Choosing a Resume Consultant

Does it make sense to hire one of the countless writers out there who profess to be resume professionals?

By James A. Ambrosio | October 2007

Ask any career consultant or HR professional to name the most important steps in a job search, and preparing a good resume is sure to be near – if not at – the top of the list. While in and of itself, a resume won’t land you the perfect job, a bad one will most certainly keep you from getting in the door for a job interview.

Fundamentally, your resume is a sales brochure – and you’re the goods being advertised. It needs to sell your skills in about 30 seconds, which is roughly the time a recruiter will spend on a quick glance before moving on to the next one. For anyone to prepare a good resume is a daunting task, doubly so if you’re the kind of person who has difficulty expressing yourself on paper.

So, does it make sense to hire a self-professed "resume professional" to do it for you? The answer is a qualified "maybe."

Buyer Beware

Because this is an unregulated industry, just about anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves a resume-writing consultant. However, that doesn’t guarantee they have the skills to do a good job. The best consultants can turn a disjointed and dull list of job descriptions into a tight and bright sales document that presents you in the best possible light. That doesn’t mean embellishing your work history beyond what you actually did – it just means the writer should be able to draw out your skills and accomplishments.

"This is an industry wrought with fraud," says Seattle-based career consultant Robin Ryan of her own industry. "Services vary by quality because there is no regulation." Not everyone would express it that strongly, but Edward Kelleher, an employment consultant based in Wayne, Pa., agrees that when it comes to professional resume writing, "there are no barriers to entry."

A noted author and speaker on career issues, Ryan has written several books on employment topics, including one on writing an effective resume. Her advice to any prospective job seeker is to start with a good book on the topic – she naturally recommends her own Winning Resumes, but there are others on the market – to see if you can craft a resume that emphasizes actions you’ve taken and results you’ve achieved.

"If you can use a book so you can understand what is needed, and can follow the directions, that can help most people," Ryan says. The biggest error job seekers make – particularly technology and financial professionals – is to allow their resumes to read like job descriptions. "They leave out the results."

Kelleher specializes in outplacement consulting, which means his firm is typically hired by employers who are downsizing to help people land new positions. "We work with clients to develop the right message," he says. "I think it is hard for anyone to do a good job on a resume for someone else. The resume comes together after we’ve had time to talk to someone extensively."

Ryan agrees that a conversation is key. She admits her $995 fee is expensive for the industry, but says a typical engagement begins with a lengthy interview, during which she probes for a client’s strengths, weaknesses and accomplishments. In addition to eliciting more detail about their background, she says the process helps prepare someone for an actual job interview by learning how to best answer prospective questions from employers.

Ryan and Kelleher advise anyone hiring a professional to ask for references. You should also find out if the process involves a conversation between you and the writer before any work is done. If not, Ryan’s advice "is run away as fast as you can. People who have you fill out a form and talk to you for 20 minutes (are) going to get you a cookie-cutter approach."

She also advises people to beware of any writer or service that "guarantee" clients a job interview or employment. No one can promise that, she says.

Finally, some writers will offer a professional designation – Certified Professional Resume Writer, or CPRW, is the most common – as evidence that they have the necessary skills. Kelleher expresses some skepticism that professional designations "have any stature." However, having one does show the writer is focused enough to have completed a course and passed the necessary examination.

James A. Ambrosio is a freelance writer – and sometimes resume-writer – working in Trenton, N.J.