Students’ Hierarchy of Résumé Needs

By Melanie Diffey

As both educators and career practitioners, we have to walk a fine line between correcting and coaching job seekers. In the case of résumé critiques, much of the rewriting work often falls to the professional to edit and “fix” a document. But how much of that corrected information will the job seeker retain, and is the job seeker likely to ask for advice in the future if he/she feels the document was more “wrong” than “right”? By approaching résumé and other document critiques as an educator first, we can focus on the areas of greatest impact in exchange for a more positive interaction that could lead to opportunities for further coaching in the future. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a model (McLeod, 2014), we can prioritize topics of discussion with the job seeker to address areas where longevity of impact is most likely. Then we can address more obvious concerns that may have less influence on the résumé writer’s future process.

Physiological Needs

The physiological needs of a résumé are those affecting quality of content—the “meat and potatoes” of the document that will convince an employer of the job seeker’s qualifications. I often ask job seekers to give more detailed descriptions of their work or to quantify accomplishments, which adds value to their résumé and boosts their self-esteem for the job search. Explaining which of the résumé experiences or skills are transferrable to their next desired position can also be a helpful exercise during this stage to bolster confidence and avoid a single-minded focus on items that are “wrong” in the document.

Safety/Love and Belonging Needs

In the context of résumé critiques, Maslow’s categories of safety as well as love and belonging symbolize a shift to those items that portray the professionalism and tone of the job seeker—the formatting and appearance of the document. Adjusting these portions of the résumé before adding or editing content serves no purpose as they will be adjusted later to accommodate changes in spacing, which is why I strongly discourage the use of pre-formatted templates. However, once the bulk of the content is finalized, encouraging job seekers to carefully consider the appearance of their documents, as well as the connotations such appearance may present to the reader, plays an important role in the critiquing process. Not only does the visual presentation matter for personal voice, it has a strong impact on whether the document is easy for the employer to read quickly without missing valuable information.

In this stage, I encourage job seekers to read through the document again from the perspective of an employer. Where are your eyes first drawn to read on the page? Are all of the concrete facts provided both positive and accurate? Which pieces of information should be prioritized at the top of the page where they will be seen first? Is the text color and font easy and pleasant to read? This is also an excellent time to discuss the psychology of color or shape with your job seeker so he can make educated decisions about the impression he is putting forth.


Now that the content is structured according to the desired audience, help the job seeker take the fine-toothed comb approach to identify items that boost confidence in the final product. At this stage major additions or alterations to content will not usually be made, so it is appropriate to proofread for ways to improve phrasing or correct grammatical errors. These minute details, if corrected earlier in the process, might become overwhelming or disheartening for the job seeker. However, once a trusting relationship with the critiquing professional is established and other rewrites are completed, these corrections can be reframed as the last step before the finish line. This also serves as a reinforcement tool that the bulk of the job seeker’s content is both well-constructed and close to completion.

Retainable, Teachable and Adding Value
As a career practitioner, I use these steps to conduct document critiques both on paper and face-to-face. While it is not always possible to follow the hierarchy exactly, using it as a guide to determine the volume of discussion surrounding each topic can encourage future interaction with the job seeker. The practitioner is simultaneously ensuring the communication focuses on retainable and teachable items while also building an edifying relationship, rather than the minute details that a roommate or parent could easily correct. This technique allows me to establish value in the eyes of the job seeker and also bolster self-worth for future applications when the résumé is customized again for a different position.

McLeod, S. (2014). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html



Melanie DiffeyMelanie Diffey, M.A., is the Career Counselor at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Arkansas, where she serves 7,000+ students through coaching and programming. Melanie earned an M.A. in Education from Ashford University while working as an academic advisor and career services specialist and a B.A. in Literature/English Education at Point Loma Nazarene University, where she tutored students in composition before discovering her love of résumés. She is also pursuing an Ed.D. in Human Resources and Workforce Development Education through the University of Arkansas. She can be contacted at melanie.diffey@gmail.com.


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1 Comment

Paul Timmins   on Thursday 05/05/2016 at 10:58 PM

Thanks for sharing this, Melanie-- it's a really creative way of thinking about the process of teaching our students to write stronger resumes!

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