You’ve heard enough out of me about why you should toss your resume in the trash and get your next job by actually talking to people who can hire you. A resume is a dumb piece of paper. It cannot “sell” you, or be your “marketing piece” or defend you when a manager sees something on it that bugs him. Too many people use a resume as a crutch. “Look, I mailed out 100 of them! I’m job hunting actively. Now I’ll wait for employers to call.” Yah. You might as well send a dog with a note in its mouth.

But you’re gonna use a resume anyway. And I’ve got no beef with that. You should have a resume, a good one. Use it the way I do when I present a candidate to a client company. Not to get the candidate in the door, but to fill in the blanks.

I rely on my powers of persuasion to get my client to interview a candidate. Besides, my clients don’t want 500 resumes. They’re paying me to bring them three good candidates so they don’t have to waste their time sorting paper. If I provide a resume at all, it’s usually after the interview, when the manager needs to fill in the blanks — to understand the rest of the candidate’s background. And that resume had better be good, clear, to the point, and supportive of what the manager learned about the candidate in their meeting.

Most resumes are crap. Yadda-yadda-yadda. “OBJECTIVE: To work for a progressive company where I can experience career growth and where I can work with people.” (HINT: I love those resumes because the OBJECTIVE is right up top, and that helps me to instantly toss the thing in the trash. Gimme a break. You want to work with people. You want to work for a good company. You want your career to grow. So what? What’s that got to do with showing me why I should hire you, or present you to my client?)

If you aren’t capable of writing a decent resume, you may turn to a friend for help, or you may pay a resume writer to do it for you. Unfortunately, the resume-writing racket is loaded with more dopes than the headhunting and HR businesses. Think about it. If you don’t think you’re qualified to write your own resume, what qualifies you to pick a resume writer who will do a good job? Think, Dopey. Don’t flush your cash. Think.

If you’re going to pay to get a resume written, I’m going to offer you two suggestions that will help you out:

1. Don’t hire a resume mill. TheLadders is a good example of a mill. It’s a job board running a resume business on the side. You’ll get a convincing sales pitch on the phone or in an e-mail from a “pro,” only to have your resume turned over to a greenhorn in the back room who’s cranking out fodder for the shredder. Besides, why should you pay for a tiny $100k mistake or use a service that’s rickety, leads nowhere? I cite Ladders by name because they’ve got the biggest advertising campaign in the resume business and you’re going to see their pitch everywhere. Always go for the independent practitioner when you can. Resumes are very personal, and personal service is likely to be best. (I offer the same advice about headhunters, employment agencies, and career coaches and counselors.)

2. Be smart. Don’t hire just any writer you find. Learn how the resume business works so you can choose wisely. Learn How to choose a professional resume writer.

That tip sheet is written by a resume writer, Louise Fletcher, to promote her business. (I have no affiliation with Fletcher.) But I think the tips are sound. She shares a few insider gotchas that I never thought about. One of the best tips is this: check the writer’s references. Not just clients they offer. Check LinkedIn, check Google. Ask to see their work. Compare before and after examples. Make sure the person you talk to about the service is the one writing the resume.

That’s my advice. Now let’s hear your resume stories and your advice. Give us your  resume-writing experiences, gotchas and suggestions.

[Please: While I welcome comments and advice from professional resume writers, don’t use this blog to advertise your services. Instead, impress us and give us something we can use. If someone wants to talk to you about your services, Googling your name should be sufficient so they can find you.]

I still think your best resume is the story that comes out of your mouth when you’re talking shop with the manager you want to work for. There’s nothing more personal than that. But, I know you’re gonna use a resume anyway. So be smart about it.

  1. Three years ago, I hired a résumé writer on eBay who had LOTS of positive feedback about her résumé writing. She basically reformatted my existing résumé (to my disliking) and added this generic, canned text to the top:

    “Certified professional with diverse technical expertise derived from nine-plus years of field experience. Outstanding problem-solving, analytical and decision-making skills with proven ability to find solutions that have increased productivity and customer satisfaction. Self-directed, disciplined, flexible, confident and ready for new responsibilities.”

    Luckily, she was not expensive. Cash (and changes) were flushed all the same. Buyer beware.

    Résumé Advice? List accomplishments with quantifiable results as explained here:

  2. I learned the PARS approach. Problem, Action Resolution. Then you format the resume as Action, Problem, Resolution. I learned this from Fred Nothnagle at R. L. Stevens. You write up a bunch of these PARS and then for every job, you compile a specific subset of these to prove you can do the job you are applying for.

  3. I fully understand e-commerce and google ad words and the need for revenue, however the irony should be recognized- following your blog on resume mills is a Google ad for a resume mill, Totalresume.

    Maybe one day Google will be able to actually read the content of the article and avoid serving up the wrong ads.

  4. Eric,
    I block the persistent and most obvious advertisers. But the rest are ubiquitous. I take some solace, though. Who’s going to click on those ads while reading my post? Unfortunately, that costs me ad revenue. So the payback for stupid advertising algorithms hits everyone involved.

  5. When I’m in the market, I treat my resume like a token–people expect to see it, so it’s current and very polished, but I’d never expect it to be instrumental in selling me as a candidate. Not to the point where it’s worth paying someone to spruce it up for me, at the very least.

    And I deleted the objective years ago. Those things are just stupid; if you can’t clearly articulate your target job between a cover letter and your personal contact with the hiring manager, you’re already in trouble.

  6. This reply is for Charles … ‘luckily she was not expensive’ is the key to why you had problems.

    Would you choose a doctor or dentist because they were the absolute cheapest on the market? Would you hire a lawyer based on the lowest fees?

    Cheap resume writers are either hideously unqualified, or they are outsourcing their work to someone who doesn’t get paid much.

    The best resume writers know they can charge a premium for their skills and knowledge. And, when they do hire other writers, they hire only the most talented people, and spend time and money on training them.

    I disagree with Nick that you should make sure the person you’re talking to will be writing your resume – really good services will be too busy for one person. I can’t talk to every potential client myself and I can’t write every resume. But I can infuse my business with my standards, and constantly check to make sure they are being maintained.

  7. @Louise

    “Not expensive” does not equal “absolute cheapest” or “lowest fees”, and paying a premium is obviously no guarantee of quality.

  8. I have a few thoughts on this subject.

    First, a resume is a very personalized document. It should reflect the individual’s unique value proposition to the next employer. You should show a track record of success and progression throughout your career.

    Can you accomplish this on your own? Some people can.

    However, what I have found over 21+ years as a resume writer is that most people do not understand how to articulate the most relevant and appropriate information to an employer. It’s not their fault – it’s hard for most people to “toot their own horn” and know what will make a hiring authority sit up and take notice.

    That is where a professional resume writer can make a huge difference – especially those of us who have been employed in a hiring capacity before we became resume writers.

    The true test of a great resume writer is the ability to extract information from clients (I conduct a thorough telephone consult with each client), discern what is truly important for each client’s career goal, and then write the document to the “end-user,” i.e. the person who makes the interview-granting decisions.

    When I speak with my clients, I tell them I write it for the person who will be reading it and cover what is most relevant. It really isn’t radical thinking – it should be a standard practice for resume writers.

    Thought about in another way, if a journalist contacts me for a story, he / she extracts information from me, and then writes the article focused on how that information will benefit his / her end-readers.

    Further, a resume actually is a marketing document. If written properly, it compels the reader to take action, which is the purpose of a great marketing / advertising campaign. If the calls aren’t coming, there is likely (not always – it depends on your industry and the economy) something wrong with your resume.

    Employers want to know this about potential employees: can you make me money, decrease my costs, or both. Quantify it for them and show a track record of successfully accomplishing this throughout your career.

    Finally, I am going to disagree with my colleague, Louise. To make the comment “really good services will be too busy for one person” is completely untrue. I have been a sole practitioner for 21+ years, using no subcontracted writers, and am very successful.

    I have based my entire practice on the personalized attention I provide to each client. The people who work with me consistently comment that the reason they chose me is because of that personalized service.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t great resume services that use subcontractors.

    As the former president of the National Resume Writers Association, I can attest that there are great resume writers who choose not to have the hassle of running their own practice. They are perfectly happy only writing resumes, and the resume services who have found those individuals are very lucky.

    As for choosing a resume-writing service, it is really up to individual clients as to their preference of what type of service they would like to use in their job search.

  9. Ahh, resumes.

    I love writing resumes.

    Have been for over 25 years.

    I believe every person who is employed or seeking employment, at *every* level, needs a resume. A well-crafted, up-to-date, forward looking, technically perfect, well reviewed and critiqued, resume.

    But, because of the ease of posting and sending them, resumes have become, in the opinion of many, the junk mail of the job search.

    I’d like to suggest that there is a golden rule for the job-search process:

    Get as close as possible to the person who can hire you . . . with the fewest people or pieces of paper in between as possible . . . with the exception that a recommendation from a credible and trusted individual is priceless.

    If I’m using my resume in a way that violates this golden rule, I’m almost always shooting myself in the foot.

    For one example, if I see an advertised job that asks for a resume, and I send my resume, I’m already on the road to frustration and futility. Why? Of course I’ve been told that a resume is the way I get an interview, is how I get into the “good pile.” But in reality, recruiters and HR folks actually use resumes to screen us out! If you’re reading an ad, you’re already dealing with recruiters and HR. Also, if I’ve seen a public ad, often so have hundreds or even thousands of other job seekers, and the pieces of junk mail (I mean resumes) start pouring in (a bank recruiter a few years ago told me to have my clients watch the bank’s web site every Wednesday at noon, and as soon as they saw the new ads posted, to immediately send in their resumes; when I asked why, she said that they posted their jobs on that day and time only, and after the first 150 resumes came in, they “turned a switch” and all subsequent resumes received were automatically deleted from their system).

    Above, Nick stated, “If I provide a resume at all, it’s usually after the interview, when the manager needs to fill in the blanks — to understand the rest of the candidate’s background. And that resume had better be good, clear, to the point, and supportive of what the manager learned about the candidate in their meeting.”

    So how do we job seekers get interviews without using resumes to do so, and without a high-powered headhunter advocating for us?

    First, we need to learn how to conduct effective and efficient job searches. We need to educate ourselves by, for example, making the most of individuals such as Nick and their excellent resources.

    Second, we need to become our own headhunters.

    Third, we need to avoid “the system” and avoid HR like the plague.

    Finally, we need to follow the golden rule by talking directly to the hiring manager: in person if at all possible, on the phone, or in a well-crafted email (or letter) as a last resort (if you don’t know how to do this, see the first point above).

  10. Louise,

    In our industry, you are a respected writer and I have consistently referred people to you when my workload was too full or when I felt like your expertise was a better fit for the client.

    However, I have to disagree with the statement that good services will be too busy for one person. I am honestly a bit offended by your comment.

    I CHOOSE not to expand and not to outsource because I enjoy working with all of my clients. I could outsource and spend all of my time on sales, blog posts, etc. and I could make a ton more money. Heck, my husband keeps trying to convince me to do so…but I don’t want to be like the resume mills.

    I prefer running my business alone and I do not think that my choice to do so indicates somehow that my work quality is lower than yours.

    I admit that I do neglect my blog…but I am happy and the clients are happy. :) I would much rather have a slower turn around time and a waiting list than to give up working “in the trenches”.

  11. It’s real simple. Give them contact information so they can get hold of you. Left justify. Fill the resume with bulleted accomplishments. The rest is just fluff.

    Chris Hoog has the best suggestion.

    All the other resume stuff is nonsense.

    Articulate your value proposition? Really? Where are the accomplishments?

    Know what the hiring manager is looking for? One word, accomplishments

    Articulate the most relevant and appropriate information: Accomplishments

    Hiring Capacity? Please. As someone said HR people are paid primarily to screen out. That is not a negative statement. That is their job I love HR people, really. And if HR is hiring the person that company is upside down, unless they are hiring for an HR position

    Marketing Tool: Maybe but the best marketing tool is the telephone call. I have looked at thousands of resumes and the only ones that have ever “impressed” me are the ones that have strong accomplishments and know how to quantify them. That is what the hiring manager is looking for.

    Now, do you notice a theme? Accomplishments!!! Again the rest is fluff and nareshkeit (Yiddish for nonsense)