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The world of professional resume writers is a murky one. A web search reveals dozens of operators who claim to be “the #1 resume writer in Australia”. Costs of a professionally written resume range from $30 to $3,000.
If you make the wrong decision, at stake is the future of your most valuable commercial asset – your career.
All this can put quite a bit of pressure on you to get your choice of resume writer right.
I’m here to help.
Before I discuss the most common resume writer fails, let me kick off with the 5 main reasons why you should consider taking my opinion into account.
5 Reasons Why My Opinion Matters.
- For the past 7 years, I have led Arielle Executive, a boutique career advisory firm. Since inception, we have achieved the nearly-impossible task of writing over 2,000 resumes for a discerning executive clientele while maintaining a 5-star Google review rating.
- Due to numerous requests from non-executive professionals, in early 2019 my husband and I founded a sister brand, Exceptional Resume Writers, which specialises in providing professionally written resumes to mid-level professionals and mid-level managers for under $600.
- My opinions on job search, HR and personal branding have been featured by the Australian Financial Review, Forbes, BBC, HR Director Magazine and AICD, as well as by countless HR, talent and recruitment industry blogs.
- I’m an official member of the Forbes Coaches Council – an invitation-only body for the world’s most prominent career coaches.
- In my previous life I was a corporate HR and recruitment professional for 10 years, rising through the ranks of blue-chip brands like Caltex, Louis Vuitton and Julia Ross (More on “I’m a HR manager” myths later).
So, this is not my first rodeo.
I Am Biased.
You might point out that my opinions on choosing a resume writer are likely to be skewed towards favouring my businesses – and you would be right.
If I didn’t believe that Arielle Executive and Exceptional Resume Writers should be your top two picks, I should not be in business. However…
Every business owner will believe the same about their own business, so what’s important is not their conclusion itself, but their reasoning behind it.
In the paragraphs below I will share with you the logic on which I base my opinions – so that you can decide for yourself whether the values which underpin my businesses resonate with you.
I will also do my best to illuminate the inner workings of the resume writing industry, peeling back the curtains on its methods and – regrettably – its shady practices.
At the end of the day, I want you to choose a resume writing service that’s right for you.
While more business is always nice, my primary purpose here is not to convince you to become our client. Rather, it is to help you get a great job by educating, clarifying and simplifying.
Let’s do this.
#1 Reason To Hire A Resume Writer.
Choosing a resume writing service is one of the most important career decisions you’ll ever make.
- A highly skilled resume writer can set your career on an upward path by positioning you as a highly hireable, in-demand business asset that’s ripe for the best career opportunities.
- An ordinary resume writer can make your career stall by making you look identical to every other candidate in the marketplace while downplaying your experience and therefore forcing you to pick from leftover job openings.
It’s important to remember that when you engage a resume writing service, you’re expecting more than just for your career history to be neatly typed up on a page.
Instead, you’re in the market for a strategic marketing tool which has the power to shift the balance of power between yourself and a prospective employer.
This tool must bridge the gap between who you know yourself to be and what a hiring manager needs to know about you in order for you to be seen as a strong contender.
A great resume writer will provide you with a leap in competitive advantage over candidates who are competing for the same role as you. Specifically:
- You’ll see yourself through an entirely different, more positive lens; as a result, those you interact with in the market will also see you this way.
- Once you have more clarity about your point of difference/personal value proposition, you’ll find yourself being approached with better quality offers.
- You’ll know your worth. You’ll see quite clearly what you’re capable of, and this elevated confidence will allow you to have more fruitful discussions in the market. Recruiters/hiring managers will better understand how to join the dots of your career. Your career will ‘make sense’ to them in the context of your next step.
- Importantly, you will know what is and what isn’t right for you – and be less willing to settle.
Sadly, these hopes are often not realised. Here’s what usually goes wrong.
The Most Common Resume Writer Fails.
1. Generic Fluff.
To compensate for their lack of commercial grit, resume writers often inject your resume with hyperbole and hollow, generic facts. For example:
“Highly motivated and performance-driven Accountant with 10 years of experience in various-sized companies.”
A sentence like this is a waste of precious real estate on your resume. Being a highly motivated and performance-driven employee is the bare minimum expectation in today’s day and age.
2. ATS Over-Optimisation.
In a well-intentioned effort to help your resume pass through Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), resume writers may resort to “optimising” it with relevant keywords.
This process usually involves ensuring that keywords which appear in the job description are also present in your resume.
Thing is, ATS technology has improved radically in the last 5 years.
What was considered best practice yesterday hurts your marketability today.
Early types of ATS software used what’s known as semantic search technology – a complex way of saying they counted up the keywords they’d been programmed to look for and automatically rejected resumes with less (or none) of them.
Today, artificial intelligence-augmented AT systems are all the rage.
They have the power to consider resume statements beyond the meaning of individual keywords, taking the broader context into account – even when the meaning is implicit rather than explicit.
This means keyword optimisation must be applied artfully, in a way that’s not forced – and only in certain situations.
If overdone, it has the effect of sanitising your resume and making it uninteresting to the eventual human reader.
What’s the point of getting past the bots if you can’t win over the recruiter who has another 30 resumes, with identical keywords to yours to sift through?
3. Weak Targeting.
I see a lot of professionally written resumes which fail to speak to the needs of a specific target market.
A resume is most effective when it repositions your experience in a way that supports a (very clearly defined) next career move.
Unfortunately, most resumes are little more than broad listicles of your career history that are written through a lens of “here’s everything that I’ve done”, rather than “here are the precise reasons why I’m the best person for the role”.
4. Dated Design.
Confusing, sloppy, difficult-on-the-eye resume design is still very common. It just won’t go away because of an often-cited truism that resumes with graphics get rejected by AT systems.
While this concern does have an element of truth to it, the devil is – as always – in the details.
As I have discussed above, ATS technology has seen rapid advances in recent years. Today’s systems are quite capable of parsing out relevant text while simply “not seeing” the graphics.
This doesn’t mean that you now have the creative license to redesign your resume using the colour palette of a fruit salad.
Effective, beautiful design must never be excessive and never be an end in itself.
Instead, its primary purpose is to create a visual hierarchy, prioritising elements and classifying them in terms of their relationships.
Here’s an example of a resume template which follows this philosophy, and which we’ve offered to clients at Arielle Executive in the past:
Key Criteria For Choosing A Resume Writer.
Alright! Now that we’ve covered off the main problems, let’s discuss how you can avoid them.
Follow these 7 guidelines to screen potential resume writers and decide whether you’d like to trust them with your career.
I must stress that these are proxy measures. In other words, they’re not direct tests of resume writer performance and integrity. Unfortunately, these do not exist – not in this industry, nor in any other.
Rather, they’re markers that I believe correlate very highly with a resume writer’s ability to deliver a set of powerful, meaningful, original career documents to a client on time.
Apply them to your situation to help you narrow down your choices.
1. Their Marketing: Does It Impress You?
This is a big one.
A resume writer won’t be able to market you better than they market themselves. It’s an inescapable law of this industry.
This is important because the core process of resume writing is, in fact, not writing at all.
While superb writing skills are essential – and having HR/recruitment under the belt helps, too – the core element of this work involves discovering and articulating points of differentiation, then weaving those points into a compelling narrative that’s commercially meaningful to prospective employers.
In that sense, the act of writing a top-notch resume is much more closely related to the fields of marketing and branding.
When evaluating a resume writer, ask yourself – how good are they at marketing themselves? Do they know what separates them from the market? Can they communicate it in a compelling way?
If they can’t build a brand which convincingly represents them in the market, how can you expect them to represent you?
Pay specific attention to:
- Branding: What does it sub-communicate –“I’m a professional brand and I know what I stand for” or “I look amateurish and am overdue for an update”?
- Positioning: Is it clear and confident? Or is it vague and me-too? Are they able to express how they differ from their competitors without falling back generic platitudes like “#1 resume writer in Australia”?
- Team LinkedIn Profiles: Are they generic, lifeless, dry and propped up by clichéd phrases like “Jane has achieved significant success in a variety of roles and projects….”? Or are they precise, engaging and crisp?
- User Experience: Does their website design overwhelm you? Or does it give you what you need, when you need it?
- Imagery And Graphics: 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 the 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 get a sense that these people take pride in their work, and that each written word has been carefully considered?
2. Their Pricing: What Exactly Are You Paying For?
Broadly, Australian resume writing services operate at 3 price points:
- $50-$400: resume mills. High-volume operations which focus on spicing up the language of your resume and cleaning up its layout. Minimal attention paid to positioning and branding. Work is usually offshored to employees who spend between 15-45 mins on your resume.
- $400-$2,000: mid-weights. You can expect higher-level professionals to work on your resume – typically those with stints in recruitment, admin, HR or communications under their belts. The writers make an effort to sell you by reshaping your achievements and writing a suitable profile (with varying degrees of success).
- $2,000 and above: top-tiers. The company leverages the expertise of its hand-picked and in-house trained professionals to craft bespoke resumes which are, effectively, marketing campaigns built on top personalised branding strategies. Your career documents distil your value and align it with your desired career direction. A commercial narrative is strategically weaved through your resume and other career assets.
Cost has traditionally correlated with the quality of outcomes. Most operators tended to stay in their lanes.
However, I’ve lately noticed a disturbing trend where operators are attempting to cash in on the rise in popularity of personal branding through overcharging and overpromising.
On a practical level, it means that “resume mill” grade resumes are sold at “mid-weight” prices, while“mid-weight” resumes are claimed to have features typically found at the “top-tier” level (e.g., a value proposition and/or a cohesive career narrative).
Unfortunately, there’s no black and white rule to help you navigate around this challenge.
I suggest that you rely on a combination of your gut feel and your scrutiny of all other points I cover in this guide.
If you’re having doubts, speak to someone at the company over the phone and probe for cracks.
Do they sound as though they’re “at your level”? If not, they’re unlikely to be able to communicate your expertise better than you can yourself.
Tell them about your current career challenge and see if they can offer an intelligent solution while advising you on effective job search strategies. If you’re like most people, you’ll be able to tell a difference between a salesperson who is rehashing lines to sell you something and an elite-level professional who has the ability to solve complex problems.
3. Their Reviews: Do They Seem Legitimate?
The authenticity of testimonials that are listed on a resume writer’s website is almost always impossible to verify.
A more reliable sign of credibility is a substantial number of positive reviews listed on Google My Business. This platform includes checks and balances which attempt to ensure that reviews are authentic.
However, Google My Business reviews can also be fabricated. Thankfully, they’re often easy to spot.
Most of the time, fake reviews will be written by the same person; this means they’ll inherit that person’s preference for sentence structure, tone, punctuation and rhythm.
They also tend to repeat the same few points, which the business owner knows to be key sticking points for potential customers.
“At first I was concerned about the cost, but now I’m glad that I’ve decided to spend the money.”
I recommend that you read 5-10 reviews and pay close attention to what’s being said. See if you can identify patterns in the language and stated benefits.
Note that the 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.
However, be wary when profiles of most (or all) reviewers lack photographs. Again, look for unnatural patterns.
4. Their Experience: Is It A Match For Your Level Of Seniority?
A resume writer might have great reviews from accountants and electricians, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they can write an effective executive resume for a General Manager or a Chief Financial Officer.
Find a resume writing company that specialises in writing resumes for people at your level of seniority.
You’ll find that most companies don’t specialise, instead preferring to serve the entire breadth of the market – from entry-level professionals to c-suite executives.
It’s important to remember that executive resumes are held to a higher standard on multiple levels, so selecting an operator who has a strict specialisation in executive careers will almost always translate into a greater competitive advantage for you in the marketplace.
This is because a narrow focus offers a provider the opportunity to develop a higher level of skill in their chosen area.
It’s a basic principle that you’ve no doubt seen in just about every profession and industry (general practitioners vs cardiologists, Toyota vs Bentley, etc).
5. Their Certifications: Do They Mean Anything?
Contrary to what the certifying bodies would have us believe, there is no linkage between resume writer certification and competence.
There are terrible resume writers that are certified and good resume writers that are not – and vice versa.
In case you’re confused by the different acronyms, here’s a quick overview.
There are several certifications for resume writers:
- You’re most likely to encounter the Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), the Certified Advanced Resume Writer (CARW) and the Certified Master Resume Writer (CMRW).
- If you’re shopping around beyond the Australian borders, you’re also likely to encounter NCRW and NCOPA – certifications from the USA-based National Resume Writers Association (NRWA).
I don’t have any of these certifications. Nor do any of my team members. And we don’t intend to get them.
I realised that these certifications weren’t adequate after seeing these “certified” resumes flop in the market as a recruiter and HR professional. And to this day, I receive enquiries from people whose CPRW/CMRW certified resumes have failed to produce results.
In my experience, the performance of resumes written by certified resume writers is unnecessarily curbed, because the standards 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].
Which is why the Arielle Executive team instead relies on our proprietary ExecutiveExcellence™ branding technology, which we’ve designed and built to ensure that our clients’ resumes are several orders of magnitude more effective than the standard CPRW/CARW/CMRW equivalents.
6. Their HR/Recruitment Experience: Should You Care?
Quite a few resume writers use their HR and recruitment experience as a selling point.
While this experience certainly helps to write a resume – because it provides a “behind the scenes” insight into the needs of hiring managers and talent acquisition professionals – not all such experience is useful or relevant.
Also, being a recruiter/HR professional does not necessarily translate into an ability to communicate your experience into value in a compelling manner.
Ask questions. Probe. Read between the lines:
- Did they earn their HR/Recruitment experience at a blue-chip brand?
- How substantial was the portion of the role that involved HR/Recruitment? What was their level of seniority?
- How long was the position held?
This nuance is important because not all HR professionals and recruiters are created equal.
This is especially relevant if you’re looking for an executive resume writer.
HR/recruitment professionals who have spent time at the senior level of blue-chip brands are more likely to understand the strategic drivers of senior leadership roles – and therefore be able to translate your experience into a pitch which resonates with the needs of senior business decision-makers.
7. Their Thought Leadership: Are They Stuck In The Past?
Your chosen resume service should be up-to-date with the latest hiring trends.
If they’re not up to date with developments in the talent space, how can they create effective and relevant career marketing documents?
You can judge this by assessing their commitment to thought leadership.
Take a close look at the quality of their content. Read a few of their posts.
Do you get the sense that they are committed to being an expert in their field?
Are they broadcasting innovative and original ideas? Or are they producing “content for the sake of content”, which looks like regurgitated advice that’s been written as an afterthought or has been cheaply outsourced?
Pay specific attention to:
- 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 industry publications?
I hope that by writing this post I have helped you to choose a resume writing service that can deliver the results you deserve. In case you’re still undecided, here are 5 bonus tips which will help you think through your options.
Remember – you have a great deal of valuable experience under your belt, but recruiters and hiring managers won’t appreciate your value if you don’t communicate it effectively via the humble resume.
This is the most important document of your career, so it makes sense to get it right. Your resume has the power to open doors for you – or to shut them.
To your career!