In the June 8, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, I discussed a blog post by Jon Jacobs — Another View of Resume Critiques. Jacobs suggests that my column Free resume critiques: The new career-industry racket is over the top. I characterized the “resume experts” who review and analyze (for free) resumes submitted by sales prospects… as monkeys tapping on keyboards. He doesn’t really see a problem with  resume-writing companies that lure customers with “free resume critiques” that appear to be based on crib sheets — boilerplate commentary that’s used again and again.

But Jacobs’ own readers torqued up the discussion in an unexpected direction. Commenting on two resume critiques he received, one reader said:

The following is what a consultant from wrote me:

“These statements aren’t much too [sic] write home about because they list what you did—not what you achieved. It’s like me saying “I went for a run last weekend.” What I didn’t say would paint a whole new picture—that my “run” was actually a marathon and that I placed in the top 10 out of more than 300 runners, all while nursing a sprained ankle. See the difference? It’s all in the wording.”

Now here’s a preliminary review sent to me from a consultant at the

“The statement above is very vague and simply does not paint a strong picture. It’s like me saying “I went for a run last weekend.” What I DIDN’T say would paint a whole new picture—that my “run” was actually a marathon and that I placed in the top ten out of more than 300 runners, all while nursing a sprained ankle. It’s all in the wording—see the difference?”

Between March 2009 (when Jacobs’ blog post was first published) and the present time, people have been posting the same cautionary comments. These recipients of “free resume critiques” are bugged about different (?)  resume writing services that keep using that clever line, “I went for a run last weekend…”

Running with monkeys tapping on keyboards… I think my original take on resume-writing companies that offer this sales come-on was dead on. And I stand by it. If the company is using canned comments in the “free resume critique,” it’s a safe bet that the $495 resume it sells you was “built” using the same scraps of keywords, buzzwords, action verbs and phrases it’s selling everyone else.

What’s mystifying is how different resume-writing companies use the very same expresssions in their “free resume critiques!” (You figure that one out. I already know the secret.)

In the newsletter I pointed out that there are legit professional resume writers out there, and you’ll know them by the time they take to talk to you, interview you and produce a custom resume that reflects who you are. I also pointed out that I’m still not a fan of using a resume to introduce yourself to an employer, but if you’re going to do it, at least make a sincere effort to write your own resume. The learning lies in the doing. So do the hard work to write it.

Let’s hear your experiences with resume writing services — good or bad. (Resume writers are welcome to comment, but please — no advertising or sales pitches. If you’re going to post, please focus on the distinctions between pros and hacks.)

[Disclosure: The Jon Jacobs blog referred to in this column is part of, which regularly publishes Ask The Headhunter columns.]


  1. I had reviews done by The Ladders and Get Interviews. I am a leading expert in my field, and do not have a “Core Competencies” section in my resume- describing oneself as merely competent strikes me as weak and lame.

    Yet, sure enough, they criticized my non-existent Core Competencies section.

    Their stuff is Hamburger Helper, I’d like to find a service that sells steak with sizzle. Enough said.

  2. Well, this is more than just a lousy “service” that’s not worth the money. This is a calculated, coordinated business practice that is literally a ripoff – offering a “custom-written” resume and deliving canned garbage. It is unethical, deceitful and might very well be illegal, or at least in contravention of consumer protection regulations. And it’s part and parcel of the way TheLadders operates.

  3. Nick,
    “overzealous attack” my eye. It’s bad enough that jobseekers are sifting through mountains of crap information, dealing with rejection, and jumping through hoops while they face uncertain futures. These parasites have their hands in the pockets of people who can’t afford to waste precious resources, time and self-esteem being exploited by fools. Shame on them.

    This country needs to get back to work and our employment system is a mess.

  4. There’s nothing wrong with resume critique services in principle. They’re like any other professional service: a good employment agent, accountant, or lawyer is extremely valuable and a bad one is, at best, a waste of time and money.

    The two ‘services’ described here are obviously in the waste of time and money category.

    I had a different experience when I once tried the free introductory resume critique from an ad. It was given over the phone and basically said that everything I had was terrible and I’d never get a job from this awful resume. I didn’t see any point in working with Mr. Negativity so I didn’t buy his service.

    One other thing: It is true that it’s much better to get an interview through contacts and to emphasize actually doing the job, but you do need a resume in your back pocket. It’s a rare company that doesn’t ask for one somewhere during the process, even if it’s just for the HR files, so having one already written lets you handle that request quickly and move on.

  5. Resumes mills are just a subset of outplacement mills the former charging 100’s to write a resume, and the latter thousands “to get you a job”.
    Like it or not somewhere along the line a job hunter needs a resume. There’s rooms full of books on how to write them, what’s best etc. The best one is the one you like that you can talk to that prepares you for an interview or better your networking sessions. There’s really no magic bullet point that’s going to win the day for you. You can improve resumes by running them by some trusted sounding boards.
    The key point in Nick’s advise is “the learning is in the doing” This is especially true for those that have been employed for a long time and have minimal experience with job hunting. Before you even think of networking, interviewing you need to wrestle yourself to the ground and nail down..and capture in your mind and a resume if need be. What’s my value proposition, and what sets me apart from others?
    Resume writing & the much disputed cover letter, has this one forces you to address those questions, and structure succinct and sellable answers.
    resume mills won’t do this for you. You have to have conversations with trustworthy people, that’s one reason and a big value of networking.
    so write your own stuff and stop looking for a 500$ pill that gives you magic bullet points

  6. @G: I hear you. Please note what I said in my posting: “I’m still not a fan of using a resume to introduce yourself to an employer.”

    There are better ways to introduce yourself. Having a resume ready to go, to “fill in the blanks” at the right time is a good thing.

  7. I hear you Nick. Just recently came across an free resume critique (at a Job Fair )and it turned out they were assosciated with this company called A & A careers.

    Now they have been calling me regularly, asking if I need their services in procuring a work position for a hefty fee.

    Thank you, if I had that kind of money then I would not need your services:) These were the thoughts in my mind.

    I now have an resume that I created after brainstorming and research and full of factual data that has been generating interest with employers :)

    Thanks for your messages, they are a great help. Much more than you realize. Keep the good work going.

  8. Three points I’ve observed over three-plus years of concentrated exposure to job seekers, career coaches, recruiters, hiring managers:

    1. Many highly experienced, successful professionals are clueless about the job search process… whether it’s interviewing, networking or resumes. (Note: This is less true now than three years ago, since the recession has made job-hunting and networking a front-burner topic not only for millions of layoff victims but even for the many more who’ve remained employed.)

    2. Most pros in my business (financial services) don’t think they need any advice about their job search process. They either think it always comes down to a candidate’s ability or track record, so advice makes no difference; or else they always blame their lack of offers on incompetent recruiters, insecure hiring managers or some other bogeyman.

    3. Resumes of successful pros often contain the same basic mistakes that reviewers and coaches always warn against: listing duties instead of accomplishments, failing to quantify accomplishments, too much formatting of text and graphics, stating inappropriate information (family status, for instance), failing to utilize keywords, using too many adjective and too much self-praise. (Accomplishments are facts; adjectives are opinions. How much credence would you give to any person’s glowing opinion about HIMSELF?)

    From this I conclude that many professionals in fact can benefit from paid advice – even standardized, formulaic advice – about how to improve their resumes.

    Of course, speaking directly with a career expert who asks questions about your unique features and background, is likely to add more value than getting advice from a member of a telephone team who dispenses copycat solutions off a crib sheet.

    Presumably, the real resume pros who spend a few hours interviewing clients before re-doing a resume (and presumably are available post-rewrite, to answer the client’s questions and further refine the product if needed) charge more than a flat $500 for their service.

    I also agree with Nick that “the learning lies in the doing”; it is self-defeating to try to delegate ALL the work of developing your own resume to any outside expert, whether an individual coach or a “resume service.” But there should be a happy middle ground.

    As for the idea expressed by a few commenters here, that the best reviewer is someone “you trust,” that is fraught with peril. Well-meaning friends or relatives – no matter how highly educated or how successful in their own careers – can do tons of damage to yours through misguided advice. Industry and company cultures differ, often dramatically. So a resume or interview tactic that works well in one could easily backfire 9 times out of 10 in another. What’s more, your most successful personal contacts may be small-business owners (as mine are; and as my father was). Such people might have never had to search for a job in decades; and even if they frequently make hiring decisions for their own enterprise, their personal hiring needs and preferences might contrast with those of the types of companies (large ones, for instance) that you’re targeting.

    So, again, for the majority of those who want or need resume advice, some form of professional help is probably advisable.

  9. I was creating a profile at and at the end of it, I attached a resume. It wasn’t one that I typically use, it was the one I customize from when I submit to a company.

    After I’d finished, they offered to to a free critique of the resume, and I accepted.

    Of course the response came back with an offer to write a customize resume for a fee (and I still get periodical emails repeating the offer), but the advice I got was surprisingly good. I used it to revamp my resume, and the new one seemed to draw more action than the previous version.

  10. A few years ago I submitted my resume to for their free resume “critique.” What I received was essentially a list of generic resume-writing tips. However, one of them stood out, and in response I sent the following note to them:

    In your resume critique you write:

    After you re-write your resume, don’t forget to check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation before using it to apply for a position. More often than naught, people overlook their own spelling and grammatical errors.

    Good advice. You should follow it yourselves. “Naught” means “nothing.” An idiom correctly employing the word “naught” is to state that a certain effort “was all for naught,” meaning that the effort was wasted and showed no meaningful results.

    The idiom that you are attempting to employ is “more often than not.” Note: NOT, not “naught.”

    I’m afraid your credibility is shot.

    Robert O’Brien

  11. Robert, What a great response you provided them. You are certainly my kind of guy. The best part is when you nail people like that 99.999% of the time they do not understand what you are saying. In a less grammatical sense, I nail people misusing the dreaded overused word “awesome” to describe everything and anything these days. I always ask them, “What are you in awe of here?” and it never fails they always cannot answer but do provide an identical stupid look.

  12. Well Nick, since you invited resume writers to comment…I’ll take the hook. ;)

    First, to address Suzanne:

    I am definitely not a “parasite” — I offer a service and I am damn good at it. By doing so, I support my family. Also, I do not sell anyone. They come to me. Most people that hire me are still employed looking for a change, so I am not going after poor broke souls and taking their last pennies. For those people, I actually cut deals or do pro bono work.

    I do offer free critiques, but it does not come with a sales pitch or an involuntary subscription to a newsletter. The “resume mills” operate this way — professional writers do not.

    Moving on…

    To address what Nick said, let’s “focus on the distinctions between pros and hacks.”

    PROS: Generate business by sharing knowledge and standing out as an expert in the industry. They write blog posts, they share other posts/articles they like, they send their resumes for inclusion in resume writing books, they are guest speakers, and/or they participate in discussions (e.g. LinkedIn Answers, professional forums, etc.). They are seen as “helpers.”

    HACKS: Have multi-million dollar advertising budgets.

    PROS: Work on their craft full time and write their own resumes.

    HACKS: Hire part-time subcontract writers around the world, some of which do not speak English as their first language, and pay them about 10% of what you paid them.

    PROS: Are willing to put their contact information online for customers to see and give them many options (phone, fax, e-mail, contact form, LinkedIn, etc.).

    HACKS: Typically will only offer you a contact form.

    PROS: Ask you tons of questions about your career history and goals. What’s your short term job goal? What’s your long term job goal? What kind of company are you targeting? Do you have any anxiety about the job search process? Do you have any perceived or known obstacles to overcome? Are you changing careers or moving into a new industry? There are TONS of questions that I ask my clients and it varies by industry and experience level. After I get all of the info I need, I write a new, custom resume.

    HACKS: Regurgitate what is on your resume in a shiny new template. You never get to speak one on one with your writer and your point of contact is a customer service or sales agent.

    PROS: Cannot possibly offer 12 or 24 hour turnarounds on projects. We spend time with our clients and most of us spend AT LEAST a week working with our customers.

    HACKS: Offer speedy turn around times for the desperate.

    Those are just a few examples. I wrote a short article on how to choose a proper resume writing service:

    I also keep a list of writers I personally recommend here:

    Yes, I am on the list because people randomly land on that page from the search engines.

    I love what I do and hopefully that comes through. All of the other ladies on my list love what they do as well. :)

    On a side, this is also my personal opinion, but since Robert went there…

    I really can’t stand resume writing companies that use the word “impactful” in their marketing crap. It’s not even a word! I wrote a blog post about that too for anyone who is even a little interested:

  13. Just before I slid into depression after losing my job, I had considered hiring a professional writer. I queried my family, and wisely, they thought it unnessary.

    When I began therapy, I couldn’t drive by myself. When I became stable enough to drive short distances by myself, the first place I headed to was my public library. I remembered something I had done 20 years earlier–researched and wrote my own resume. That resume had gotten me a job offer way back then.

    I thumbed through a number of tomes with recent copyright dates, and went home with an armful of books.

    For the next several days, I read them all and took copious notes. (I went through 7 refills for my rolling writer.)

    I kept my old resume handy as a guide, but basically started fresh. My daughter complimented me on the results (she’s a lawyer), and my shrink was delighted that I was beginning to recover my confidence. It definitely was the first therapeutic step I took that seemed to mean anything.

    Later, while corresponding with a friend about my situation, she generously offered to critique it. Being that she was a leader in the field, my heart skipped a few beats at the offer. Wonderous disbelief followed when she wrote back to tell me that there was nothing she could improve.

    Two points I want to make here:
    1. Only you really know you. My research into myself yielded discoveries that I had long forgotten.
    2. If your resume is not getting any response, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOUR RESUME. This information came from a local recruiter who informed a seminar group that employers were ignoring EVERYONE’S resume. He reminded us that we were merely unwilling participants in a history gone terribly wrong. Paying someone to pull you out of an epoch has never been very successful.

    So as everyone above has told you, if you’re smart enough to put coherent sentences together, you don’t need to hire someone. If you are already out of work, you have plenty of time to slap some words on paper and rearrange them until they tell the story of you.

    If, when you read your resume, you are confident that you know that guy or gal, you have succeeded.

    Time consuming, yes; difficult, maybe; impossible, no.

    Good writing!

    ps would someone tell me how to run spellcheck on this thing?

  14. Midwest guy on spell check. don’t waste time trying to find out how and if various blogs etc have spellchecks. just cheat, cut and past your writing into a blank word doc and spell check that and cut and paste the result you’re satisfied with back into this space.
    And very good points by the way.

  15. Nick,
    The very first misspelled word or grammatical error I find on a resume critique is a red flag. I have seen it all too often and warn anyone against the critiques because they are rip-offs. Here are some of the examples:

    From Careerbuilder as seen above:
    “These statements aren’t much too write home about because they list what you did—not what you achieved”. “Too” means excessively. Translated: These statements aren’t much excessively write home about..” There is a difference between a preposition and an adverb.

    From Careerbuilder:
    “More often than naught, people overlook their own spelling and grammatical errors.” The definition of “naught” is the digit 0; zero. A noun. Translated: More often than zero, people overlook their own spelling and grammatical errors.

    From Jobfox:
    Was told that I had misspellings in my resume but frequently words that are written in ALL CAPS are likely the acronym for a computer skill (i.e., SQAD). Jobfox spelled the word “planner” as “palanner” in the paragraph below the one telling me I had misspelled words.

    A pet peeve of mine is the arbitrary use of percentages. For example:
    “Only 13% of hires happen from online job listings”, and
    “71% of companies investigate candidates on social networks before requesting an interview.” Where do they come up with the percentages and what study are they referring to?

    Thank you, Nick, for posting this on your blog. I have had too people ask me two look over there resume critiques from Jobfox. 99% of them have been crapp.


  16. I learned this in my first year college English course, proofread a document backwards and each spelling error will stand out. My advice is that one should never proof a document without having read it backwards at least once, as the brain picks up on spelling errors in reverse, that would otherwise be ignored in a straightforward proofreading.

  17. @Laurie: Your posting made my day! Job hunter fires back! Naught that I’m being two hard on 99.2% of the IDIOTS who send out those critics of you’re resumes. (I think Jobfox is a division of TheLadders…)

  18. Hi, I’m having problems loading your web site. Just roughly half on the page appears to load, and the rest is just empty. I am not quite sure why…. but you might want to take a look. I will check back later on, as this could be just a temporary server error.

  19. Nick,
    Glad I could make your day. Needless to say, I am always on “grammar patrol”. Every day I receive emails from Jobfox, Careerbuilder and The Ladders that contain glaring grammar errors and misspellings. I can’t figure out if it’s because they think what they’re writing is correct or don’t care.

  20. @Laurie: If you love being on grammar patrol, you’ll enjoy the first article I ever wrote about TheLadders:

  21. Nick,
    I am late to the party on your first (hilariously funny) article but I feel compelled to comment nonetheless, so if you don’t mind:

    Dear Mr. Passerby,
    You malign Nick about a typo that a spell checker would miss because “manger” and “manager” are both valid words. What you failed to realize, Mr. Passerby, is that a spell checker would have called out your misspeling of “misspelling”. The good news is that it’s possible to make a typo even for a literate person. Just saying.
    Sincerely, Laurie

  22. I know that by writing this, I’m opening myself and my company up to criticism. But you seem like an intelligent bunch, so hopefully we can learn together.

    I agree with the point being made that it’s ridiculous to find the same boilerplate commentary used across multiple companies.

    However, as a professional resume writer who uses a free critique as his company’s primary method for attracting prospects, I find that some usage of canned responses is necessary due to the number of common mistakes found in submitted resumes.

    A few examples based on experience providing critiques:

    – Under 10% of resumes use a hook or headline to capture a prospective employer’s attention.
    – Under 40% of resumes display any evidence of leadership ability.
    – Under 40% of resumes convey even a moderate sense of success.

    The overall score of resumes my editors see (graded against our 51-point scorecard) is a 72%.

    The bottom line:
    Through process automation, we’re able to turn out a decent critique based on a checklist along with at least 2 unique custom observations. I believe that our feedback offers significant value to the majority of people we serve. If we spent an hour custom-crafting a careful response to each critique request, we wouldn’t be able to offer them for free (without a significant increase in the prices of our paid custom services).

  23. @Jeremiah: “If we spent an hour custom-crafting a careful response to each critique request, we wouldn’t be able to offer them for free (without a significant increase in the prices of our paid custom services).”

    I understand that. But having disclosed this, you create a massive problem for your firm. It’s reasonable for anyone to now conclude that you also use boilerplate in the “custom” resumes you produce.

    You may of course claim otherwise, but I’d never believe you. Either you’re a custom shop, or you’re not.

    It’s none of my business, I don’t know your firm or the quality of your work, but you raised the issue.

  24. Nick,

    Good post. I am tired of the “boilerplate” people selling crap to the masses. No value in that.

    However, as a professional that screens hundreds of resumes each year for different departments, there is an obvious need to help people produce a quality resume.

    In many (if not most) cases, the professionally prepared resumes are much better than those done by the individual. I’m not saying that they are all world class. But, this has been a point of curiosity for me. I have seen some of the before/after examples from my employees and most show a significant improvement, even though some are produced in a fairly “templatized” manner.

    This is usually a function of the individual not being willing to learn all of the skills necessary to present themselves properly in their resume. Fortunately for them, they invested money, instead of time, in this effort and it seems to have paid off. (I can’t speak for the people I didn’t hire, but you get the point.)

    In any case, we can bash the paid service as much as we like… and some of them do deserve it. But, there are many people at my company that made it through the screening process and are now working at all levels of our company because they went to a professional who helped them craft a superior product.

    So, it seems like we should be helping people know what constitutes a professional service over a copycat-boilerplate outfit.

    Would anyone want to comment on that? Seems like that would add value to this discussion.


  25. Hi Nick,

    I know you don’t advise using a resume writer, but you also mention that there are legit professional writers out there. Do you have any tips on how to find them?


  26. @Allison: The best way to find a good resume writer (or career counselor, or headhunter, or employer for that matter) is to talk to other people in your business. Ask them whom they’ve worked with. Check references; work only with consultants who have a track record among people you trust.

  27. Great article with outstanding points. With 30 years experience in the HR industry, I absolutely agree.