Writing a strong resume is important, but it’s also hard. You might have heard that some people hire a resume writer, or maybe you’ve seen ads for resume writing services promising a free professional review of your resume. It’s tempting—especially if you’re desperate for a new job or your search has dragged on for a while.
Is it a good idea to have your resume written by a professional? The short answer is yes, it can definitely be beneficial to your job search.
Before you spend your money, however, there are a few things you should know—including what exactly a resume writer or reviewer does, how to decide if you should hire one, and, if you decide to go for it, how to do your homework and pick the right one for you.
- What a Resume Writer and/or Reviewer Does
- How to Decide If You Should Hire Professional Help for Your Resume
- How to Pick the Right Resume Writer
What a Resume Writer and/or Reviewer Does
First, you need to make sure you understand what a resume writer or reviewer can—and can’t—do for you. If you don’t have the right expectations going into the process, you’re likely to be disappointed.
What’s the Difference Between Resume Writing and Resume Reviewing?
As you look to hire a professional to help with your resume, you’ll come across the terms “resume writing” and “resume reviewing” and it’s important to understand the range of things these terms can mean. They’re almost—but not quite—interchangeable.
Most services and individuals offering “resume writing” will not actually create an entirely new resume for you from nothing. Instead, resume writing means rewriting, says Muse career coach Jennifer Smith, founder of Flourish Careers, who in addition to writing resumes, read them for over 15 years as a recruiter and HR professional. “I require something that we can build from, to understand their experiences and key accomplishments,” Smith says.
Most resume writers will want to see your existing resume, and they’ll usually need you to fill out a questionnaire or worksheet or have a long conversation with them about your experience and goals—most commonly, you’ll need to do a combination of these things.
Some individuals and services, like The Muse’s own Coach Connect—a marketplace where you can book sessions with thoroughly vetted career coaches—call this same service a “resume review.” At The Muse, the intention is to avoid the perception that you’ll be getting a resume written from scratch, says Eloise Eonnet, Coach Connect Manager and a coach herself who specializes in interviewing and communication.
However, in its lightest (and cheapest) form, resume reviewing can mean a professional looking over your resume and providing some actionable advice for you to make updates yourself, Smith says. This is often what you’re getting if you sign up for a free resume review. Tread lightly here since the advice may not be personalized to you: I, a content editor and writer, once submitted my resume to the same free resume review service as my mother, a nurse, and we got nearly identical feedback despite our extremely different goals and industries.
You might also choose to work with a coach who reviews the resume you’ve written, shares advice on how to improve it, and then gives you feedback on the changes you make, says Dana Hundley, a resume writer, former recruiter, and founder of Career Cooperative. This kind of service will probably do the most to help you learn how to write better resumes yourself in the future.
What Can a Resume Writer Do for my Resume?
Your resume is a story about why you’re the right person for a given job. Experienced resume writers are adept at asking the right questions to pull out the most relevant information about you and packaging it in a way that tells an engaging and persuasive story, Smith says.
There are also some common errors that (good) resume writers won’t make or will catch, including bullet points that list responsibilities rather than achievements and a lack of consistency throughout the resume (usually because people are just adding recent jobs onto old resumes without making sure everything tells a coherent story and is formatted the same way).
When she was a recruiter, Smith also noticed candidates who would try to stand out using flashy design—including a resume that used so much bright green that she literally jumped back from the screen (and then struggled to read the document). A good resume writer will help your resume stand out the right way.
You can definitely do all these things for yourself, but if you’re overwhelmed, stuck, or don’t have the time or energy to immerse yourself in the nuances of resume best practices, a professional might be the right choice.
Do I Still Need to Be Involved in the Resume Writing Process?
Hiring a resume writer doesn’t mean that you’ll magically receive a perfect resume without any thought or work on your part. “If you want to do it right, it should be a partnership,” Smith says. This means the writer is learning about you and your professional history, listening to what you want from your resume and your next job, and getting input from you throughout the drafting and revising process. This also means you’re putting the effort in to share all the relevant information needed to make your resume the best it can be.
Once It’s Done, Can I Submit the Same Resume for Every Job I Apply To?
Whether or not you work with a professional, it’s an absolute must to tailor your resume for every position you apply to. This means making changes to emphasize the most relevant experience, skills, and achievements for each role as well as switching up language to make sure you’re including the right keywords from the job description.
A resume writer should gear their work toward the types of jobs you plan to apply to, so a professionally written base resume should already showcase most of your most relevant experience. But every job is a little different and you should expect to make tweaks. Perhaps a certain company is looking for someone with knowledge of uncommon software that you happen to have experience with, but it’s not on your base resume because most companies don’t use it. Adding the name of that software to your professionally written resume could be what lands you the interview.
If you’re applying to more than one type of job—let’s say, for instance, you’ve worked in both marketing and development and are applying to roles in both—you might have to make more changes for different applications, or you might consider working with a professional on two (or more) base versions of your resume.
Will a Resume Writer Design My Resume?
Resume writers often will format your resume, but if you’re looking for someone to make a heavily designed resume, it’s not a given. And that’s probably a good thing. Applicant tracking systems (ATSs)—the programs that many companies use to process and organize resumes—can’t always parse fancy formatting. So a good resume writer will make sure your resume has clean, simple formatting an ATS can read. Muse coaches, for example, typically focus “not on the fancy details, but what is going to help you get through [the ATS] and land that interview,” Eonnet says.
Resume formatting is also about appealing to the human reader. As former recruiters, both Smith and Hundley make sure the resumes they write are easily scanned and understood by someone who might have a lot of applications to go through in a short time.
If you re looking for a heavily designed resume, you should be up front about that expectation and prepared for the possibility that you’ll need to pay more or even hire someone separately.
Is Hiring a Resume Writer “Cheating”?
If you’re considering hiring a resume writer, but are concerned that it feels dishonest or is “cheating,” worry no more. Unless you’re applying to be a resume writer yourself, your resume isn’t meant to be a sample of your work, but rather an accurate reflection of your qualifications for a job. As long as what’s written on your resume is true, there’s nothing dishonest about it.
If a resume had the information she was looking for, Smith says, she didn’t really care if a resume was professionally written. In fact, neither Hundley nor Smith usually noticed if a candidate had hired someone else to write their resume.
How to Decide If You Should Hire Professional Help for Your Resume
Almost anyone can benefit from a resume writer, but working with one can be especially productive in some scenarios. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you decide whether to write your own resume, hire a professional, or even seek out an entirely different kind of career coaching.
Do You Know What Your Job Search Goals Are?
Effective resumes are “a combination of your goals and your history. If you don’t have the goals piece, that makes the resume a lot less effective,” Smith says.
At its core, “your resume is a marketing tool” that’s selling you as the right person for the job, Smith says. If you were marketing a new product, you’d want to know who your customer is; if you’re writing a resume, you want to know who your target audience is. There is no single ideal resume for each person based only on their history. The best resume for a candidate looking to land a digital marketing coordinator job is different from the best resume for that same candidate to get a sales development role or even a social media coordinator role. Different experiences, achievements, and skills matter for different jobs—your resume needs to reflect the ones that matter for the jobs you’re applying to.
So if you’re not sure what type of positions you’re going to apply to, a resume writer can’t deliver a good product and it’s a waste of everyone’s time and your money to make them try.
“Sometimes people come to me and say that they need a resume, but that’s not really what they need,” Smith says. They don’t really know what they want next, but they think they need a resume to start. People tend to want to pay for tangible things like a resume even when what they actually is need someone to help them figure out their goals, Eonnet says.
If this is you, and you’re unsure of what job you want next, you might want to start with a different kind of coaching before you look for someone to write your resume. For a potential client in this position, for example, Eonnet would recommend checking out Coach Connect’s “Stuck in a Rut” package over its resume review service.
Does Your Job Search Situation Fall Into One of These Trickier Categories?
There are a few situations where hiring a resume writer might be particularly helpful. If you fall into one of these categories, your resume may be a bit more difficult (though not impossible) to write on your own:
- You’re making a career change
- You haven’t applied for a job or updated your resume in a long time
- Your career history is extensive and you need help narrowing it down
- You’re going back to work after a long employment gap
- You’ve had a bunch of jobs and/or side gigs that might look unrelated
- You’re a freelancer looking for a full-time job
- You’re in a niche market or transitioning out of one (such as government, the military, or academia)
- You don’t have the time needed to create a high-quality resume
- You’re not a strong writer and need help clearly stating your achievements
- Your job search has gone on for a while with little success
Do You Need Motivation or Help Overcoming a Mental Block?
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people I know say, “I just need to update my resume, then I can start looking for a new job,” and stay stuck in that stage for weeks or even months. When your resume becomes a barrier preventing you from making progress in your job search, you should consider bringing in a professional, Hundley says. “If it feels too big, too daunting, too confusing, seeking support to create the best possible resume for yourself so you can...focus your energy on other aspects of a job search is a great option.”
Resume writers can also help motivate you, especially if you’re feeling deflated from a job hunt—with all its rejections and radio silences. Often “I look at a draft of someone’s resume and see how amazing they are and then get on the phone and they’re down on themselves,” Smith says. But she’s heard from clients that even the act of filling out her intake questionnaire helps them start to process their background in a new way, see what makes them qualified, get out of their own heads, and feel prepared to talk themselves up.
How to Pick the Right Resume Writer
If you’ve decided you want to hire someone, you’ll quickly realize that “there are thousands and thousands of coaches out in the world who say they can help you with a resume,” Eonnet says. While many of these coaches are legitimate, not all of them are going to be a fit for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself to make sure you find a resume writer or service who will give you the biggest leg up on your job search.
Is the Resume Writer or Service Reputable?
Before selecting a resume service or writer, you want to make sure that your choice is qualified and that you’ll get the product they’re promising. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all in terms of what makes a successful, impactful resume writer,” Hundley says. But there are a few ways to try to assess your options.
- Look at reviews—both on their own website and third-party sites. If the coach you’re considering is on Coach Connect, you can be sure that the reviews listed on their profile are all in order and the “featured testimonial” is always the most recent review. Negative reviews are not deleted or altered, and positive reviews aren’t promoted to the top, Eonnet says.
- Check for certifications. They’re a sign that a resume writer or coach is qualified—but not the only one. The Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches and the National Resume Writers’ Association are the two main sources of resume writing certifications in the U.S. and you can be sure that folks with these certs are qualified. But not having one of these doesn’t mean someone’s not qualified, so make sure to take all of their experience into account. A recruiting and/or HR background, especially in your desired industry, is one other thing to look for along with or in lieu of a certification.
- Understand the criteria. If you’re looking at resume services with a lot of writers, you might want to find out what standards and vetting processes they have in place. The service’s website might include this info or you could ask for it directly before agreeing to use them.
- Ask for referrals and recommendations from your network. That way you know that someone you trust was happy with the work the resume writer did.
Are There Red Flags?
Here are a few red flags to watch out for from resume writers or services. Most aren’t definite dealbreakers, but might be a signal to dig deeper or consider looking elsewhere:
- Job guarantees: Some resume services will guarantee that you’ll get a job in a certain number of days or your money back. Be wary—there’s likely fine print with some extreme qualifications you need to meet to be eligible. Plus, no one can realistically guarantee that you’ll get a job based on your resume alone, no matter how fantastic it is. Landing a job depends on so many factors—including the job market, the number of jobs you apply to, your experience, your performance in interviews, and the speed of the hiring process where you’re applying.
- Extreme prices: If a service is free or less than $100, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting for your money. At prices that low, you might not be getting personalized advice or your information could be sold to third parties for advertising purposes. On the flip side, if a resume writer is charging in the high triple digits or more for just a resume (and you’re not a C-suite executive), make sure they have the experience and results to justify it or skip straight to cheaper options.
- Lack of transparency: Before paying for anything, you want to know what you’re getting, right? A service or writer should be up front about their prices and process, including how many rounds of edits you get and what type of file your resume will be delivered in.
- A final result you can’t easily edit: You still need to tailor your professionally written resume for each job you apply to, so your resume should be “very nimble,” Hundley says. If a service is going to deliver an end product in a file format you can’t edit (such as an image file or a file you need special software to open) or is so heavily designed that changing up the text will mess up the formatting, look elsewhere. Note: It’s fairly common (and not a red flag) to receive a PDF and an editable document.
- Generic advice or lack of input needed from you: If you’ve already submitted your resume for a review, and it’s clear from the results that whoever wrote the feedback didn’t read your resume, tread very carefully before giving the service more money. Or if a resume service doesn’t ask for more information about what kinds of jobs you’re looking for or anything else about your experience, consider whether your money is better spent on something more personalized.
What’s Your Timeline?
You should have an idea of when you need your resume to make sure that the resume writer you choose is able to deliver on time. If you want to start your job search “soon,” spending a few weeks on your resume might be fine, but if you spotted a perfect job you want to apply right away before the posting comes down, you might need it in a few days—in which case you need to make sure the resume writer can meet your deadline (and you should be willing to pay extra for a rush job, Hundley says).
What’s Your Budget?
Resume review and writing services can range in price from free to thousands. Typically, you should expect to pay at least one hundred to a few hundred dollars for a professional to rewrite or revise your resume, Smith says. Folks far along in their careers, especially at the executive level, tend to have to pay more than early-career job seekers.
Different writers and services might have different resume packages that include more revisions, more time to talk with the writer about your job search goals and resume strategy, or even additional coaching products—and prices will range accordingly. So think about what you can afford. If you don’t have a lot to spend, it might make more sense to get a lighter resume review from an experienced resume writer who’s a good match for you rather than a full rewrite from a service where you’re not quite sure who’s writing your resume or what quality the end product will be.
What Is Your Ideal Process?
As mentioned earlier, every resume writer and reviewer needs some amount of input from you. But the amount and type of involvement you have in the process can vary. Do you want some tips on your resume that you can use to update it yourself? Do you want the writer to handle the writing and go back and forth with several rounds of revisions to make sure it’s exactly how you’d like it? Do you prefer to talk about yourself over the phone or will filling out questionnaires allow you to organize your thoughts better?
Think this through before you look for resume writers and be prepared to ask probing questions about their writing or review process to make sure it lines up with your expectations and needs, Hundley says. If one resume writer isn’t offering what you’d like, move on to another.
Do They Have Experience Helping People in Your Role, Industry, and Situation?
While looking for writers, see what industries, careers, and situations they have experience with to ensure they have a track record of helping people like you. A coach who has a background in the industry you’re looking for work in is especially helpful because they “can speak the language,” Smith says. If you have to choose, it’s typically better to find someone who’s familiar with where you’re going in your career, Smith says, than someone who’s familiar with where you’ve been. One exception is when you’re transitioning out of the military since translating that experience can be a unique skill.
Even if you’re using a larger resume service, you can see if it has a way for you to work with a writer who has the experience you need. For example, Coach Connect allows you to filter for careers, experience levels (both yours and the coach’s), and other areas of expertise—for instance, working with veterans, career changers, or international job seekers. And if you’re still struggling, some services, including Coach Connect, allow you to reach out for help finding a match.
Is Their Personality and Style a Good Match for You?
Before you make a final choice, try to get a sense of who the writer is beyond their experience. Read anything they’ve written on their website, LinkedIn, social media, and various professional profiles (on The Muse’s Coach Connect, at least, each coach writes their own bio). Pay attention to both tone and content. Are they warm and bubbly or no-nonsense and to-the-point? Neither is good or bad per se, but you might prefer one over the other.
Look at reviews and testimonials and watch for any common themes. Do multiple clients say that they’re a good listener? Or that they infused some humor into the process? You can also use a free initial phone consultation or any pre-hire conversations with the writer to get a sense of how they communicate and if they’re a good fit for you.
You likely work better with some colleagues than others because of their personalities and work styles. A resume writer is no different. You’ll get your best possible resume from someone you gel with.