD, MCPLAA, MRW, CPRW, CCM, BIC, HRCC, CWPP, CARW

    Create your own style vs. mirroring someone else’s.– Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, CMRW, CERM

    About Part One

    In this post our judges answered:

    • 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?

    Read part one here >>

    Consider What Former TORI Winners & Nominees Have to Say About the TORIs

    The TORI was a game-changer for my business. Almost immediately, I had more engaged clients from the market that I am continually seeking to attract. In fact, many of my clients find *me* because they are seeking a resume writer whose expertise has been impartially validated. Also, I find that mentioning the TORI helps in marketing me effectively on my web site and when cold calls come in. Overall, the TORI has given me more visibility and more professional credibility than I had prior to the win.– Amy L. Adler, Five Strengths Career Transition Experts

    So I’ve had a really good problem. Just being nominated last year doubled my business on average. I’ve had to revamp my production and project management processes and am looking to bring on a subcontractor.– Melissa Kelley, Kelley Resumes and Wordsmithing

    Thanks in part to a whole paragraph on the TORI awards I received, I landed a contract for my company to provide outplacement to 134 employees. Many of the employers are impressed that there is such a thing as resume writing awards and a body such as CDI that oversees it. The TORIs helped to elevate our credibility. In my office, I proudly display the nomination and winning certificates for all to see.– Surranna Sandy, Resume Solutions

    Initially I was too intimidated to enter the TORI competition. You see, I had studied the TORI winners since beginning my resume writing career in 2015. I didn’t feel I had what it took to compete with all the talented writers who I had been emulating for three years.

    In 2018 I took the leap of faith, entered, and won third place in the New Graduate category. Winning the TORI has expanded my clientele; many clients have told me the graphic elements of my TORI entry set me apart from other writers and prompted them to give me a call. Additionally, this award has helped me gain credibility when presenting to community groups on job search topics.

    So much of our work as resume writers is advocating for our clients. We work hard to show evidence of how our clients stand out from the pack and differentiate from other candidates. Winning this award is just that for me; it’s proof that I am good at what I do – achievement supported by hard data.– Paula Christensen, Strategic Career Coaches

    Two years ago, I took the leap and decided to enter into the TORI competition after following it for several years and building my graphic design and writing skills.

    I was so glad I did.

    I was hoping for just one nomination and thought I stood a chance. That first year I took 5 wins, including a first place win in the hospitality category. The following year, it was a sweep: 5 first-place wins and 7 in total.

    Looking back at the sweep, I was probably ready to enter much sooner and at least grab up a nomination or two.

    As to the ROI, there are a few things to note.

    First is the quality of the prospects that hear about me through the TORIs. They are not out seeking the most affordable service they can find. They are looking for the best and are willing to pay for it. I am now charging over $2K for a resume, LinkedIn profile, and cover letter package.

    Secondly, selling is easier no matter how the prospect comes to me. If they heard about me through the TORIs, in large part, they are already sold. They’ve scoured the list of winners and chosen me because they prefer my style. When they come to me through referrals or other efforts, the wins solidify my expertise in their minds as I share my award-winning resumes (which I’m not shy in pointing out), screen-sharing my wins with them during the consultation.

    Finally, my referral business has grown considerably as the TORI wins have strengthened my profile within the industry.

    Since my investment in the low hundreds of dollars, I’ve bought in at least $25K in project fees, directly attributable to the TORIs in the last couple of years. Note that this is not for a massive number of projects, but a smaller number of high-priced ones.

    This return doesn’t reflect: the clients who come from referrals from those TORI-sourced clients; the many projects that have been referred to me by other writers since winning; or the amount I’ve earned in referral fees from sending prospects away who aren’t willing to way 6 – 8 weeks to get on my schedule. What I can’t estimate is the number of non-TORI prospects who I’ve converted based on my wins, which I suspect is much higher than the $25K.

    Entering into the TORIs is and will continue to be a top priority for me each year. There’s no way I will let the opportunity pass me by again.– Tiffany Hardy, Top1Resumes

    TORIs Equal Business Growth & Success For You

    As the judges have stressed, “You won’t know unless you try!” At the minimum, entering the TORIs will help you stretch and grow your skillset. But get nominated or win?? It will change the game for your business!

    Additionally, the classic design categories create opportunities for any talented, professional resume writer.

    Don’t wait! Registrations are accepted until Thursday, July 18, 2024.

    Learn More About the TORI Awards

    Learn about the competition & new classic resume categories >>

    Additional Resources

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

    Video Tutorials & Lessons On Resume Writing from Award-Winning Resume Writers >>


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