Making Friends and Finding Free Resume Advice

How to approach recruiters, HR pros and resume experts for advice without being a pest.

It’s not that Linda M. Duffy minds giving a little advice to job candidates. It’s just that, well, you’re not exactly helping her pay her grocery bills.

“I don’t mind giving quick advice to candidates, especially if it’s someone I already have a relationship with,” said Duffy, a senior professional in human resources and president of Leadership Habitude, an HR consultancy. “The need, though, is to keep it to a 15-minute conversation or so. Otherwise, it becomes all-consuming and detracts from paying clients.”

Like Duffy, resume and hiring professionals are constantly sought after for free resume or job-search advice. Most of us don’t think twice about asking these professionals to take a look at our resumes, but few of us are savvy enough actually to cultivate a relationship with these professionals that will pay off in the end.

We’re not just talking about being considerate. We’re talking about taking the extra steps to ensure that you get the resume advice you’re after and that you come to mind when these influential professionals get a lead on a job opening.

“You would be surprised at how few people (not just job seekers) offer to return the favor,” Duffy said. “I help people because I like to help, and I do it without expectation. However, for those rare people who say thank you and then, ‛What can I do to help you?’ in return — believe me, I remember them! Something that simple really does help them stand out in a crowd.”

How do you cultivate these relationships? How do you even start them, if you don’t personally know any HR professionals, executive recruiters or resume writers? Ladders spoke with a number of them to develop the following tips on how to approach them and properly return the favor of free advice.

Making friends with career pros

If you’ve ever had any contact with a headhunter, you’ve got a name, and that’s a fine place to start, said Debra Benton, an executive coach and president of Benton Management Resources. Being friendly means staying in touch. If things change in your career, let them know, Benton said, but also keep your ear tuned for anything interesting you might pass on to them.

“Be an extra ear and eye for them. Be helpful,” Benton said. “A lot of times headhunters have assignments that don’t fit you. But if you’re known by the headhunter as someone who profers a name, or resources, they will love you.”

This means that if a headhunter calls to talk about a job, you should hear them out even if you’re not necessarily interested, Benton suggested. Is the opportunity a good one for someone who’s at a different stage in her career from yours? Do you know of any names you could pass on to the headhunter, any contact information? Pass it on and tell the headhunter to use your name. “Headhunters love that,” Benton said. “You’re resourcing someone they’d never know.”

Or say you’re out and you run into the most fabulous finance guy you’d ever want to meet. Tell your headhunter pal that you’ve just encountered somebody who needs to be on their radar screen, and pass on the name, Benton said. While you’re sharing this pearl of wisdom, make sure to sprinkle in your interests and strengths, but do it subtly. Here’s how that might sound: “The reason I thought I’d pass on the name of this great finance guy is you and I were talking about XYZ job, and you know me, I’m actually interested in ABC job.”

If you’re currently working, make sure to befriend HR. If you give them proper respect, Benton said, you’re the one they’ll remember you when they move on to other companies, Benton said. It can be something simple: If you have an encounter with HR, let them know you’ve worked with plenty of HR, and they stand out because they know their stuff. “One sentence like that, and they’ll love you,” she said, adding, “It has to be true, of course!”

If you’re not working, and you walked away without HR buddies, you need to take the initiative. How do you do that? Benton suggested reaching out to professionals in this way: Say you’re reading the Wall Street Journal and an article quotes an HR executive from Colgate-Palmolive. Don’t be afraid to send a short note to that person to say, “Hey, I loved the article in the WSJ. I was really impressed with that angle you came up with on that subject. I totally concur. I hope our paths cross sometime.” If you have a card, send it; or a resume; or a letter with some of your background. Don’t ask for a job; just let the HR pro know you’re including the information to clarify who’s writing.

Nine out of 10 may not respond, but 10 out of 10 will remember you, Benton said. And one out of 10 will respond. “My guess is they’ll remember that person,” Benton said. “If they need a source, they might pull your card out of their file.”

Payback is a blessing

After giving quick, free resume advice, Duffy has received many forms of thanks over the years. People have made introductions and referrals. Job candidates and clients have written great recommendations for her on LinkedIn. Hands down, though, her favorite thank-you came from someone she’s never met. Duffy posted on several LinkedIn group discussion boards that she had a free list of 850-plus resume power words and would send them “no strings attached.”

One job seeker responded with an e-mail Duffy still keeps because, she said, it “touched her heart”: “Thank you for the delivery of the power words, I loved them. I looked at your Web site and it gives a nice and warm impression and I wish you all the best with your consulting. Unfortunately, I haven’t anything nice to send you in return, so I wanted to send you my smile 🙂 where your kindness affected me. Thank you Linda.”

Barbara Roche, a partner at BC Communications and a lecturer for The Wharton School, has given free resume advice (in two cases, a complete rewrite) to five people so far this year. Each has given responded to express their appreciation and offered payback of some sort. In one case, a woman “nearly paralyzed by stress brought on by reporting to a bully boss” paid Roche back by giving her a day of consulting work in her department. Another offered Roche tickets to see a well-known news journalist speak. Most importantly, Roche got her name around town, which was her goal, so when you’re after free advice, think about how you can spread your benefactor’s name around town.

How to work your alumni connections

Julie Hays Bartimus, vice president of the Alumni Career Center at University of Illinois Alumni Association, recommended making connections with people who can give you resume or job-search advice far ahead of when you actually need them. “Contacts sought out in ‛emergency’ situations will be the least effective and may do more harm than good,” she said.

Also, research the types of information and contacts that a career coach or adviser have to offer before making a specific “ask,” Bartimus said. “For instance, my colleagues at the University of Illinois Alumni Career Center have profiles on LinkedIn and accept connection requests from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Illinois at Springfield alumni. We also offer free advice to these alumni through our Virtual Career Center and webinars. Alumni career-services staff members at other institutions and independent career coaches may similarly provide general information online and offer individualized advice through fee-based advising appointments.”

For payback, offer to be an informational interview contact for other alumni, or consider volunteering as a program guest or panelist, Bartimus suggested. At her school, some alumni have come back to recruit other Illinois, UIC and UIS alumni, so it’s smart to stay in touch, she said.