Friday, August 20, 2010

WSJ Tackles "How to Choose a Resume Writer"

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal digital edition had an article, "Hiring a Resume Writer? Ask These Questions First." I was alerted to this by Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, who wrote an eloquent blog post of her own in response to the article, "Selecting a Resume Writer: Trust Your Intuition." (You should also read Julie Walraven's post, "Are You Talking About Us? Choosing a Resume Writer" and Dawn Bugni's post, "One Bad Apple Doesn't ALWAYS Spoil the Whole Bunch.")

What frustrates me is that it seems that more and more articles that mention the resume writing industry (and, in particular, the selection of resume writers) takes a couple of shots at the industry, usually through the inclusion of an anecdote of a job seekers who paid for a resume (anywhere from $59 to several thousand dollars) ... and didn't get the job or the document is criticized. (In reading online articles, it makes me wonder if resume writers ever end up with any satisfied clients. I know we do, but you'd never know it to read about it!)

While it's a MUST that the documents you deliver are error-free, perhaps job seekers shouldn't be surprised that they don't get an incredible document for $59. But even a $59 resume should outperform many self-written documents.

I would also disagree that the five questions suggested will help ensure that the client gets a great resume writer. Following are the WSJ questions and my thoughts on each.
  • "Do you know my industry?" While I agree it's important to be able to understand what your client is talking about, industry knowledge can be a double-edged sword. The "insider" knowledge can tempt the writer (and client) to using too much industry terminology and abbreviations. And you have to remember that often a resume will be screened by someone other than the hiring manager, and if they don't understand what you're talking about, you may not get in front of the person who "gets" all of that verbiage. There has to be a balance. To counter the WSJ's point, a good resume writer can position your qualitative skills and showcase industry relevance without having done the job personally in the past. (On the other hand, I think "niching" is a fabulous idea for resume writers, and I'll have a future post on this very topic.) But just because you're not a former IT professional yourself, doesn't mean you can't write for IT folks.
  • "Can I see samples that aren't posted on your website, please?" Here, the resume writer must be careful, because resume samples on the website should have already been fictionalized (with identifying client information removed). If a client requests other samples, the resume writer must either pull out other already-fictionalized samples or take the time to fictionalize them. What I've found is that if you provide a client with a sample from his or her industry, then he or she expects the finished resume to look like that sample, even if the sample client's experience and qualifications are completely different. (It's like they think there is "one" way resumes in that industry should look.) I've never had a client ask to speak to other clients, but I get a lot of my clients via referrals, so that probably precludes it. (I think you're more likely to get clients who ask to speak to clients if you charge $700 versus $250.) But yes, make sure you put your best work online -- especially some standout designs and absolutely NO errors.
  • "Are you skilled at working with people like me?" This goes back to question 1. But the example given in the WSJ article, like working with a local writer, and one that works face-to-face, are not necessarily good predictors of success in a match between writer and client. Also, from the anecdote given, I'm not sure the new writer had any better success with the client, Ms. Ray, than the previous writer, because the solution presented, to me, seemed to be to "dumb it down" (although Ms. Ray used the phrase "tailor it down"). One of the things I learned from Louise Kursmark is that a mid-to-entry level position resume isn't that different than a six-figure resume -- it still needs to be heavy on accomplishments and client value.
  • "How will you tackle writing my resume?" I'm not sure what to make of this comment from a recruiter: "Resumes edited or created from scratch by lackluster writers are easy to spot because they often read like the experience is too good to be true." He goes on to say, "It's almost always a series of amazing achievements and it looks like it's written by someone who is trying to sell you." Without getting into his head too much, What is wrong with a resume filled with amazing achievements? Well, to be a little bit snarky, I guess it doesn't give the recruiter much to do to "add value" to the process, if the resume stands on its own. I do agree that an extensive questionnaire or over-the-phone interview is necessary to collect information. You simply can't do enough from an old resume and a job posting.
  • "So, what did you do before you were a resume writer?" This is probably the point that I have the biggest problem with, especially this comment from Tim Heard, an IT recruiter (misidentified as "Tom Heard" in the article): "If someone owned a florist shop for 20 years and decided to go into resume writing, I'd question how this person is qualified." Does it really matter what the professional did before becoming a resume writer? A career change is a career change. (Was Mr. Heard always an IT recruiter?) And, as another snarky aside, how confident can you be in an IT recruiter when his website is still "under construction" in many respects? But to address his point: I've known many outstanding resume writers who transitioned from careers other than HR or recruiting. In many cases, this has made them a specialist in working with clients from these professions (which was the point of Questions #1 and 3).
I'm happy the profession is getting attention -- and helping consumers choose a resume professional is useful -- but I don't think these five questions are necessarily going to help ensure that a client gets a good experience.

Do you have some ideas on what questions might really help make a good match?

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