Choosing a Resume Consultant

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It's a daunting task for anyone to prepare a good resume, especially if you're the kind of person that has difficulty expressing yourself on paper. If you are one of those people, or just figure you'd like some help, does it make sense to hire one of the countless writers out there who profess to be resume professionals?

Ask any career consultant or HR professional to name the most important steps in a job search, and preparing a good resume will top the list. While a resume in and of itself won't land you the perfect job, a bad one will most assuredly keep you from landing an interview.

Fundamentally, a resume is a sales brochure, with the job candidate - that's you - the goods being advertised. It needs to sell your skills in about 30 seconds or so, which is about the average time a recruiter will spend on glancing at your resume before moving on to the next.

So, does it make sense to hire a self-professed "resume professional" to do it for you? The answer is a qualified "maybe."

Buyer Beware

Because it's an unregulated industry, just about anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves a resume-writing consultant. But that doesn't guarantee they truly have the skills to do a good job. The best can turn a disjointed and dull list of job descriptions into a tight and bright sales document that presents the job seeker in the best possible light. That doesn't mean embellishing your work history beyond what you actually did, but the writer should be able to draw out your skills and accomplishments.

"This is an industry wrought with fraud," says Seattle-based career consultant Robin Ryan. "Services vary by quality because there is no regulation." Not everyone would express it that strongly. However, Edward Kelleher, an employment consultant in Wayne, Pa., agrees that when it comes to professional resume writing, "there are no barriers to entry."

Ryan is an author and speaker on career issues who has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and other nationally syndicated programs. She's written several books on employment topics, including one on writing an effective resume.

Her advice is to start with a good book on the topic - she naturally recommends her own Winning Resumes, but there are others on the market - to see if you can craft a resume that emphasizes actions you've taken during your career and the results that you have achieved. "If you can use a book so you can understand what is needed, and can follow the directions, that can help most people," Ryan says.

She believes the biggest mistake job seekers make in drafting a resume - particularly noticeable with financial and technology professionals - is that their resumes read like job descriptions. "They leave out the results."

A Strong Resume Evolves Through a Lengthy Process

Kelleher specializes in outplacement consulting, which means his firm is typically hired by an employer to help the people impacted by downsizing land new positions. "We work with clients to develop the right message," he says. "I think it is hard for anyone to do a good job on a resume for someone else. The resume comes together after we've had time to talk to someone extensively."

Ryan agrees that a conversation is key. She admits her $995 fee is expensive for the industry, but says a typical engagement begins with a lengthy interview during which she probes for a client's strengths, weaknesses and accomplishments. In addition to eliciting more detail about a person's background, she says the process helps prepare someone for an actual job interview by learning how best to answer possible questions from employers.

Before hiring a resume-writing professional, Ryan and Kelleher advise asking for references. You should also find out if the process involves a conversation with you before any work is done. If not, Ryan's advice is, "Run away as fast as you can. People who have you fill out a form and talk to you for 20 minutes are going to get you a cookie-cutter approach."

She also advises people to beware of any writer or service that says it will "guarantee" clients a job interview or employment. No one can guarantee that, she says.

Finally, some writers will offer a professional designation, such as Certified Professional Resume Writer, or CPRW, which is the most common. Kelleher expresses some skepticism that professional designations "have any stature," though having it does show the writer is focused enough to have completed the self-study course and passed the necessary examination.

Originally published Sept. 21, 2007

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