Resume Services: Good, Bad, Scams

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Resumes professionally done by services that understand your industry can make the difference between nailing down a lucrative job or being left out in the cold.

I learned that in the mid 1990s. Hospital executive Anne Murga invested in a resume service that specialized in health care. After that, Murga seemed to receive lucrative offers at the top of the food chain, almost effortlessly. Since I didn't have expertise in health care, the resume I prepared for Murga, who is my sister, didn't get one response.

The cost of using a professional resume firm can range from $100 to $700. That fee for service could be higher for senior executives. The service could also be more expensive if other frills are thrown in, such as electronic distribution by a database custom made for your industry, coaching of presentation skills, access to a powerful network, and so many years of follow up.

However, the fee usually has no correlation with the results you get. A hungry start-up might bill below market rates in order to build its brand name, client list, and references. Unless you do your due diligence regarding several possible vendors, you could wind up with a bad -- that is, ineffective -- firm for you. Worse, you could become the victim of a scam.

Here are some guidelines for how to investigate:

Question the firm's track record in your specific industry or niche.

It may hit home runs in software as a service, but not sales or teaching English as a second language in China. Verify. Ask for the names of clients who have been satisfied with outcomes and some who have not been. Then interview that list of names. Should the firm not provide you references in that format, you're gone. No vendor has a 100 percent success rate. Ask the vendors what they learned from their mistakes.

Request sample resumes.

Sure, the names and other identifying data can be blacked out. What you have to be on the alert for is that a cookie-cutter approach isn't used. One size shouldn't fit all in heath care or sales.

Also check out if there is heavy reliance on gimmicks such as myriad fonts. Ask yourself: do the documents transmit an organized, compelling story? You don't want a mere laundry list of credentials.

In addition, you must analyze the resume to determine if the firm has the knowledge and skills to tell your story in a way that makes you unique. Management expert Tom Peters calls that "the brand called you." That personal branding should set you apart from the competition. As Richard Bolles says in 'What Color Is Your Parachute?' the person who gets the job or the business is the one who presents the best, not necessarily the most qualified.

Demand an interview.

This is crucial. That's because the resume writer ought to be digging around for who you are as a professional and then position and package all that in a way to attract the right employers or clients. Working from a former resume is a waste of time. Had your current resume been a useful tool, it's unlikely you would be searching for additional help.
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