Resume Advice: Who to Ask

When do you need a recruiter, career coach or professional resume writer and how to choose?

You need resume advice. To whom do you turn? What’s the difference between a professional resume writer and a career coach? What about advice from a recruiter? What about resume advice from professional associations or from government career centers?

We asked professionals from these categories what kind of resume guidance job seekers can expect from each of these resources. Read on for their insiders’ guide.

Career coaches

Jay Block, an executive career coach and author of “101 Best Ways to Land a Job in Troubled Times,” defined his work this way: Career coaches work with job seekers to address the entire process of landing a job. According to Block, that may include “managing emotions, defining appropriate career paths, creating communication tools (including resumes), developing strategies (a plan) to attract new jobs, and teaching specific skills such as networking, interviewing, and salary negotiations.”

Career coaches help throughout the job search to assist job seekers as they overcome setbacks and adversities. Coaches also help job seekers tweak their strategies as needed if a given strategy isn’t working.

Career coaches aren’t just for the unemployed; they assist those in the work force who seek a better position, Block said, by helping to develop strategies and processes to move on to new or better positions.


Recruiters aren’t motivated to serve as job-search shepherds the way career coaches and resume writers are, said Block. They are paid by employers to find the best candidate for the job, not to help a candidate fit into the job. Some are willing to offer friendly advice in their effort to build a relationship with good candidates, but understand that this isn’t their primary responsibility and they’re not compensated for it.

The upshot: Seek help from a recruiter if you’re qualified for a position she needs to fill for a client company, since she doesn’t have financial motivation to help you out otherwise. “The bottom line is that recruiters, for the most part, can be relied on to give valuable information relative to the ‘job expectations’ as well as corporate cultures/values of their client companies,” Block said.

Professional associations

Professional associations are a good source of the bits and pieces of information and resources specific to your industry, Block said. “For instance, if a job seeker called the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches and asked a job search-related question, most likely, the director would refer that person to a member,” Block said. “Associations exist to serve and support the members so they can serve and support job seekers.”

Lauren Milligan, who functions as both a resume writer and a career coach with ResuMAYDAY, noted that both professional associations and government career centers are good sources for specific help, such as networking events, training opportunities, or connecting with employers, but “they probably shouldn’t be your No. 1 ‘go-to’ spot if you need a complete resume overhaul.”

They’re run by people who are deeply involved in their industry, Milligan said, “but even the highest level of industry experts may not be well-versed in modern resume techniques, formatting strategy or wordsmithing.”

Government career centers

Government career centers, also know as Workforce One Stops, provide the same or similar services as career coaches. The major difference, according to Block, is that career coaches can provide (and are paid to provide) individual and customized programs, whereas the government career centers are, for the most part, overwhelmed and underfunded so that job-search services are more general, diluted, and not customized to individuals.

Milligan noted that government career centers are run by employees and volunteers who want to help others in need but again, “may not be the most savvy when it comes to the particular art of crafting a resume.”

A plus: Government career centers’ services are mostly free, Milligan said. “This makes them an important service to a community, but it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be working with a resume expert.”

Resume writers

The real value of a professional resume writer, said Block, is not in the writing of the actual document; it’s his help pulling out the information that will make you look your best. He will help you identify skills, abilities, knowledge and experience you need to document. This is the strategic information that you neglected to mention on your own, forgot was important to mention or understated. Professional resume writers stay on top of the traits human-resources professionals and recruiters seek, the better to understand what will impress them about the job seekers they serve.

Paul Peterson, National Talent Resource Manager for Grant Thornton LLP (a leading Canadian accounting and business advisory firm that provides audit, tax and advisory services to private and public organizations) noted that one of the most common resume mistakes he sees is people underselling themselves. “A good resume writer can help pull out the unique things you have done on your previous jobs. It’s often these ‘unique’ things that help you stand out from other candidates,” he said.

Another advantage of resume writers, Peterson said, is that they’ll likely have seen plenty of resumes for your industry and will know how to avoid generic job descriptions that will blend into the crowd.