Resume-writing is a multi-million-dollar industry these days — not only due to the rise in unemployment rates, I believe, but also due to the fact that many resume-writing services intentionally try to make resume development seem like more of an “arcane science” than it really is. You’ll see some companies suggesting they’ve invented some sort of secret resume formula, guaranteed to produce results, as well as other firms (see article here) that lure you in with the offer of a free resume evaluation, then ruin your day with a blistering “critique” informing you you’ll likely never work again unless you pay them big bucks to overhaul your materials.
These fear-based marketing attempts are usually designed to justify fees that range from $300-500, on the low end, to over $5,000 (I’m not kidding!) for certain companies that brand themselves as executive resume specialists.
At the end of the day, however, I don’t believe that writing an effective resume is all that complicated of a process. Sure, it might be worth outsourcing to a professional if you’re not particularly skilled in writing or word processing, or if you’re struggling to overcome the objectivity barrier, but I have found no evidence (after 18 years in the field) that there is any one killer formula that will instantly double or triple your success rate — unless you’re starting with a “train wreck” to begin with and somehow can’t manage to scrape something halfway-decent together through your own efforts.
Common sense supports this contention, as well, when you stop and consider that the vast majority of hiring today (70-80% by most estimates) is relationship-based, not resume-based. When a friend of yours puts in a good word for you with an employer, in other words, you might still need to pass your resume along as a formality — but it’s going to be the personal endorsement that lands you the position, not the “brochure” you submitted. This statistic alone suggests that those people who exalt the resume as the single most critical make-or-break issue of a modern job search are a bit out of step with how things really work out there. Sure, resumes are important and you need to have one, but let’s not get carried away. Remember, too, that the rise of social media technology (e.g. LinkedIn) is rapidly eroding the role of traditional resumes in the process, as well.
So again, there are definitely times when hiring somebody to write or edit your resume is a smart idea, just like you might hire somebody to fix your plumbing, detail your car, or do your taxes. But be wary of firms that make the process sound more mystical or complicated than it really is. Ultimately, I maintain that there are only five key guidelines that a resume needs to pass in order to be highly effective. You’ll find these five guidelines outlined here, in a recent article I contributed to Puget Sound Business Journal. In summary, they are:
1) Your resume needs to look good
2) Your resume needs to be error-free
3) Your resume needs to have a clear focus
4) Your resume needs to include the right buzzwords
5) Your resume needs to showcase your top accomplishments
Beyond these five guidelines, which I’m confident 95% or more of all recruiters and hiring managers would agree with me on, everything else pretty much becomes a judgment call — and you’ll find that even the experts start dividing up into a bunch of splintered factions, arguing over things like which fonts on resumes work best, whether to include outside interests, whether to trim early-career jobs off the work history, and the like. There’s just no real consensus on these issues, despite what some people may try to tell you. For every hiring manager that thinks including hobbies on a resume is tacky and unprofessional, you’ll find another one who loves to see what a person does “in their downtime” and who finds it valuable to get a better overall sense of the candidate, as a person.
Ultimately, most resume decisions come down to judgment calls and your own personal preference in terms of what you choose to share about yourself. But if you at least make sure you don’t violate any of the “five commandments” above, your resume is going to be in pretty decent shape. Is it going to be exceptional? Are people going to open your file and say “Wow, now THERE’S a great resume?” Not likely. But fear not, because as I pointed out in my earlier article (the one linked in the first paragraph) I don’t think such thing as a “great resume” really even exists anymore. There are great candidates, with great credentials, but my sense is that we’ve now moved past the days when cosmetic resume factors count for all that much. There are just too many millions of these documents floating around now, following roughly the same approach, for readers to get all that terribly excited about the format alone. In general, they’re going to be looking for substance (e.g. relevant credentials, stable work history, compatible industry experience) more than sizzle. So unless you really think you’re a candidate to try something really unconventional and wacky (see examples here via Google Images) sticking to the safe, boring, proven guidelines makes the most sense.
Personally, I’d say that I come across a truly show-stopping “great” resume about as often as I come across a “great” website that stands out from the crowd and takes my breath away. Not very often. So if I were you, I’d settle for putting together a “very good” piece, with or without outside help, then concentrate your efforts on running a “great” marketing and networking campaign for yourself — something that IS possible and that will tend to have a much better impact on your overall success rate, in the long run!