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Other articles:
Putting a Spin on Work Experience

Claims & Credibility -- The Essence of Selling


Improve your ability to communicate the value you offer an employer with Gary Will's book How to Prepare for an Employment Interview -- now available by e-mail in Microsoft Word Format.

Sample chapters:
1. Selling Yourself in an Employment Interview
2. Is Preparation Even Possible?
7. What You Need to Know About Business
14. Asking Questions -- An Essential and Overlooked Step





A resume is a sales piece -- but not an ad

The best resumes are written by people who understand how to sell on paper and generate a response from a prospective buyer. This does not mean that a resume is like an advertisement. Your primary objective is to get the reader to call you, or to accept your call, and then to schedule a face-to-face meeting. This is very different from the goal of most advertising.

When you're approaching employers by mail, a resume provides the evidence to back up the claims you make in your cover letter. The resume and the cover letter work as a team -- the letter tells the employer what you can do for them, and the resume backs it up with specific evidence.

You probably know that a good resume isn't merely a list of duties and job titles. But what you may not know is that it also isn't just a list of accomplishments with "action verbs" You have to translate your skills and abilities into language that taps into hiring managers' needs and desires. To do this well requires an insight into management and business that most resume writers just don't have.

Your resume has to work at two levels. First at the quick scan that most employers will give your resume -- often just 10 seconds. And then -- when they give it a closer reading -- your resume has to give them the credible details they'll need to be persuaded that you might have something to offer.

Content and organization are key

Nearly everyone has a nice looking resume these days. With computers and laser printers it doesn't take much skill to produce a good looking resume. It's the content and organization of your resume that's going to make the difference when employers are deciding who they're interested in meeting with. That's where the value is in a resume service and that's what you should be paying for -- the content and organization of your resume, and the sales strategy behind them.


"I think today I'll be a resume writer"

Anyone with a computer and a printer can call themselves a resume writer. And that's about all the experience and knowledge that some "professional resume writers" have. There's a real skill to writing effective resumes, and it doesn't come from being a good typist, or from having worked in a human resources department. It requires marketing and sales skills. It's become popular for resume services to try to sound like marketing experts, but few of them can walk that talk.


Who certified the certifiers?

Another fairly recent development has been the rise of resume writing certification from the Professional Association of Resume Writers and other groups. I believe this was something started by a guy in Florida with a keen entrepreneurial mind, and I imagine he's earned some good money with his idea. I'm sure many PARW members are excellent resume writers, but I've seen no evidence to suggest that as a group they are particularly skilled or any better than non-members.


"Must be good -- it's $200!"

I've also seen no correlation between price and quality. The best resume writing service I've ever seen only charged $50-$90. The second best started at $200. I know some people look for a resume service thinking "I want the best and I'm willing to pay for it." But there's no reason to think that "the best" will be particularly expensive. And some abysmal resumes have been sold for hundreds of dollars. Don't think that just because a resume is a bit on the expensive side that there's a better chance it will be effective.


"I saved nine cents!"

Ask a group of professional resume writers what the first -- and often the only -- question they're asked by prospective clients, and I think they'd all reply "How much do you charge?" The lowest price is rarely a bargain in the long run. There can be a high long-term cost of looking for work with the cheapest resume you can buy. The cheapest services usually turn out to be little more than typists -- although that's rarely how they describe themselves. I'd rather spend $20 than $100 too, but you're paying for expertise and it's unlikely you're going to get much of that for $20.


"Thank you for your help, I'm now chairman of Microsoft!" --B.G.

You can't always take testimonials very seriously. Even ignoring that many of them are concocted, the fact is that every service should have many satisfied customers because just about everyone will get a job. It might take them a bit longer than it could have, and they may not end up with what they wanted, but almost everyone gets something, eventually. Even the ones with poor resumes (an effective resume is very helpful, but it's only ever just one piece of an effective worksearch strategy). Just take a look at the resumes that people you know used when they received a job offer and you'll see some pretty weak work among them.


Skilled resume writing services give a good return for your money

I have no doubts about the value that a good resume writing service can provide. Many people criticize services for "cookie cutter" resumes that all look and sound alike. They often insist that we should always write our own resumes because we know more about ourselves than anyone else ever will. If that were a persuasive argument, there would be no advertising agencies or freelance copywriters. Businesses have long recognized the value in working with an outside service in preparing their sales materials.

Individuals in a "self-marketing" campaign can receive similar value from a service with expertise in direct response techniques and with an understanding of market-driven business strategy. It's finding one with those skills that's a challenge.


Selecting and working with a resume writer

  • Just because someone calls himself/herself a professional resume writer is no reason to think they have any particular insight into writing effective resumes. Approach everyone with some skepticism.

  • Don't be impressed by credentials in HR -- there's no necessary connection between HR experience and ability to write a compelling resume. Certainly some HR staffers can write acceptable resumes -- but so can some machine operators, receptionists, teachers, and so on. As headhunter Nick Corcodilos says, HR staffers "have never earned a nickel that was contingent on winning a job offer for anyone."

  • Appearance counts, but not as much as content and organization. A graphic designer is unlikely to be your best choice for a resume writer. Neither is a firm that emphasizes paper quality and color.

  • When the writer shows you a draft of your resume, ask them why they did things they way they did. You should be aware of the strategies they're using and their reasons for what they included and how they organized the resume. Be very cautious of any service that can't tell you the strategy behind your resume.

  • And be wary of a service that is fond of the generally less effective "functional format" resume or that omits a profile/highlights section at the top.

  • If you're not happy with the resume, you should first try to work with the writer to get it to your liking -- either by modifying the resume or by having them explain their strategy. If they can't convince you that they've given you an effective resume, there's no reason you should have to pay them anything. If they're not willing to stand behind their work, look elsewhere.

  • It's perfectly reasonable to ask for some feedback on your new resume, BUT... don't call the writer a couple days later to demand changes suggested to you by your mother the English teacher, your friend the HR staffer, or someone who got hired somewhere recently. You chose a resume writer for their skills and expertise -- have some confidence in them (or get your mother to write your resume if you think she's the authority). Don't just tell the writer what changes to make, ask them why they chose to do things the way they did instead of the way your "experts" told you to do it. Maybe your friend has a good suggestion, but first see if the writer can explain why their way is better.

  • Requests for advance payments are fine, but nothing would make me run away from a service faster than a demand for a large non-refundable deposit. Why should you be the one at risk if the service doesn't turn out to be right for you or can't live up to its billing?

  • The cheapest resume you can get is rarely a bargain in the long run. But neither is the most expensive one. There is no correlation between cost and quality, except that the really cheap ones are unlikely to be very good.

  • Don't expect a top-notch resume from a service that works from a form or questionnaire. That's fine for an initial outline, but the resume writing process needs to be much more interactive -- either through a face-to-face meeting or a telephone discussion. Typists work from forms, not resume writers.

  • You probably underestimate the time it will take to complete your resume. Even if you have the most straightforward work experience and have an old resume to work from, you should still expect it to take at least an hour to write your resume. Two or three hours is average -- and sometimes even longer for senior managers or people whose work is fairly complex.

  • But then again ... I'm very skeptical of services that say they take at least three hours for ANY resume. They're either spending a lot of time on low-value activities, or they're not very experienced. Some say that up to six hours is average for them -- I really question what they're doing with their time ... and your money.

  • Be sure to find out if the service going to charge you to make minor changes to your resume. How much will they want to update it a few months or a year down the road? How quickly can you get a modified resume?


You can never be certain

Even with these guidelines, if you're not knowledgeable about resume writing, you're unlikely to be able to distinguish an excellent resume from a mediocre one.

I'm afraid there's no simple test you can apply, and no set of questions you can ask that will give you a definite answer (there are plenty of services that can "talk the talk"). Talk to the writer, get a feel for their expertise, and go with the one that seems to offer the best value. In the end, you'll always be taking a leap of faith.

The good news is that whatever you get will almost certainly be good enough to find work with. A resume is only ever one piece of the worksearch campaign. An effective one will certainly help, but if you needed to have an excellent resume to get hired we'd have an unemployment rate somewhere around 90 percent.

Good luck!


How to Prepare For An Employment Interview
by Gary Will
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CONTENTS:

  1. "Selling yourself" at an employment interview
  2. Is preparation even possible?
  3. The interview isn't about YOU -- it's about the employer
  4. Soothing the employer's anxieties
  5. Preparing for the interview -- an overview
  6. THE COMPANY: The information you'll want and where to look for it
  7. What you should know about business
  8. THE POSITION: How will you make a contribution?
  9. Preparing to answer
  10. What kind of person are you?
  11. Approaches to answering some common questions
  12. Some questions to practise
  13. Anticipating employers' concerns
  14. Asking questions -- an essential and overlooked step
  15. Going all out for the offer ... and why we hold back
  16. How to handle salary questions
  17. Beyond the answers -- image and presentation
  18. Using written materials & presentation visuals
  19. How to prepare your references
  20. Recent developments in interview formats
  21. Reviewing the interview
  22. Following up without being a pest
  23. Some final thoughts
  24. U.S.: Recommended books
  25. Canada: Recommended books
  26. UK: Recommended books
  27. HOME PAGE
  28. Order an ad-free copy of this book

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