Sarah called today because she said her friend’s friend in HR recommended me. She had previously paid $500 to have her resume “professionally written.” She lost her job back in March. To date, she has not had one response from the resume. The company that created it blamed the economy last week when she complained. She asked me to review it and tell her what was wrong.
As I dissected this resume, I knew immediately that the fancy design would never get through the Applicant Tracking System. (Read my article first published in Forbes.com: Are Employers Ignoring Your Resume? 5 Mistakes to Avoid.)
I also noted another cardinal sin. The company used an outdated template, did not uncover her accomplishments, and likely had little business or industry knowledge. Sarah said the salesman talked to her for 30 minutes, took notes, and passed it on to the writer. She never spoke to the writer. Good resume writers, I told her, spend a few hours with you to uncover your experience and ask you probing questions. To all this, she said, “Yeah, I had some doubts. I guess you really do get what you pay for.”
Another prospective client, Dave, showed me his resume that he’d paid $400 for. It was creative and fancy looking but would mostly all disappear in the ATS. It also lacked any specific details on how he had excelled in his past roles. He said he had just spoken to a salesperson and only spent 20 minutes talking to the writer who seemed very young. Two weeks later, the resume arrived. It failed to get him any interviews – hence the call to me.
The recent pandemic brought out resume writers in full force. Some lack hiring experience. Many know very little about the ATS. Others know nothing at all. Often, they just have good writing skills. They could be a person who did a little hiring, and they see an opportunity among those looking for a new job and rush to say, “Yeah, I can do that.” Others may be able to create fancy, creative-looking designs, but that is all they are designs, not resumes. Ineffective, but pretty.
I went to a few advertised resume writing websites, and one had started a few months ago. (First clue!). Their website says the right things. It advertised: “our team of career experts and Fortune 500 recruiters put together resume examples for 250+ job titles that will impress hiring managers and pass the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) scans.” They showed examples of their work. On close inspection, they were making these mistakes:
- Not ATS friendly
- No keywords
- Used color ink and a lot of shading
- Had tables, columns, text boxes
- Used headers and footers
Guidelines to follow before you lay down your money
Many people want to hire someone to help them create an effective resume. Some genuinely talented individuals know how to create a resume and get employers’ attention. Understandably, you may lack the ability to create a terrific resume on your own. And asking your manager for help isn’t often useful unless that person is in HR and does the company’s recruiting.
Knowing how to write a resume is much different than just reviewing many. First, the professional writer needs to have strong knowledge of many careers and the job duties required in each role. It takes wordsmithing skills and personal branding ability. Most importantly, it requires the writer to understand how ATS works and the knowledge to know which keywords to add.
I’ve been a career counselor and resume writer for twenty-five years. I have written 5800+ resumes in my career, and I spend no less than 3 hours talking to the client to create each one of those resumes. I would never hire anyone that I didn’t speak directly with to discuss this project before agreeing to pay them to do the writing for you. Also, I recommend you use these guidelines to help you make the right decision on who to hire:
Ask for a referral. Have any of your friends or colleagues used a writer that they liked? Did the resume work and helped them get interviews? Go to the referral’s website and check them out. Start with that name and then continue your research checking on the items below.
Review background, education, qualifications, credentials. Typically, a resume writer is a career counselor, former recruiter, has HR hiring experience, and are college-educated. Do they have a Bachelor’s Degree? A Master’s? In what? A few have written resume writing books, others write job search articles or blogs and cover resumes. Some hold resume writing certifications offered by professional associations, like the National Resume Writers Association.
Years of experience. You don’t want a newbie. How long have they been writing resumes? Look for someone who has done resume writing for no less than FIVE years. Ask how many people they have helped. Some offer samples, look those over.
Ensure they know your career path, industry, and job title. Work with someone who has expertise in writing a resume for your job level, job title, and is knowledgeable about your industry. Some people specialize and work only with lawyers or engineers. Others have more expertise and help people in various fields and have assisted people in your career role.
No one can create a good resume without talking to you directly. Much of the information needed to improve your resume is in your head and must be uncovered by talking to you directly. Be sure that the person you speak to is the one who writes the resume. Be careful about being sold by the company owner who has excellent credentials but doesn’t do the work. Beware of the savvy salesperson who also will pass you on to someone else to write it. The amount of time it takes to gather the info varies, but for most professionals and executives, you need a 2-3 hour conversation with the writer.
How long will it take to get it? You should expect to get the resume back within 48 hours.
What is the review process? Explore this policy. They write it, and you should have the option to review it and be able to make changes, corrections, and additions if needed before completion.
Pricing: Resume writing comes in all price points, but it is the effectiveness of the end product that is critical. Lowered priced services likely won’t deliver. I surveyed several resume writers with excellent qualifications to determine their prices to create a resume for professionals, managers, and executives. The results showed that you should expect a professionally written resume to cost between $900-$2800. (Note the fees seem to be much less if you are a new grad.)
Testimonials. The writer should have several endorsements from happy customers on their website. Also, look at their LinkedIn profile to see if people endorsed the SKILLS section for resume writing.
This is a significant investment in yourself and your career. Shop carefully.
This article was originally published in Forbes.com.