Confessions of a Former Recruiter: Should You Shell Out for a Resume Writer?

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resume writersLet’s start with the short answer: No.

Hunting for a new job is extremely stressful, and that stress infects the brains of job applicants, keeping them up at night plotting for ways to differentiate themselves. You know that you’re not supposed to pull stupid crazy stunts for attention (no matter how tempting it might be, do NOT send your resume wrapped around a candy bar, or as part of a cheesy puzzle with an “inspirational” message about the pieces coming together and teamwork).

So, fine. A boring resume is best. But you want yours to be the very best boring resume of the bunch. Which means you’ve at least toyed with the idea of hiring a professional to look at your rez to see if you’re doing something to hold yourself back from landing all of the best interviews.

I’ve heard of professional resume writers who charged as much as $300 to rewrite one resume—with whispers of people who paid far more than that. Here’s why I’m not a fan, and what you can do instead:

Professionally-Edited Resumes Suck

Seriously. When I worked in the recruiting business, we could often spot resumes that had been professionally doctored—and they were inevitably worse for the wear. Professional writers apparently love stuffing resumes with fluff. And, as I’ve told you in my resume tips, that’s the opposite of what we want to see. Resume professionals have told candidates to remove the years from their resumes (a cardinal sin), arrange items thematically rather than chronologically (another cardinal sin), and write long-winded objective paragraphs that make resumes mega long  and fluffy (one of the worst sins of all).

Some Career Coaches Are Pretty Good …. But Expensive

It’s often helpful to talk to someone in order to figure out the path that’s best for you. But, if you’re going to pay that person, you’d better make damn sure she’s knowledgeable about the business in general, and your industry in particular. Many executive coaches offer services that go beyond resume review and interview prep—they also help you with decision-making, social networking, revamping your online persona, rethinking your personal branding, and more. That said, we know of one executive coach who charges $2,400 for her full suite of services. If you landed a job that pays $60,000, all the prep work would still cost you more than half a month’s post-tax salary. Career coaches can be very important for top-level executives, but they might not be right for many laypeople. I’d see if you can get by without them, before shelling out.

When It Comes to Resumes, You Really Can Do It Yourself

More than anything, resumes are about common sense. You want to tell a clear narrative of how you got to where you are, and how that background is a logical lead-in to your future. Keep it clean, neat, short, and concise. There’s lots of elaborate information on the internet, but as far as I’m concerned, simplicity is king. For more specific what-to-dos, read my article on how to create the best resume.

Get Second Opinions—Just Don’t Pay for Them

Especially if you’re switching to a new industry or just getting your feet wet (and even if you’re not), it’s a good idea to have other eyes on your resume. If you’re applying for a job in the film industry, it might be a good idea to downplay your chemistry major in college, since talk of protein folding is just confusing and intimidating to filmmakers. Meanwhile, if you were applying to a neuroscience lab, you’d want to leave in the technical jargon. Someone who’s experienced in your industry could help you draw the distinction between what’s impressive and what’s pointless, what’s relevant and what’s juvenile. You don’t need a professional resume writer for this, though. If you want to work in finance, almost any person who works at a hedge fund will give you better advice on your resume than a random person who makes money writing resumes (but isn’t an industry expert).

Use Your Resume as a Conversation-Starter

People love to be needed. If you have contacts in your desired industry (and if it’s appropriate), see if you can arrange a time to sit down and ask that person for advice. It feels great to be viewed as an expert or mentor, so asking for help may simultaneously firm up your relationship with that networker and improve your resume. If you don’t know anyone in the industry whom you could ask, then that’s a problem right there. Getting a job has a lot to do with your resume, but it has at least as much to do with networking and—very importantly—being savvy about the field you’re about to enter.

If you have nowhere to turn, then that’s somewhere to start. Go to networking events, find business groups in your industry, look through your alumni networks, and get cracking!

What’s the most you’ve heard of someone paying for resume or career coaching services? Tell us in the comments below!

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