How to Select a Resume Writer

Questions you should ask and qualifications you should seek in a professional resume writer.

Competition is fierce. This time around, you’re not going to cheap out.

You have to spend money to make money. So you’re going to do it right: You’re going to invest in a deluxe coaching package. That way, you’ll be ready to flatten the competition with your locked-and-loaded, shiny new resume. For that much money, you tell yourself, a resume has to be better than the one your friend is offering to do for free…. Right?

Not so much. The truth is, job seekers can get burned whether they get a freebie, nonprofessional resume — or yes, even if they max out their credit cards and go for broke.

“I once had a job seeker in technology sales call with a resume that was awful, that was written for him as part of a $1,200 coaching package,” said Kathy Robinson, a career and business consultant who founded the career coaching firm TurningPoint. “He was not getting anywhere with his search because his resume communicated no direction and had nothing on it that would actually resonate with a hiring manager.”

The more time you spend talking to professional resume writers and career coaches, the more often you hear stories like these. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend; if you don’t vet your resume writer, you’re asking for trouble. Bear in mind, these days, a lot of unemployed people are hanging out their shingles to set up shop as resume writers.

“Many out-of-work recruiters… are pitching themselves as resume writers these days, and I’ve seen some resumes from them that aren’t up to par, so buyer beware,” Robinson said.

Out-of-work professionals are also getting certified as professional resume writers, but even that shouldn’t be enough of a recommendation to coax cash out of your wallet without first getting some good answers to probing questions about a writer’s background and qualifications.

Ladders talked to career coaches who help job seekers find the right resume writer for their specific circumstances. What we came up with is the following list of questions to ask and qualifications to look for before committing to a resume writer.

What to look for

Sharon DeLay, a certified professional resume writer and career coach, was kind enough to suggest the following list of qualifications people should seek in a resume writer:

  • Recommendations: If possible, find a writer by asking for referrals from people you know and trust who have used the resume writer with satisfactory results.
  • Certification: Look for a writer with training or certification from an independent organization, such as the CPRW certification from the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. The Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches combines course work and tests to train and evaluate resume writers.

What to ask

DeLay and Robinson suggested that job seekers ask these questions of prospective resume writers:

When were you certified? Robinson said she doesn’t trust that a resume-writing certification is enough, “unless it’s from the last three or four years or the person has kept up with changes in resumes and can articulate the current trends in resumes.” For example, resume writers who are out of touch might use an objective statement instead of an executive summary and/or a descriptive title at the top of the resume top; these changes in resume-writing conventions occurred in just the past few years.

“I’d recommend that a client ask when the person was trained on resume writing, what the most common fields are that they work with, the writer’s own personal background, and how resumes have changed over the past few years,” Robinson said. “If the person answers, ‛Nothing’s new,’ I’d keep looking for someone who’s more in touch with the marketplace.”

What do I receive in return for the resume fee?

What you want is a consultation and the right to edit a draft version or two, DeLay said.

How do I customize the resume?

Besides having multiple resume formats as indicated above, Robinson suggested that a good resume writer should show you how to customize the resume as you apply for various positions. This includes, for example, adjusting keywords to reflect a job posting or tweaking your executive summary to reflect that you’re the perfect candidate an employer is seeking.

Can you provide examples for me to review?

“A writer who does not have examples is likely inexperienced or not qualified at all,” DeLay said. When looking at examples of the writer’s work, keep an eye on how she brands a candidate. Do you have a good sense of what the candidate offers in terms of skills and expertise? If the writer’s not constructing a crystal-clear, strong brand for her clients, look elsewhere.

Can you provide references?

Hearing from those with whom the writer has worked can give you great insight into whether you’d be a good match with a given resume writer.

How long will it take you after our consultation to produce the resume?

The write should be able to provide a deadline to deliver the resume or may set deadlines for each step in the process.

Do you have any guarantees?

“If a writer guarantees you a job, run!” DeLay advised. Resume writers aren’t, in most cases, placement specialists. You’re the only one who’s responsible for landing a job. With that said, a writer can offer a guarantee on the accuracy and correctness of the final resume. You’re not off the hook when it comes to checking resume drafts before the writer concludes the final versions, however; it only means that “after the writer has received the client’s approval for the accuracy of the facts and the writer has checked grammar and mechanics, the writer may offer a guarantee on the grammar and mechanics of the final document,” DeLay said.

What’s your domain expertise?

Try to find a resume writer with experience in your domain, Robinson suggested. A resume writer who’s worked in your industry is ideal but often hard to find, so look for one who has at least worked on resumes for other professionals in your line of work.

How familiar are you with keywords?

Good resume writers should understand how and where to insert keywords in a resume, Robinson said. They should also show a good grasp of how applicant tracking systems (ATS) work and how to create a resume that doesn’t glitch electronic resume-handling software. (For more on ATS software, please read making your resume format machine-friendly.)