resume writer red flags

5 Red Flags When Hiring a Resume Writer

It’s worth your time and energy to find a resume writer you feel comfortable working with and will also help you get where you want to go with greater results. This post has been updated from its initial publication in 2018 with more relevant, accurate details to help you hire a reputable resume writer and coach. Let’s begin!

Your resume must position you for the role you want.

Believe it or not, most of the resume writing process involves strategy. Most resumes fail because they are written in a way that positions you for the role you already have. That’s fine if that is your goal.

However, your resume writer must highlight relevant, distinguishing background features and achievements that set you apart.

Doing this effectively requires:

  • Getting to know you professionally and understand your specific career goals
  • A solid understanding of modern recruitment processes and hiring technologies
  • Researching your industry/positions and identifying inconsistencies in your data

Resume writers are broad and diverse in their processes for working with clients. Additionally, prices can be all over the map. We will get into that later.

If you have never hired a resume writer, it can be hard to differentiate between a first-rate and a mediocre service. I often hear from clients who originally went with a low-budget resume service. Some of those clients were laid off and received resume writing services from an outplacement company hired by their current employer. These services are free, so why wouldn't you take advantage?

Unfortunately, many of these clients walked away from the experience, dissatisfied with the output. Many of the resumes and cover letters these companies write do not reflect an understanding of the client's background, skills, or unique value, let alone speak the language of their target role or industry.

The result? You are no closer to getting into your next job faster. This article will help you assess resume writers and help you make an informed decision.

The resume writing and coaching industries are NOT regulated.

Unlike certain professions, such as law, medicine, and teaching, the resume writing and coaching industries are not regulated. Anyone with access to the Internet and basic web development skills can publish a website and advertise themselves as a resume writer, career coach, or both.

COVID-19 brought out an influx of new resume writers and career coaches who aimed to capitalize on the desperateness of millions of people laid off during a global pandemic. Many had little to no knowledge, training, or experience in modern resume writing practices and the job search landscape.

I have also noticed a particular trend of graphic designers who moonlight as resume writers due to their ability to create fancy-looking resumes. These documents might look attractive at first glance but fail to be effective in the job search due to their incompatibility with applicant tracking systems, or ATS.

#1: Start with their website.

Read the About pages and any details on the company, its resume writers, and the types of clients they work with.

Some companies, like Scientech Resumes, work exclusively with professionals in specific fields, such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or STEM. Others might work primarily with senior executives or specialize in career transition or the federal resume writing process.

When reviewing the website, take note of the following:

Do they offer an initial, free discovery meeting?

Reputable resume writers will offer an introductory meeting to understand your goals and challenges, assess potential fit for working together, and provide quotes for your different service options.

This initial meeting is important for us to determine how and if we are the right service to support your job search goals and needs. We regularly receive cold emails and inquiries from job seekers asking us to "critique my resume." Without speaking to you first or knowing anything about your job search goals, we cannot give you personalized resume advice that will move you in the desired direction.

Do they offer a free resume evaluation?

A free resume evaluation is a great way to offer initial value upfront. We include this service in our initial discovery meeting. Together, we look at your existing resume in real time, assess where it looks strong, and share at least 1-2 actionable strategies you can use to strengthen your positioning. With this approach, you get initial value upfront, regardless of whether or not you choose to hire us.

Many of my colleagues take a similar approach. If you opt for a free resume evaluation, make sure it comes from a real person. Many large companies offering free resume reviews tend to work by email evaluation. Often, they will use templates stuffed with canned language that anyone can replicate.

TopResume, one of the world's largest resume writing companies, offers a free evaluation, sending the same feedback to everyone regardless of their resume. I'm convinced they use a bot to write all their critiques and pull random sentences from your resume as examples, hoping to scare you into buying their mediocre service.

I have read over 25 of their so-called "custom" reports. They all give the same feedback regardless of the quality of your resume they were supposed to have reviewed. 

This company, and others like it, play on job seekers' insecurities and doubts while simultaneously giving the resume writing industry a bad name. It's gross.

Is it a resume writing or a secretarial service?

Occasionally, we receive inquiries from people asking us to re-type or edit their resume, cover letter, and other documents. That's not what resume writers do.

Some clerical services will re-type your resume at a rate of $100 or more, but that approach assumes that your existing resume is already good enough to land you an interview. If your existing resume is landing you interviews that reflect your career target(s), then a typing service may be all you need.

However, if you are actively job searching and not landing any interviews, these services don't know how modern recruitment processes work or have the know-how to position you for your career target(s).

Who will you work with throughout the resume writing process?

Some resume writing companies employ a team of writers, while others, like Scientech Resumes, work one-on-one with each client. Both approaches can provide you with the high-quality work you deserve.

I prefer to work one-on-one with all of my clients. This approach allows me to provide a premium service where my clients receive more personalized attention and form a strategic long-term partnership. One of the downsides you may encounter when working with a solopreneur is availability.

Scientech often has a waiting list that can average anywhere from 1-3+ weeks, depending on the time of year. Therefore, if your job search needs are more urgent, we cannot always accommodate you. That's where a company employing a team of resume writers can be handy. They can often handle larger project volumes because they can disperse projects across multiple writers.

Ask about their writers' experience, such as relevant resume writing training/qualifications, educational background, writing specializations, etc. You can do the same thing when interviewing a solo resume writer.

Regardless of your preference for a solopreneur or a team of writers, it's important to get your questions answered about their resume writing training and background.

Sample questions can include:

  • How are you different from other resume writing services?
  • What did you do before you entered the resume writing field?
  • Do you work one-on-one or outsource work to subcontractors?

Be suspicious of companies with NO online presence.

A strong web presence is expected and essential to staying relevant in today's modern digital age. A company without a website is a red flag, even if they have a social presence on other platforms.

That said, be careful of making the website your only selection criteria. Many mediocre companies have lured people in with attractive websites, while reputable resume writers may have a more moderate website.

Do they feature sample resumes?

Sample resumes can give you an idea of the quality of work you can expect. If there are no samples, ask for them. Look beyond the initial design.

  • Do they have a certain uniqueness or personality to them?

Recruiters spend as little as 7 seconds viewing a single resume. With ATS being an integral part of the hiring process, it’s more important than ever that your resume highlights relevant distinguishing features from your background.

  • Do they feature industry-specific language vs. buzzwords?

Your resume must integrate relevant keywords that connect your background and skills to your target roles and industries. For example, if you seek a Materials Scientist role, your keywords should be specific to that position.

  • Do they highlight specific results and accomplishments?

Many resumes fail because they are boring and focus primarily on job duties when employers are interested in your impact and achievements. Your impact differentiates you from applicants with a similar background.

#2: Review their writing process.

Every writer has their process for working with clients and gathering information.

Some writers will have you complete an information questionnaire, while others will arrange a one-on-one long interview, usually 60 minutes or more. Others may do a combination of both. Both approaches have their pros and cons.

The questionnaire is great if you are more analytical, as it allows time to reflect on your career and offers flexibility to complete it between work and personal responsibilities. This exercise is also an excellent tool for interview preparation, where you can refer to these notes for career stories that reflect your unique value, credibility, and expertise. If you are in a hurry or someone who communicates better verbally, this process may not be the best one for you.

To save the hassle of completing a questionnaire, you can opt for a more long-form interview service, where the writer will collect all the necessary information in that session. This approach takes less time but requires coming to that meeting prepared to discuss your career stories, skills, and other values, as you are more likely to be put on the spot and have to respond to questions on the fly.

In either case, you must actively participate in the information-gathering process. So, pick someone with a process that will fit the way you work best.

How long does the process take?

Turnaround times vary greatly among resume writing services. Companies that employ a team of writers can typically offer faster turnaround times than a solo practitioner.

If your needs are more urgent, ask if rush services are available. Not every writer offers this service. Some writers may only offer rush services on a contingency basis, depending on their current project schedule. Be prepared to pay a premium for expedited delivery, as those services significantly impact scheduling.

Remember that the turnaround time goes beyond just the writing process.

Reputable writers are conducting background research, reviewing your existing resume (if you have one) and supplementary documentation, building a positioning strategy, identifying and cross-referencing keywords with your career target(s), writing new documents (which often includes more than a resume), conducting multiple rounds of proofreading, and delivering the documents.

Additionally, the revision process usually involves a couple of rounds, possibly a strategy meeting, to discuss edits, revise the documents, get feedback, etc., before finalizing the project. On average, I spend at least 10-15+ hours on a given project. Keep that in mind as we move on to the next topic, the investment.

Interested in a deep dive into the resume writing process? Check out this excellent article by my colleague, Maureen McCann, over at Promotion Career Solutions.

#3: Beware of ridiculously low prices and turnaround times.

As mentioned earlier, COVID-19 brought in an influx of low-end resume writers.

If you have ever Googled resume writing costs, you have likely seen prices ranging from as little as $89 to as high as $3,000+. While the investment is an important consideration, you will (most likely) not get high-quality service from an experienced resume writer for under $100.

The professional resume writing process is intensive, with lots of research and collaboration between you and the writer and multiple rounds of revisions to produce the final version. Think about the cost from an hourly perspective. If Scientech charged $100 for a resume, and it takes me 15 hours to complete the project, factoring in all the processes we discussed earlier and back-and-forth edits with you as the client, then I am making less than the federal minimum wage. That amount does not even begin to cover my monthly business and personal expenses,

Beware of companies offering remarkably fast turnaround times, 24-48 hours, at low prices, $100 or less.

My colleagues and I call these companies 'resume mills' because they operate on a quantity-over-quality model. They outsource writers from overseas, many of whom live in countries where English is not the native language and may not have a strong grasp of English grammar rules.

Additionally, their writers often work on a quota basis, where they must complete a certain number of orders in a given period. There is no incentivization (or time) for the writer to get to know you professionally and create a targeted, well-written document that is future-focused toward your career goals. At most, they will likely re-type your work history on a generic resume template.

Do yourself a favor, save that $100, or treat yourself to a night out, which will be more worthwhile than a low-budget service that won't get you closer to your goals.

So, what can you expect to pay?

A reputable resume writer will, on average, charge anywhere from $400 to $1,000+. Those prices will vary depending on your career stage and desired direction, services needed, and complexity of work.

New graduates with little to no experience will likely find themselves toward the lower end of the range. In contrast, professionals with 10+ years of experience will be at the higher end due to more background to cover. For those of you targeting senior executive and C-suite roles, expect to pay even higher.

There is truth in the saying, "You get what you pay for." Expect to invest 2-3 days' salary for a high-quality resume service. While that may seem high, remember that this investment in your future can increase your chances of landing an interview, get you into your next job faster, and boost your salary.

Do you know how much your job search costs you each day, week, and month you are unemployed?

#4: Look out for unrealistic guarantees.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In addition to low costs and insane turnaround times, many resume mills offer unrealistic guarantees, like landing an interview or a job offer in 30 days or a free resume rewrite.

Sounds enticing, right? It may sound like a good deal in terms of minimizing the risk in your investment, but often, their terms of service are full of obstacles that make the refund process cumbersome.

Remember, a resume's sole purpose is to get you an interview, not a job.

Once we write your resume, we have zero control over how you use it in your job search. Additionally, we cannot control your behavior during the interview, which will greatly influence the outcome.

Be wary of claims that hiring a particular service will double your income.

A targeted resume can indeed help you increase your salary. Many of our clients hired us to write resumes, translating into an interview and a job offer with a higher salary offer. That said, landing a higher salary also involves clarifying your non-negotiables and executing a plan to achieve the desired results.

We are writing a blog series on the salary negotiation and compensation process that will be available by the end of 2023.

The 30-day job guarantee is useless and dishonest.

The hiring process is full of back-end processes that you don't see. It involves screening resumes, interviewing multiple candidates (multiple times), waiting for the initial offer, reviewing the offer, negotiating salary and benefits, finalizing the offer, providing your 2 weeks' notice at your current job, completing a background check, and agreeing on start dates for the new role.

That process takes time, and the timeline will vary depending on the employer. Truthfully, 2-3 months is probably your best-case scenario to account for any delays that may crop up along the way. For senior executive or C-suite positions, the hiring can average 6-8 months or more due to the more thorough background processes involved and the fact that there's more money on the line.

The takeaway? No legitimate resume writer will (or can) guarantee you a job.

Instead, look for writers that offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

That's an area that the writer controls, and most professional resume writers will work with you to ensure you are satisfied with the final product (within reason).

Some of my colleagues offer a 60-day interview guarantee, usually backed up by a comprehensive terms of service agreement. They will work with you to assess and troubleshoot your job search strategies, share resources to move you in the desired direction, and ensure you use the resume as intended.

At Scientech Resumes, every client who hires us receives lifetime email access, even after our engagement ends. All client projects include a 3-month check-in to discuss your job search progress. We make every effort, within reason, to make your investment work for you.

#5: Be careful of third-party reviews.

Third-party reviews are one of the main ways people validate services and purchasing decisions.

There are resume writing services with hundreds of 5-star reviews on Google, TrustPilot, and other third-party platforms. On its face, this may seem impressive, but it's important to look carefully at when the company started collecting reviews and the frequency of when they were written.

Be mindful of fake reviews. On LinkedIn, I have seen cases where resume writers have their own employees write reviews to deceptively increase their business brand reputation. Therefore, when reading reviews, ensure the details provided in the review match the reviewers' actual details.

From personal experience, Scientech Resumes only started collecting Google reviews in 2018, and we have been active for over 7 years. I have written hundreds of resumes in that period, but only a small percentage of my client base will leave reviews. Reason? Most people do not want to advertise to their present employers that they are confidentially job searching.

Be skeptical of the Top 10 Resume Writers or similar lists.

If you have been searching for a resume writer, one of these lists likely appeared in the top results of your Google search. These lists are hit-or-miss. Some are legitimate, while others may have a bias or a conflict of interest.

For more details, check out this fascinating article by my colleague Donna Svei of Avid Careerist, who wrote about this practice taken to the extreme.

Another colleague, Wendi Weiner of The Writing Guru, wrote this in-depth article on determining if a "top" or "best of" list is legitimate.

Research is power. Too often have I seen unsuspecting job seekers taken in by companies advertising low-budget resume services with “too good to be true” guarantees. These companies give the resume writing field a bad name, yet the unsuspecting job seekers make out the worst. They pay twice. Hopefully, this article will serve as a guide for helping you pick the right writer for your resume and job search goals.

Scientech Resumes is dedicated to helping science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals find fulfilling work through targeted, branded, and keyword-optimized resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and other career marketing documents. Schedule a FREE 20-minute discovery session to get real-time feedback on your current resume and job search strategy, or connect with me on LinkedIn. Let's get you where you want to go with greater results!


Kate Williamson

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