When you pay to have your resume written, what are you buying? Just a resume? No, I think you’re buying a suit of clothes that shows off your form to best advantage and makes you look good when you’re walking the talk. Are you buying off the rack, or getting custom fitted so you’ll look your very best?

I still think a resume isn’t the best way to the job you want. But if you’re gonna use a resume, the best route to the best resume is to learn to be your own tailor. Learn to sew. Learn to write up your story yourself. But not a lot of people are going to do that, or do it well. That’s where an expert resume writer can help.

In Resumes-R-Us I talked about the problem of mills — companies that crank out one-size-fits-all resumes from a stock pattern, rather than create a unique image of the individual client. That’s the suit you buy off the rack. You have no contact with the writer.

If you want to look really good, I think the tailor needs to put his (or her) arms around you with that measuring tape and feel your body. The tailor has to see how your posture affects the way a jacket drapes over your body. This ain’t gonna happen if you call your measurements in over the phone or fill out a form. The resume writer can’t be hidden away in a back room bent over a sewing machine… er, computer. (Yet, that’s how the mills operate. A sharp point-man sells you the service, but the work is done by someone else, in the equivalent of a sweatshop, getting paid a tiny fraction of the fee you are charged. This is a critical flaw of some “headhunting” firms, too.)

While a resume might get started with stock forms, I think a resume writer needs to talk with the client. I’ve got no problem with a salesperson making the resume sale. But there should be one-on-one contact between the client and the writer who is actually writing your resume.

Two reasons. First, a resume costs enough that any client should get personal service. If the client doesn’t like the resume writer after a talk, another writer should be assigned. (This is a benefit to the resume firm, as well. A client who clicks with the writer is more likely to feel satisfied when they get the product.) The main complaint I hear from people who hire resume writers is that they paid for personal service but got production-line treatment. A resume is a very personal thing. Personal, one-on-one service is key.

Second, a resume is more than facts and data that can be tallied on a form. The substance needs to be tweaked to account for the client’s style. For example, if a client is quiet and mild-mannered, the resume must bring out qualities the candidate is not lot likely to reveal on their own in the interview. If a client is very outspoken, the resume should balance that by reflecting an ability to be patient and thoughtful. The resume should reveal qualities that may be masked by the candidate’s behavior. No resume writer is going to see behavior in the answers a client provides on a form.

The point is that a good resume writer is a bit of a mentor and a coach who measures not just the client’s experience, but the client’s style and character — and blends it into the resume. When I gave the keynote speech at the National Resume Writers’ Association conference last year, the people I found most engaging were the ones who projected, “My first job is to advise my clients.”

Resume firms suggest that you should let a resume pro write your resume because you can’t really see yourself — or “write yourself up” — as others see you. It takes another set of eyes. It takes an independent perspective to produce a resume that a hiring manager will respond well to. And that may be true. But along with that sales pitch goes an obligation to show the client how to integrate their personality with what’s on the resume because in the job interview, it’s not the resume talking. It’s the candidate. When the resume doesn’t fit the candidate properly, the candidate winds up defending the resume — and that spells disaster. I just don’t see how any resume writer could produce a custom resume or provide that level of service without one-on-one contact with the client.

The tailor should see how you walk. A resume writer should hear how you talk.

  1. I use the one page resume for the “bullet points” about myself.

    I have “the catalog” for details. I only give it at the end of an interview. In it is detailed reference info (with contact information) and extensive information on work and projects from previous employers.

  2. Nick,

    Great article! I see many resumes that execs have had “professional” resume writers create. The unfortunate part is that the execs are now invested in them because they paid a hefty price and don’t want to change. As a career consultant my position is to have the person create their own resume based on a template provided, then during the one on one create the personal brand and show the real contributions. Unless you meet one on one, that will never be captured. Thanks for the article.