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The Lettersmith

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Resumes by an award-winning and published resume strategist


Choosing a Resume Writer: What to Look for…What to Avoid

You already know this: A standout resume can shorten your job search by months, and even add thousands to your salary offers. A good resume writer will develop a resume strategy that includes the best format, design, and writing style for your resume. They are familiar with the latest buzzwords and keywords that will get your resume selected in a database of thousands. They can play up your strengths and play down your weaknesses.

But choosing a service is not so easy. How do you know you’ve got the right person to write your resume? These tips will help.

What to Look For in a Resume Writer

1. Certification. Look for the designation “Certified Professional Resume Writer” or the initials “CPRW” after the writer’s name. This means the writer has passed a very comprehensive and rigorous exam that covers all aspects of resume development and career marketing. As a grader for CPRW exams, I can tell you that only about 60% of the submissions I review get a passing grade.

2. Membership in Professional Organizations (PARW/CC, NRWA, etc.). Membership in professional resume writer organizations is a good sign that the writer is serious about perfecting her craft, that she keeps up with the latest developments in job search and resume strategies, is dedicated to quality service, and is committed to upholding the organization’s code of ethics. You can check the writer’s credentials at www.parw.com and www.thenrwa.com.

3. In-Depth Consultation Process. Resumes should be developed through a telephone consultation or interview process. You will probably need to fill out some worksheets, but they should be an addition to – not a replacement for – a consultation with the resume writer. During the consultation, the resume consultant will draw out your marketable skills, abilities, and accomplishments.

4. Experience. Find out how long they have been in business, and look for a writer with at LEAST seven years of experience.

5. Published resumes and/or job search articles. Many of the nation’s top resume writers have been published. The writer who has been published in a resume book has demonstrated that he is a recognized expert in his/her field.

6. Knowledge of job search techniques. A qualified resume consultant should be able to give you advice about your job search. He should be able to answer questions about interviewing and self-marketing strategies. Note: Most resume writers will be happy to answer a few of your job search questions during the resume consultation process, but if you have a lot of questions, you should hire them for an in-depth job search coaching session, where there will be sufficient time to develop a personal marketing plan.

What to Avoid

1. Services with no information about the writer on their website: Who the heck runs the company? Who will be writing my resume? If there is no information on the website about the credentials of the resume writer, watch out! Look for the “About Us” page where, you should be able to find writer’s name and credentials — not just general information. Is he or she certified? Are they a member of a resume writer’s association? How long have they been in business? Is he or she local or out of state?

2. Resume mills that subcontract all work. Will you be working directly with the writer profiled on the website? Will a CPRW be writing your resume, or will you be assigned to an employee or subcontractor? If a subcontractor, what are his/her qualifications? Many fine resume services do use subcontractors. But be sure to find out the qualifications of the person who will be writing your resume…not just the qualifications of the owner of the company.

3. Very low prices or fast service. Resume writers base their fees on their qualifications and on how long they believe your project will take. Lower prices usually mean one of two things – you’re getting a novice writer, or the writer is planning to devote very little time to your project. Truly outstanding resumes take time and expertise.

I hope this information is helpful in choosing a resume writer. Whether you decide to invest your own time or your money into your resume, remember that it is just that – an investment into your future!

Deborah L. Schuster, CPRW, is a job search coach and executive resume writer with The Lettersmith located in Troy, Michigan.

12 Fatal Flaws in Do-It-Yourself Resumes

As a resume writer, I've critiqued thousands of resumes over the last few decades. And as a grader for Certified Professional Resume Writer exams, I’ve graded hundreds more. Over the years, I've found that about 90% of the resumes I see have at least one of the flaws below.

  1. Focusing on duties rather than accomplishments and results. This is one of the worst mistakes you can make. Why? Because employers don't just want to know what you did -- they want to know how well you did it. Giving someone your job description does not tell them why they should hire you. You must show how you helped the company by improving productivity, saving money, increasing revenues, or solving a problem. With a little digging, we can usually uncover some very impressive accomplishments in all of my clients.

  2. Poor sentence structure. An overwhelming number of resumes I critique and grade use passive sentence structure or contain verb confusion. Many begin their job descriptions with two words that are guaranteed to put the reader to sleep: "Responsible for...." which is weak and vague. If you want your resume to be lively, clear, and action-oriented, use the active voice. Begin each sentence with a verb: "Managed $2 million inventory of..."

  3. Writing in the third person. Most people know that "I" and "My" is a resume no-no. The "I" is understood. But you should still write the resume in the first person. Even though the "I" is omitted, it is still you talking -- not a third person. So you would say "Develop promotional materials..." on your resume, not "Develops promotional materials."

  4. Copying your job description. One of the reasons people often make Mistake #2 is that they copy the exact wording from their company job descriptions. Those are easy to spot because they're written in the third person and full of redundant legalese and excessive detail. Your resume is NOT a job description and it shouldn't read like one. It's a marketing tool that should sell your abilities. Job descriptions don't sell!

  5. Writing a career obituary. Does your resume include every experience -- whether relevant or not -- without demonstrating how it applies to the future job? Then you have a career obituary – not a resume. Your resume is about your future, not about your past. You must show your ability to excel in your target position. Everything in the resume should support your career target.

  6. Using the wrong format. Your format and design should be carefully planned as part of your resume strategy.  Copying a format – whether from online template, resume book, or even one of our designs -- is a mistake. The format may be great for them, but all wrong for you. And if you use a popular template, your resume will be identical to thousands of others floating around. And whatever you do, don't use the same format you were taught in college. Chances are it's all wrong for you at this stage in your career. The right format will play up your strengths while playing down any weaknesses, such as employment gaps, short-term positions, unrelated employment, etc.

  7. Using an old fashioned Objective rather than a Summary, Value Statement, or Branding Statement. The first three inches of your resume are critical in capturing the employer's attention. Yet many still use that precious space to state an Objective that is either obvious or vague. If you have over five years of experience in your field, an Objective looks silly and outdated. Instead, you should top your resume with a very strong, well-written Career Summary, Value Statement, or Branding Statement. An Objective tells "What I want to be when I grow up." A Career Summary states "Who I am...what I've accomplished...what I can do for you."

  8. Long winded paragraphs. One of the biggest pet peeves among hiring managers are long paragraphs with huge blocks of text. Your resume is not a biography -- it's a marketing tool. Avoid excessive detail. Remember that your resume will get a 9-15 second skim on the first review. Keep paragraphs under seven lines. Use tight writing. Every word must earn its way onto the page.

  9. The big squeeze. I know...back in college they said that your resume should only be one page, right? And that may have been good advice when you were a new graduate. But if you have over 10 years of experience, forget that outdated rule! As long as the resume is easy to skim (see #11) and you're not getting long-winded (see #8) or cluttering it with a lot of old and irrelevant information (see #10) – then two pages are ideal. In fact, two pages are now the norm for professionals with over 10 years of experience. Some executive and IT resumes can run 3-4 pages.

  10. Dating yourself. Don't list positions more than 15-20 years old. Listing positions dating back to the 80's is a major liability on a resume, and can lead to age discrimination.

  11. Poor design. Your resume needs a clean, professional, distinctive, and modern design. (View our Gallery) If not, it will be difficult to compete from among thousands. Use short paragraphs and bullets to guide the eye of the reader. But don’t overuse the bullets. They should be used strategically to emphasize accomplishments. If you bullet every line, the bullets have no effect. This is called "Death by Bullets"! 

  12. Omitting keywords. Keywords are a crucial part of today's resume. They are particularly vital if your resume will be screened using applicant tracking software. But they are equally important to the human reader, because they show you have the right skills for the position. Keywords are NOT character traits like communication or people skills, which have become clichés in a resume. Rather, they are your specific hard skills such as budget management, P&L, strategic planning, etc. One of the most important things I do for my clients is provide a skills assessment and analyze their background to identify these keywords.

    Of course, there is much more to writing an outstanding resume than avoiding these flaws. As you can see, your resume must have strong writing that is concise, clear, focused, persuasive, and credible. It must be aesthetically-pleasing, strategically formatted, and relevant. And above all, it must answer the question "Why should I hire you?"

    Although developing a resume is complex – by avoiding the 12 Fatal Resume Flaws, you have taken an important step in making the first cut!