As a resume writer for more than 20 years now, this is a question I'm asked quite often. Back in the days when most resume inquiries originated from a phone call in response to my Yellow Pages ad, "How much does it cost for a resume?" was often the first question I was asked!
Now, with many resume writing colleagues posting pricing information on their websites (I'd estimate about 30% of resume writing businesses provide pricing data online), the question has evolved somewhat into:
“How much should I spend to get a resume written?”
The main reason for that question is because jobseekers will find rates anywhere from $5 (on Fiverr.com) to more than $5,000+ (from some of my excellent colleagues) for resume writing services. Friends who know I'm a resume writer ask me, "What's the difference?" and "How do I choose?"
I like to use a "car analogy" to explain the disparity in pricing. You can buy a car from anywhere from $200 (on Craigslist) to $2 million+
. Pretty much all of them over $500 will get you from Point A to Point B. (If you're closer to the $500 price range, I hope that's within about 200 miles!)
In some cases, it's not about transportation at all, but about status. HOW you get there (rich Corinthian leather seats, or cloth?) and the status of the vehicle (Mercedes Benz or Miata) that can explain the pricing difference with car prices, for the most part. But even then, the exact same model, with the exact same features and mileage, can vary by several hundred dollars, depending on whether you're buying via private sale or through a dealer. (So sometimes the sales channel has an impact too.)
Because the vast majority of resume writers are self-employed, we set our own prices. There's no requirement for certification as a resume writer (and, in fact, there are dozens of certifications offered within the resume writing industry), and no specific training or qualifications to hang out a shingle as a resume writing professional. I get questions from resume writing colleagues about pricing all the time -- they wonder how much they should be charging too!
According to my research -- in the Resume Writers' Digest Annual Industry Survey -- the "average" cost for a resume and cover letter is right around $500.
So why are some resume writing "mills" only charging $149 for a resume and cover letter -- and why do some top industry pros charge $5,000?
Here's some possible reasons for pricing differences:
- Customization/personal service. It's not always the case, but generally, the more personal service and customization with the resume services, the higher the price. Resume mills can make money off a $149 resume by standardizing the client intake process (generally, a questionnaire form that doesn't change) and fitting the client into one of a set number of design templates. (There's nothing WRONG with this approach per se, but it's the difference between buying a package of Chips Ahoy off the shelf versus ordering a dozen personalized cookies from a bakery.)
- How information is gathered. Relating to the level of customization, individuals and firms at the lower end of the pricing scale are likely to use worksheets, forms, and questionnaires for information gathering versus a phone intake interview. (I personally use questionnaires instead of phone consultations and there is nothing wrong with a written approach versus a verbal approach UNLESS the jobseeker prefers talking through their history. In that case, it's a matter of personal preference for the client.) But how information is collected can impact pricing -- in general, resume writers who use phone intakes charge anywhere from 20-50% more than those who work from questionnaires. (Although there are some VERY high end firms who use questionnaires exclusively, so it's not always true that you'll pay less when providing information in writing.)
- Volume. Aligning with the level of personal service is the volume of clients that an individual resume writer can work with. If you're conducting in-depth personal consultations or lengthy personalized questionnaires and spending 10+ hours on the writing of the resume, you BETTER be charging more than $500 for your services. Otherwise, you'd be better off getting a job at McDonalds because you're probably making close to minimum wage anyway!
- Experience/credentials. Although no certification or experience is required, resume writers who have one -- or both -- generally charge more. Many of the larger resume writing firms (mills) have a minimum requirement for their writers -- an "easy" certification like the CPRW (which requires a single test and no ongoing continuing education) is often the bar for application. In contrast, the cost to obtain an ACRW (Academy Certified Resume Writer) certification is $1895, plus five weeks of training and portfolio development. Choosing a resume writer who invests in her OWN career development is a good idea -- and is likely going to be at a higher price point.
- Resume only versus a one-stop shop. Resume writing professionals who provide a "single source" approach for jobseekers tend to charge more than individuals who only write resumes. Some career industry colleagues provide career assessments/testing, personal brand development, the full spectrum of writing services (not just resumes and cover letters, but bios, CVs, thank you letters, networking letters, etc.) plus LinkedIn profile development, and into coaching services -- interview coaching, salary negotiation coaching, career change strategy development, and more. Because they tend to have a deeper well of knowledge, information, and resources, they tend to charge more even just for the resume writing piece of it, if that's all you need.
With so many possible resume writers to choose from (my research indicates there are about 4,000 professional resume writers worldwide), how does a jobseeker choose? That's a topic for another blog post. But in general, look at these factors:
- What do you need? Do you need JUST the resume and cover letter, or are you looking for someone who can help you navigate the job search process?
- How do you prefer to work? Do you want to have a high level of hand-holding, or are you comfortable working with your resume writer virtually (email/questionnaires)?
- How complex is your career? Someone just coming out of college is an easy project for most resume writers -- mid-level professionals and early executives need someone with more experience -- and I'd ONLY recommend someone who works with federal resumes if you're looking for a government job.
- How much are you willing to spend?
That final question is important. The other question jobseekers need to ask themselves is: "How much do I want to invest in my career?" Going back to that car analogy, what do you need? What do you want?
There is a general guideline that jobseekers can use:
In general, you should spend 1-3% of your annual salary on your career development.
According to the Census Bureau, the median household income in America (across all jobs) was $51,939 (as of September 2014*). Using the 1 to 3% figure, that would mean spending between $519 and $1557 on career development annually. Now, that could include more than just a resume/cover letter -- that can include continuing education/training, career-related clothing and personal items, and even something like a subscription to LinkedIn Premium membership. But if that $52,000 was a single jobseeker (let's say a single parent), the $519 amount is right in line with that "average" fee for a resume and cover letter that I mentioned before.
The advantages of a professionally written resume are numerous -- many jobseekers find it hard to know what to write about themselves (much less design a resume that meets modern job search standards and Applicant Tracking System-friendly formats). Professionally written resumes are more likely to generate interview requests than do-it-yourself documents, meaning a potentially shorter job search. (You can calculate how much it costs every week you are unemployed -- for example, if you're making that hypothetical $52,000 a year, that's almost $1,000 a week.)
Back to the car analogy, your income is your greatest wealth-building tool. (The average person makes over $1.4 million in income throughout their lifetime.**)
The average monthly new vehicle lease payment in the U.S. in 2015 was $412/month***. You'd spend $400 each MONTH to drive something that gets you where you want to go -- why not spend a couple hundred dollars more for a document that can drive your CAREER where you want it to go?
So instead of asking "How much does a resume cost?" jobseekers should probably instead be asking themselves, "How much do I want to make?" and what is the cost of NOT investing in their job search, and their career path.