What I’m about to tell you is full of my own biases.
Don’t believe anything I say without applying your own critical thinking and doing your own research.
I say this because it’s important that you do your due diligence; choosing a professional resume writer is one of the most important career decisions you’ll ever make.
- An excellent resume writer will position you in a way which communicates your commercial value, speaks to the needs of your potential employers and open exciting doors for you. (Of course, at that level it would be more accurate to call such a professional a personal branding strategist – and not all of those are created equal, either – but that’s another story for another time).
- An ordinary resume writer will clip your wings, extinguish your hopes and make you look like every other candidate in the marketplace.
Should You Believe Me?
I own and manage Arielle Careers.
We are a personal branding agency that provides, among other things, resume writing services for senior managers, executives and board members.
This means that I clearly have a vested interest on this topic. (See what I mean by “biases”?).
However, one of the reasons this agency is successful is because I have no interest in selling something that doesn’t work to another human being. Our philosophy is to always under-promise, over-deliver and obsess over the tiniest of details.
We also don’t work with everyone; we choose our clients carefully and yet are usually booked out 1 month in advance.
I’m not saying this to boast. Rather, I want to set a proper context around this post. While more business is nice, my main reason for writing to you today is not to convince you to become our client. It’s to help you navigate the complex, confusing (and – sadly – often unscrupulous) world of professional resume writing services.
And, if you do choose to enquire about our resume writing services after reading this article, I’d be honoured to learn about your planned career move in more detail.
Why Hire A Professional Resume Writer?
When you hire a resume writer, you’re not really that interested in fancy words on a page.
What you really want is a shift in the balance of power between yourself and your prospective employer. To put it more precisely:
You want to buy leverage over a potential employer and competitive advantage over candidates who are competing for the same role as you.
In that sense, you want:
- Confidence that you’ll gain a strong competitive advantage.
- Luxury of being able to enjoy offers coming to you, instead of you having to chase them.
- Freedom to choose between multiple lucrative job offers.
- Peace of mind that your application will rest on top of the pile.
Sadly, these hopes are often not realised. Here’s what usually goes wrong..
The Most Common “Professional” Resume Fails.
- Fluff: To compensate for a lack of commercial grit, the resumes were filled with over-inflated adjectives.
- ATS Fails: In well-intentioned, but clumsy efforts to help resumes pass through applicant tracking systems (ATS), the resume writers had stuffed their work with keywords.
- Weak Strategy: The resumes lacked a cohesive career story and USP (Unique Selling Proposition), never articulating the true value of the people they were written to promote.
- Dated Design: While the resumes would have looked fine when printed on heavy-stock paper, they would not have rendered properly for the 95% of today’s recruiters who check email on their smartphones.
- Ambiguous Targeting: The positioning of the resumes was generic or incorrectly targeted.
As you continue to look for a resume writer who will not fail you, here are eight things you should consider in order to make sure you make the right choice.
1. How Is Their Marketing?
A resume writer won’t be able to market you any better than they market themselves.
It’s an inescapable law of this industry.
That’s because the core process of resume writing is, in fact, not writing at all.
While superb writing skills are essential, 80% of the work involves discovering and articulating your points of differentiation, and weaving those points into a compelling narrative that’s commercially meaningful to prospective employers.
In that sense, the act of writing a resume is much more closely related to the field of marketing than writing.
(As a side point, I discovered this the hard way, after trialling – and choosing not to hire – countless Oxford- and Cambridge-educated English Literature PhDs. Despite their enviable writing talent, they couldn’t craft a resume that would be noticed by employers.)
When you’re searching for a resume writer, you’re looking for a rare breed of professional who possesses the marketing skills and business acumen to persuasively speak to the needs of your target market.
In fact, the stakes are even higher. You’re looking for someone who can out-market your competition.
A useful question to ask at this point is this: how good is the resume writing company at marketing themselves, and how distinct are they compared to their competitors?
Things to pay attention to:
- Positioning: Is it clear, confident and sharp? Or is it generic, vague and untargeted? Do they unequivocally know how they differ from their competitors?
- Writing: Is it generic, lifeless, dry and propped up by clichéd phrases like “extensive experience”, “comprehensive range of skills”, “working in many sectors” and “extremely passionate”? Or is it precise and crisp while also being emotive, meaningful and colourful?
- User experience: Does the website design overwhelm you? Or does it give you what you need, when you need it? Today’s resumes must be designed with that in mind. You don’t want your resume to be deleted because of busy, noisy design.
- Imagery and Graphics: What about nonverbal communication? How is imagery used to support the brand story? Do you see generic, overused stock photos? Or a sustained, strategic effort to ensure that unique images are used to enhance their core message?
- Attention to Detail: The difference between good and outstanding marketing is always in the fine detail. Often a single word can transform the impression made by a brand. Do you see evidence of meticulous dedication to perfecting the message? Or does it look like they’re content with merely being “good enough”?
2. You (Almost Always) Get What You Pay For.
Broadly, resume writers operate at two price points:
- $80-$200: Budget option. Mainly focused on “spicing up” the language and layout with low emphasis on positioning and branding.
- $500 and above: Premium option. High-quality service, with a focus on distilling your value and aligning this to your desired career transition. Includes personal branding.
Cost has traditionally correlated positively with results (because high costs are typically required to cover the time invested by professionals at the appropriate level of seniority, with the right attitude and skills).
However, lately I’ve seen a trend whereby budget resumes are sold at premium prices. This was my observation with the clients discussed earlier. It’s equivalent to selling fake Louis Vuitton bags at full price.
In order to avoid such an outcome, call and speak with the resume writer, paying attention to the following points:
- Communication Skills: Is he/she a superb communicator?
- Quality of Advice: Is he/she able to wrestle with, tease apart and provide multiple options for your unique career challenges? Or is he/she giving you generic advice? Do you feel like you’re really being listened to and understood?
- Generosity: Is he/she willing (and able) to provide you with substantial value upfront, before closing the deal?
- Instinct: What’s your gut feel – is he/she the real deal?
3. How To Spot Fake Resume Writer Reviews.
It’s easy to throw up testimonials on a website, but I suggest you treat them with a pinch of salt, since they’re practically impossible to verify.
A more reliable sign of credibility is a substantial number of positive reviews on platforms like Google Plus. These platforms include checks and balances to improve the authenticity of reviews.
However, Google Plus reviews can also be fabricated. We have a running joke at Arielle that fake review writing is a bigger industry than resume writing itself. The dead giveaway of a fake review is the language used.
Most of the time, fake reviews will be written by the same person, which means they’ll inherit that person’s preference for sentence structure, tone, punctuation and rhythm.
They also tend to include an unnaturally high repetition of the same few points, which the resume writer knows are key issues for potential customers. For example, “at first I was concerned about the cost, but now I’m so glad I spent the money”.
I recommend reading 5-10 reviews, paying close attention to what’s being said and how it’s being said. See if you can identify patterns in the language and stated benefits.
4. Are They Right For Your Level Of Seniority?
While you’re examining resume writer reviews, pay close attention to the profiles of the people who posted them. Do they hold positions similar to yours? Are they cut from the same cloth as you? Do they write like you do?
This is an important factor to consider, because resumes at each level of seniority are expected to use language – and follow rules – that are specific to that level.
A resume writer might have five star reviews from a dozen accountants and bookkeepers, but that doesn’t mean they can write an effective resume for a CFO. Look for evidence that the resume writer has made a substantial difference to people who are at your level of seniority.
Note that absence of a photograph in a reviewer’s profile isn’t necessarily an indicator of inauthenticity. Due to the sensitive nature of this work, quite often clients prefer to remain anonymous. But be wary if profiles of most (or all) reviewers lack photographs.
Again, look for patterns.
5. Beware Of Credential Flashing.
This may surprise you, but there are actually several certifications for resume writers. These include Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), Certified Advanced Resume Writer (CARW), and Certified Master Resume Writer (CMRW).
I don’t have them. Nor do any of my team members. And we don’t intend to get them.
After careful consideration, and after receiving a number of enquiries from people whose certified writers failed to produce effective results, I decided these certifications weren’t adequate.
In my experience, the performance of resumes written by certified resume writers is unnecessarily curbed, because the certifications were developed for a world that is rapidly disappearing.
Today’s hiring managers and recruiters play by the rules of Headhunting 2.0 [Read my interview with the BBC, where I explain this concept in detail]. To be useful to you, your resume writer needs to intimately understand the expectations of this new world.
I suggest you look beyond the certification credentials for up-to-date, real commercial experience.
Which brings me to my next point.
6. Ask What “HR and Recruitment Experience” Means To Them.
Today, most resume writers claim to have HR and recruitment experience.
However, they rarely explain what that means.
While HR and recruitment experience certainly helps to write a resume – because it provides a “behind the scenes” insight into the needs of hiring managers – it’s important to note that not all such experience is useful or relevant.
For example, administration managers who performed HR duties as part of their roles, or journalists who completed stints as recruiters, are unlikely to possess the same hiring competency, knowledge of the talent management lifecycle, or ability to add value as a dedicated HR Consultant at PwC.
Read between the lines. Identify and challenge any overstatements. Ask about the specifics of stated experience:
- Where was the experience earned?
- What did the job involve? Junior-level HR/Recruitment tasks? Or senior advisory and decision-making responsibilities?
- How substantial was the portion of the role that involved HR/Recruitment?
- Was the position held as part of a structured, successful HR/Recruitment career? Or as part of a temporary job?
- How long was the position held?
7. Evidence Of Thought Leadership?
If you’re looking for someone to help you build a personal brand that extends beyond your resume, then are you willing to hire someone who lacks their own strong brand presence?
Here are a few quick checks you can perform:
- Online Presence: What do you see when you Google their name and company? What happens when you Google their name in combination with words “resume writing” and “personal branding”?
- Authority: Have they written any content for legitimate, authoritative industry blogs?
- Credibility: Have their opinions been quoted by any credible publications?
- LinkedIn: Does their LinkedIn profile appear professional and engaging?
Every resume writer will tell you that you should publish content and develop your online presence. But are they putting their money where their mouth is? Or are they simply preaching?
If it’s the former, take a close look at the quality of their content. Read a few of their posts.
Does it seem like they really care about their chosen topic? Are they generating and broadcasting innovative and original thoughts? Or are they producing “content for the sake of content”, full of generic advice that looks like it’s been cheaply outsourced?
If it’s the latter, your resume will probably suffer the same fate.
8. Realise That Live Samples Are Overrated.
I don’t post Arielle’s resumes online, because I want to minimise the degree to which they’re plagiarised.
The main problem with plagiarism, apart from it being illegal and unethical, is the impact on you.
I’ve seen plagiarised resumes, constructed by lifting sentences from a number of other resumes, being sold at premium rates to unsuspecting clients.
And while on the surface such resumes might look great and use impressive language, they tend to be ineffective.
Because they lack the foundation on which the original resumes were built. Without a foundation, they become the resume equivalent to the Kardashians – all show and no substance.
As mentioned before, 80% of resume writing is focussed on positioning and marketing – and that part is impossible to replicate through plagiarism. In fact, the very action of plagiarising is the opposite of positioning. The former widens the scope, while the latter tightens it, thus rendering the plagiarised resume ineffective.
The problem, however, doesn’t reveal itself until some time after you pay for and receive your “premium” resume. Usually alarm bells go off when you apply for your dream role and hear crickets.
Having said all that, a resume writer should happily provide you with a few examples upon request.
By publishing this post, I hope to achieve a reduction in the number of instances whereby talented professionals choose a resume writing service that can’t deliver the results they expect and deserve.
Do you think we might be a great match?
Before you reach out, take a look at who we work with. We select our clients carefully.
The clients with whom we’re most compatible often sense this fact before contacting us.
If you feel this might be you, then I’d love to hear from you.