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7 qualities to look for in a résumé writer + 7 to avoid!

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

A little about me

I became a résumé writer by accident. Maybe this is the best way. Résumé writing remains a profession few “businessmen” would enter. I never really enjoyed the “businessman” feel of banking. While it was exciting working in the Mutual Fund Capital of the World, the rushed Boston evenings and crowded coastal weekends were not for me.

I readily left my job at BankBoston world headquarters and headed over to the other side of the Charles to experience startup life in the Most Innovative Square Mile on the Planet.

Having survived three M&As, I figured I was on a stable, yet exciting, path. I learned fast that perks, flex time, and remote work were not stable—and disappeared altogether once times got tough. (Today, remote work is not a special circumstance, which was the case back then.)

The tech bubble was imploding. My job became about talent management, and I was formalizing my career services side gig by taking paid work throughout these RIFs. IBM bought our firm.

For a brief time, my last formal employment involved an IBM outsourcing transition. The need for recruitment far outweighed that of résumé writing, and I started contracted myself out to hunt heads. Only 20% of my revenue was from résumé writing for ten years. That shifted dramatically to 80% overnight during the great recession. For the last ten years, it has been a great and fulfilling living.

In recent years, however, résumé writing has started attracting people who are looking to leverage a keyboard to make coin, and everything has gone downhill for the résumé writing client ever since. You are being sold perceived value. Perceived value is not something that requires work to fulfill.

Shoppers with real career concerns are instead asking me about black hole myths. Shoppers with real opportunity are approaching me with unfounded fears propagated by this swarm. Protect yourself from these false hooks. Here come 7 things you should look for, followed by 7 you should avoid.

Here’s what you really need:

1) Be sure your résumé writer has a history of working within an industry they serve. It should strike you as odd when a social worker, a journalist, or a lawyer become resume writers. It should strike you as even more off when they boast of these as “helpful” skills. In an absolute vacuum, these three professions are notorious for being out-of-touch with commercial culture. The journalist did not know the difference between careers in finance and ones in financial services.

When an attorney suddenly becomes an expert in medical device and supply chain careers overnight—it says a lot about how the person approaches work, credibility, and belief. It’s great to have a résumé writer say she works with people in private equity on her website, but that does not mean she knows it.

They are closing sales by pandering to audiences and by scaring them. What a combo!

2) Your résumé writer ignores your succinct price inquiry or reacts poorly to it. You want to be paid your worth. Good résumé writers ignore rude price inquiries because we know that we need more information to properly quote. The prospects who come to me on price alone never allow such an education for either side. I avoid those roads. They are bad roads. The person who does respond, you might see as “good.” Their willingness to quote without seeing the workload or understanding the need is unfair to both sides. That is “bad.”

3) Your résumé writer has exceptional recommendations. These recommendations do not falsely credit the résumé with landing a job. Instead, the clients talk about finding precisely what they wanted, and how someone like myself would be instrumental to your success.

Which brings me to my next point…

4) Your résumé writer is educating you. From the moment you speak, I start by sharing insights you already know and consider rare. With that credibility established, you now receive more insider information on the business of your sector, and you close because you know it is true—even when previously unknown by you. Talking feels natural. You are talking to a colleague. You are not sharing what you do or what you need the typist to know, as you both struggle.

5) Your résumé writer is established within professional communities. Any résumé writer can make hollow arguments about being able to write for certain specialties and levels. That should be backed up by a following within those communities—not by a following with other résumé writers.

The sheer number of executives frustrated with poor productions would be lower if résumé writers stopped accepting cases that they should refer to others.

Some of my clients have been through three and even four executive résumé writers who failed them.

6) Your résumé writer has proven recruitment and hiring experience. This is rare, and it will often be exaggerated by many. Recruiting for one or two years does not make one an expert in recruitment. It makes them basic.

7) Your résumé writer sets limits. I have closed no sales where the close did not occur within 20 minutes. If you think your résumé writer is “good” because he lets you ask endless questions and responds well to dog-and-pony demands, revisit your own worth and respect that of others.

If your writer tolerates breaches, you have a person who needs money. No one says yes to stuff they don’t want unless they have to do so. Saying no to what you do not want is the most powerful decision you can make.

Now, 7 Things to avoid in a résumé writer!

1) This person fear mongers on ATS woes or creates fear with meaningless assurances that “there is so much more to it, though,”—without any articulation as to just what that “more” might be. If everyone cures ATS woes and can effectively write you out of a black hole, then you may as well shop on price alone.

Having bought, programmed, and optimized 16 ATS and ATS-CRM systems, I assure you that there is no black hole. The 75% black-hole figure is a myth created out of a fax machine in a 1980s recruitment office.

Many resume writers cite it as if it’s an accepted* fact.

Oh, it is accepted fact. It’s just that it’s not factual.

(After 10 years of editorializing ATS mythology, LinkedIn editorialized the opposite in 2023, relieving us of this awful lie about . As you might imagine, sellers such as myself were not too happy contending with the myth, and many wish they were heard sooner. The myth allowed providers with no experience to "sell something."

They sold ATS mythology while many honorable providers fought against the myth. This cost us all a lot of sales, and your good money went to bad.

2) Their focus is on certifications. People who chase multiple certifications as credibility markers are chasing markers.

Let’s take as an example “3X Nationally Certified.” There is no national résumé writer certification; it is not a federal credential. It is not a nationally recognized credential at all. The group simply has the word national in their name. Such national phenomena exist rarely, in such things as multi-state nursing licensure compacts. However, even there, the nursing compact is not encompassing of all states.

Using “national” recalls cheerleading “nationals.” It does not and should not imply any national recognition that is regarded by states or the federal government.

No one getting multiple certifications is really selling me on being devoted. It seems like face-clawing for false crowns and pageantry banners, co-stroking, and financial privilege.

In short, it’s something they pay for. Some credentials only require a pile of résumés in a certain category. That’s not proof of anything. It’s a credit card transaction.

3) They refer to themselves as writers. Sadly, even those with writing distinctions still somehow manage to write poorly. Needless words, four-dot ellipses, and the all-too-frequent lazy use of “as well as” are replete throughout their profiles and webpages.

Posting your own content does not make you a writer. Writing poor quality résumés says the opposite, and that's what most produce.

4) They spend a lot of time on social media. When do they work? They don’t. They have two incomes, and they farm out work to their minions. Now, the face you hired is sending your work to faceless people in their early twenties. Few have ever held a position of true accountability in their lifetime. This leads to clients being trapped in endless writing loops, and just walking away.

5) They decorate their online profiles with logos from publishing houses and Fortune 500 firms. These associations can be loose or false.

Helping a client get a job at IBM is not the same as working as a contractor in staffing at IBM.

As of this writing, I have not yet put the IBM logo on my website. Here I am with a great reason to do so, while watching others use the same logo who have no real relationship with the entity.

They simply did a résumé for someone who got a job there.

6) They boast of meaningless distinctions. Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global is open to anyone and its contributors are unpaid. The Forbes Coaches Council is not a prestigious anything. You pay to get in.

7) Their online activity panders. A résumé writer whose posts and profile are riddled with grammatical errors and slipshod writing often disseminates harmful advice. In one instance, she tried to get new clients with a post coddling a 15-year marketing manager. The marketing manager did not want to do a presentation for the interview panel. “If you’ve been in the job, you shouldn’t have to do a presentation for the interview” was the general gist of this resume writer’s advocacy.

Comment: My first issue is the 15-year plateau. This is how hiring managers think. Unemployed, if you do not have the ability to properly manage a search, you should not be given a chance to manage—especially when you are unable to perform alongside your peers, many of whom could be passive seekers balancing an exempt position and packaging a presentation while you sit on your unemployed bum and whine.

Sadly, the résumé writing business attracts a lot of derelicts dressed up as nice people. I have watched this business go to the wolves. It is getting worse. The person who pays the biggest price is you.

Don’t be the customer they want.

It sets you up for their success.

Find someone who is devoted to yours.

8) They lie. It’s so common. Someone regularly featured on LinkedIn often talks about being a career helper to fellow collegiates, but she never really went to college. She shows a four-year span on her profile, but a transcript would show something different. She only took a few courses during this long span. Using language like “back in college” implies a degree, as does a four-year date span. Let’s get honest.

Another career services professional changed her degree on WordPress from a Bachelor of Psychology to a Bachelor of Neuroscience. These are two totally different degrees.

Caveat Emptor in all things.

Love always,

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