"The first thing I do is research the resume," says Jeff Pulliam, a Silicon Valley engineering manager who frequently interviews candidates for technical positions. "I look for substance, crisply stated achievements, lessons learned and supervision experience."
Facing stiff competition all around, your resume is one of the most important tools in your repertoire. If your resume sings, you have a much higher likelihood of being called in for an interview. If your resume is sloppy and paints a poor picture of your experience, you'll have trouble getting in the door. It's for this reason that many job seekers consider using a resume writing service.
"I doubt that most people can write a resume as well as I can, because I do it every day," says John Donovan of Career Resume Service (www.crsresume.com). "If I have a broken pipe in my kitchen, I don't try to fix it myself. I call a plumber."
There's something to be said for hiring a professional. Unless you are an experienced writer, a resume can be a tougher task than you might think. When you apply for a job, the chances are high that you will be competing against other job seekers with professionally written resumes. Those people may have an advantage, and not necessarily because of experience.
Even people with master's degrees and many years of experience often fall prey to the same old mistakes: typos, grammatical errors and lack of creative layout. A resume writer will look at the resume as a commercial with you as the product and it's vital to be creative and make the final product sing -- something many people find challenging.
"You'll see people with 20 years in their careers still putting resume together like they learned in college," Donovan says. "They'll list the facts with no marketing message. You've got to think outside the box in putting a resume together.
So how do you know if you need a professional resume writer? Well, if you don't feel comfortable writing promotional copy about yourself, it might be worth the investment. A professionally written resume costs a lot less than you might think, and if you're not confident in your own skills, that alone might indicate that the service is worth the money.
So how much can you expect to pay? In general, most reputable resume services will charge in the neighborhood of $300, except for executive level package services that may include interview coaching and leadership training as well as resume services. Take note, however, that the price of a good quality resume writing service can vary considerably by location. For example, a service in the rural south will cost considerably less than one in New York City.
The services often match the income level of the surrounding population, but higher cost may not necessarily reflect higher quality or experience -- which confuses surfers looking for information about professional resumes online. This may sound like a good reason to do some online price shopping, but beware of organizations charging suspiciously low prices -- these writers may not have the appropriate qualifications.
Professional affiliations are a good marker for a quality resume writer. Look for a writer with a CRW (Certified Resume Writer) and/or a CERW (Certified Expert Resume Writer) certification, advises Donovan. This will indicate that the person has gone through training and exams and has demonstrated competence in resume writing.
Think you'd rather go it on your own? Many people feel the same way, and it's obviously perfectly possible to get a job without using a professional resume writing service. However, you should watch out for some key mistakes. Obviously, check and triple check for spelling and grammar errors, but also use creative formatting, Donovan recommends. Employers see tons of resumes each day with the typical Microsoft Word templates -- not the best way to make yourself stand out.
Last but not least, be realistic in your expectations. A resume writer will be able to highlight your skills and experience, but he or she can't produce a miracle. Would-be job seekers occasionally may think that a professional resume will help them clear hurdles and get jobs above their current experience level. Not so, says Donovan. "If you don't have skills or education or training, we can't help you."
Krissi Danielsson is a freelance writer and former TechTarget editor. You can reach her at kdd at danielssonarts dot com.
This was first published in October 2004