are professionally done resumes worth it?

A reader writes:

I have been out off work for three years. I have sent out a lot of resumes and filled out a bunch of job applications, but I have not received any calls back. I was talking to a friend about it and they suggested that I get my resume done professionally. I’ve checked the price for this and it is not cheap. So I was wondering, will having my resume professional done worth the price or will it be waste of money that I honestly don’t really have?

If your resume is in horrible shape and you don’t feel at all equipped to fix it with any of the free resources available online (and there are many), then sure, paying someone to help you might be worth it.

However, you should be aware that many, many professional resume writers aren’t very good at what they do. I see a lot of resumes that were professionally done that are pretty awful and need lots of help.

I also see a lot that have recognizable hallmarks of “a professional resume writer was here,” and those hallmarks are not good ones. (For example, you do not want the words “core competencies” on your resume.)

So you really need to vet whoever you hire — you can’t just assume that because someone hung out a shingle, they’re good at it. And to vet effectively, you need to have some basis for judging, which means you need to put in the work to educate yourself about what a good resume looks like … which might get you to the point where you can do it yourself anyway. (For example, see the advice here.)

But if you try that and you’re still feeling lost, then sure — working with someone who’s good at this could help. Just be sure that you truly check for that, which means:

  • Make sure it’s someone who will spend significant time talking to you and drawing accomplishments out of you. If someone is just going to take your resume and rewrite it, that’s a bad sign.
  • Ask to see before and after samples of real resumes they’ve done. This is hugely important; so often when I’ve looked at the example resumes that most of these services have online, they’ve been pretty weak.
  • Don’t put any weight on professional certifications for this work (like someone being certified Professional Association of Resume Writers & Career Coaches), because they’re not a guarantee of quality. There are people who are great at this with no formal training or certification, and people with formal certifications who suck. Look at their actual work.
  • And stay away from these folks.

{ 71 comments… read them below }

    1. AVP*

      This prompted me to look back through that original thread and check out the website of the resume / cover letter service in question. You won’t be surprised to hear that these are the two big example resumes on their front page right now:

      1. Has a picture of the candidate and a colored background (can’t wait to print out one of those)

      2. Is a graphic-based functional resume.


  1. AndersonDarling*

    I used a resume service while trying to leave a toxic job. The job was so awful that I couldn’t think straight about my job description or accomplishments, so I really needed the help of an outside resume writer. It was $300 for the service, which was SO MUCH MONEY, but it got me what I needed. Yeah, they put on a big fluffy “Core Competency” section, and they didn’t do much for my past experience since it was already well written. They were able to wring out the important parts of my current job and jazz up a few things. In the end, it was worth it and I started getting interviews.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I think that would be the most legitimate use for a professional resume writer. Lots of people have a hard time identifying relevant accomplishments, especially in positions that don’t lend themselves well to metrics (like copy editors).

      Other than that, and barring something like severe deficiencies in English writing or word processing software, I don’t see how a professional would be worth the money.

  2. Anonymous Educator*

    I think the worth of even legitimate résumé-writing services can also depend wildly on what field you’re in.

    [Random Tangent]
    I used to work in recruiting for independent schools, and I’ve also worked in (and been involved in hiring) for several independent schools in the U.S. In this particular niche industry, how your résumé looks or even how it’s phrased (apart from poor grammar / spell-checking) really doesn’t matter that much. And the usual advice—at least for most school positions—about emphasizing accomplishments over job descriptions does not apply (for example, most independent schools aren’t as concerned about teachers prepping for state-wide exams and score increases there… and managing / being frugal with budgets isn’t a big brag either unless you’re a department head or director).

    For most independent school positions, your job titles and responsibilities and places you’ve worked matter the most. Were you teaching four classes (full load) or two (part-time teaching)? How many students? What kind of English (American Lit, Brit Lit, some kind of elective)? How many years did you teach it? At what school? What grade levels? Have you worked at or attended an independent school before? Do you coach a sport? These are the questions independent school hiring committees are thinking about when scanning your résumé. They’ll ask different questions when they phone screen you or bring you in for a day visit or demo lesson, of course.

    [/Random Tangent]

    1. BRR*

      Thank you for your tangent! My husband is applying to independent schools and while I’m not butting into his job search, I imagine he could use some guidance.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I hope he does find that helpful.

        Another random thing I learned from working in recruiting is that there may even be small regional differences. We held panels at conferences featuring hiring managers (Deans of Faculty / Department Heads / Heads of School / Division Heads).

        The panel in Atlanta definitely preferred handwritten thank-you notes, and they thought those showed the proper formality and respect. However, the panel in California thought handwritten thank-you notes were a waste of time and not easy enough to reply to (to keep a dialogue going), so they preferred email.

        I don’t know that that’s true for every hiring manager in Atlanta or for every hiring manager in California, but that’s how our panelists presented it.

  3. BRR*

    Some other things because I would hate for you to spend the money while you’re unemployed. How do you think your resume is? Did your friend who recommended a professional service look at your resume? Do you know someone who does a lot of hiring who could look at your materials? Sometimes even a quick glance can can result in valuable feedback. It might be your cover letters and not your resume.

    If money is an issue Alison’s job hunting book was super helpful for me and much cheaper than a professional resume writer. Best of luck in your job hunt!

    1. BRR*

      Also I would say don’t do anything that really goes against your gut. Either going to a service in general or the advice of a resume writer.

    2. Newbie*

      I agree that particularly if money is an issue, enlisting the help of people you know could be beneficial. I’ve been involved in a few hiring committees over the years and am always willing to look at resumes for friends and family. For people that I know well, I can sometimes provide some guidance or suggestions to help them highlight or clarify their skills and experience. Or at the very least be a proofreader for those typos that are so easy to overlook in your own writing.

      I can’t say that any of my help actually resulted in interviews, but I was often able to provide perspective that isn’t always obvious. It can be difficult for some people to highlight their own skills in relation to a specific job ad. I could sometimes help friends be more specific about how their skills relate to the job being applied for.

  4. Jubilance*

    OP, I wonder if it’s your resume or the jobs you’re applying to. Your resume may be fine, or just need a new tweaks, but you may be applying for jobs that aren’t a good fit and that’s why you aren’t getting calls. Best of luck!

    1. BRR*

      Yeah, I’m thinking of the number of scenarios that might be a challenge for the LW to overcome: Jobs they are applying to, cover letter, resume, their location’s job market, etc.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah that’s my thinking too. Even though they said lots of applications, maybe they’re sticking to a specific industry that’s saturated or there’s other ways they can broaden their search.

    2. 30ish*

      Yes, or it could be the cover letter. They can be difficult to write.
      Have you followed all the resume advice on this site yet? I’d start there, and make sure there are no typos/mistakes in the resume or the letter. If you do decide to get the CV done by a professional, maybe you could get a recommendation from someone who has used this strategy successfully?

      1. The Expendable Redshirt*

        Cover letter are important! At my company, applicants with a resume and cover letter are viewed more favorably. So, if there are two equally well written resumes, the one with a cover letter will be put in the contact pile.

  5. Mike C.*

    I will say, I’ve had great luck with my service. Alison’s points are very important of course, but if you really suck at resumes like I do, the difference is amazing.

  6. pope suburban*

    I tried this in a fit of desperation, and holy cats, what I got back was *appalling.* There were grammatical and typographical errors in the resume (which looked like it was created from a Word 97 template), the cover letter was four (FOUR!) paragraphs of buzzword-infested twaddle, and the thank-you letter was an aggressive sales pitch. When I said that I didn’t think the service was a good fit for me, and I would like to call it a day and get a refund, the writer became hostile and demanded reasons from me. I tried to be diplomatic again, and got an email accusing me of trying to scam her work and being “unwilling to give.” At which point I told her I wouldn’t *dream* of turning these documents in to any hiring manager, and she was way out of line to accuse me of trying to steal her work. I did get the refund, but I filed a complaint with her company, and the whole experience was deeply unpleasant. This seems to be sadly typical; there are a lot of shoddy companies out there trying to make a buck off people trying to find work.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      My experience with a resume writer from an outplacement service was similar. I would have been embarrassed to show that to anyone! It was VERY clearly written by someone who had a tenuous grasp of English grammar, did not understand my accomplishments (it said I had used “statistics such as inferential and descriptive” at one point. No.), and was technology illiterate (all indentation was done with the space bar).

      I’m applying for analysis/reporting jobs where I’m expected to write well and be tech-savvy enough to go to work and use SQL and Python all day. I also make a lot of fuss over how much I hate doing stuff manually (LIKE STYLING MY RESUME) and love to automate things and use existing tools to make my job easier (LIKE WORD’S STYLING SYSTEM).

      I ended up “firing” the entire outplacement company, as the quality of the job coaching and job leads were similar. The entire experience was shockingly like if they’d read this blog and took every single instance of Alison saying “don’t do this” as an instruction for what TO do. They suggested I do everything except mail interviewers a photo of myself with a chocolate bar!

      1. pope suburban*

        “The entire experience was shockingly like if they’d read this blog and took every single instance of Alison saying ‘don’t do this’ as an instruction for what TO do.”

        Yes! That was exactly how I felt. The thank-you letter was particularly offputting, as it was nothing but very aggressive, pushy demands that I be hired because I’m the best. The thing that convinced me to ask for the refund was when I showed it to the HR person at my current job (We know each other outside of work). She said she would have thrown that letter or resume right into the trash; what I received from them wouldn’t have gotten me the job I have right now. That’s just bad.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          Yeah, I’ve done some hiring — not a ton, but enough — and I wouldn’t have hired me based on what they wrote me. Not even for the temp jobs I was hiring for, and I’m wildly overqualified for those.

  7. LQ*

    What do you think the problem is with your resume? Do you know you have a hard time describing your jobs? Is your grammar bad? Do you tend to understate what you do?

    Try giving the resume to a friend who doesn’t really know that much about your actual work and see what they can learn about your job and work history from it. This can be a great way to sort of user test your resume out, if they so, OH! You do y, and w, and q! and you actually do x, y, and z then you know that you aren’t putting the information down clearly.

    (If you have grammar and editing issues then having someone edit for that might help a lot, that could be a very generous friend or an editor, but doesn’t have to be a resume writing company.)

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I often have my mom look over my cover letter and resumes. She still does not understand exactly what I do, but she’s fantastic at saying, “this speaks to X in the job description” or “i think you’re trying to highlight X, but it doesn’t match up quite right with Y.”

      It’s super helpful.

  8. Rat Racer*

    One thing I’ve always done is to ask friends/former colleagues of mine who work in my field for copies of their resumes. It helps to see how other people are describing responsibilities and accomplishments that can be difficult to articulate. I also collect and save resumes that cross my desk from candidates for open positions on my team – the good ones, anyway. This isn’t about plagiarizing resumes (that’s NOT a good practice) but I find it very helpful to look at examples.

    1. Meg Murry*

      You can also look at people in your field’s LinkedIn profiles, as many people just cut and paste chunks of the resume to put on LinkedIn.

  9. BioPharma*

    I spent $350 on a resume service, and I’m happy with what she did. Although I thought my original resume was decent, she was more familiar with the niche position I was trying to get into, so rephrased things beautifully and more appropriately. Most importantly, she revamped my “Summary” section using adjectives/verbs that I could NOT have used on my own (too glowing or show-off-y for my comfort). Because someone else wrote it, however, I was empowered to use it, and have used most of these “glowing” phrases on my linkedin profile as well!

  10. Rae*

    In reality, my best resume-writing advice has come from hiring, industry relevant professionals that I had connections with. They often would let me look over their own resumes as examples and guide me on how to build my resume around that framework. This, twice, landed me a job in weeks after years of looking. (while otherwise employed). I was always very clear that this was about them assisting me, not me getting my resume in front of them.

    1. ITChick*

      This is what I’ve done and I think that has been far more useful than any other advice. A lot of people need explicit examples to work from and seeing someone else’s resume really helps. It also lets me see how people are organizing things.

      That said, this is also a know your industry thing. The terms core competency mean different things depending on what area you are in. In healthcare it’s a thing we care about with staff IMMENSELY. And you will frequently find sections for it on resumes for clinical and administrative positions.

    2. BRR*

      This is how I feel about a lot of places that people turn to for job search help. They often don’t measure up to people who actually hire especially if they are in the field where you’re looking. It’s like a professor I had a couple years ago who previously was the head of a nonprofit teaching about fundraising and marketing. He had done neither since the 90s, so he had no real experience doing either with the internet. I learned a lot more during my internship in a development department than the class.

  11. Miss M*

    OP, do you know someone or someone who knows someone who works in HR? Maybe they can provide feedback. Or are you in touch with your university. I went back to my career service department at my alma mater and asked for their help. Or even if there is an association related to your field that might offer some advice.

  12. Jamie*

    If you live in the States, you might want to try your local public library especially if money is an issue. Call your library and ask them if the ever partner with local agencies to offer resume workshops or other job hunting classes. (You can look at their website if you hate talking to people on the phone.) Also some libraries subscribe to services such as that will review your resume for free. However, you might not have much luck if your local library is tiny. The bigger the library the better your luck will probably be.

    1. LQ*

      I think this can be hit or miss. Some libraries (even tiny ones!) are amazing and have librarians who are here reading and really keeping up to date on what is relevant. And some (even giant ones) have resources, but are …maybe not amazing and do things like litter your resume with objectives and core competencies. It isn’t that they don’t want to help.

    2. S.I. Newhouse*

      *Definitely* explore the public library before paying for a resume service! Here in NYC, the public library systems provide lots of help for job seekers including free resume reviews. As with any other resume service, as LQ mentions, your mileage may vary.

  13. Linda*

    This may have been mentioned already, but many colleges and colleges’ career services centers offer resume service to their alumni.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        My college’s career center helped me spiff up my resume, years back. Then I came here and read stuff about resumes and removed every single change they made. :(

    1. The Expendable Redshirt*

      My university career councilor advised adding an Objectives section to my resume. And to have Skills\Core Competencies listed at the top. *sigh*

      May the good career councilors keep up the hard work.

  14. MnGreeneyes*

    In Minnesota, we have unemployment services that include teaching how to write a resume, job hunt boot camp, etc. They also have counselors that you can make an appointment with to work through your resume together. I don’t know if these things are available other places, but they were extremely helpful when I went from unemployed to the job I currently have.

    Best wishes,

  15. LBK*

    I’m amused by Alison’s restraint in not mentioning her own resume review service :) Although given that it’s only available at certain times and isn’t a comprehensive redesign, I guess it’s not quite the same.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, it’s a different thing, in that I don’t write anything for people — I just look over their resume and give them feedback (here’s how a hiring manager would see this, here are the weaknesses, here’s how you could make it stronger). And only do it during limited periods once or twice a year. Possibly again a few months from now, actually!

      1. videogame Princess*

        Hi Allison, I would really appreciate it if you developed your own resume-writing certification using your own principles. Then when people were looking for help, they could just see that particular certification and know that they are getting good advice.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Except I would only certify like four people based on what I’ve seen. And I’d be so concerned that they’d change their practices to something bad over time that it would be like a three-month certification that they’d have to incessantly renew. It would be wildly unpopular, as would I be.

      2. Windchime*

        Next time you do it, I’ll be ready. My son is a smart, personable guy and his resume is getting zero responses. I’ve seen it, and I gave him constructive feedback based on what I think Alison would recommend, but I don’t think he took any of my advice. Maybe if it comes from a professional (other than his mother!) he’ll listen.

    2. Sarahnova*

      Me too :)

      Although Alison’s service is awesome (I have a stronger CV because of her), I think you need some ability and judgement to make use of it, since you’ll still need to rewrite it yourself.

    3. Anon Frost Mage*

      Yup. I bought a review from Alison knowing I’d need it eventually, and it came in super handy. Her feedback made my heart hurt a little (MY PRECIOUS DESIGN!!!) but the revised version got me my first interview in a year of half-assed looking, so I’ll call it a win.

      1. CC*

        After two years of no interviews, I may have to scrape up the money and buy that review. I have followed the advice on the website to the best of my understanding, and my resume is way better than it was, but no response yet.

        …if I see the post announcing it before it closes again. I have no internet at work, so I can only be online for max 4 hours a day, all in a block, then 19-20 hours of no internet.

        I’ve heard too many horror stories and only a few good reviews of the actual resume writing services so I’m very reluctant to put money toward them.

  16. SusanIvanova*

    My whole team got laid off and one of the severance package perks was a resume writing service. We got together to go over each others resumes, and two of us have used the service. One of them got a nice job, but the other! We’re software devs, and the resume writer misspelled or got wrong *extremely* common tech terms, *and* mis-capitalized the name of our company! It was a Word doc with links embedded, but when viewed with something other than Word the links got expanded – and they weren’t even necessary links, they were to wikipedia pages for other common tech terms.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        Yeah. Someone outside the industry- like the resume writer, apparently – might not know them, but they’re definitely the sort of thing any HR person we’d be going through would not only recognize but have on their list of things to look for.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      It seems kind of dangerous to have people write resumes involving specialized terminology they don’t know what is. I mentioned above that a professional resume writer put on my resume that I had “experience with statistics such as descriptive and inferential”. There were a lot of things like that where descriptions I’d given them had been rephrased such that they made no sense.

  17. hayling*

    I used a resume service and it was absolutely worth the money. They spent a *lot* of time working with me. They follow a lot of what Alison preaches, especially listing your accomplishments instead of your job duties. My number of interviews went up significantly when I started using that resume, and I got a job pretty quickly after that. My husband also had success with them.

    I’m happy to mention the actual service name, I just don’t want to sound like an advertisement!

  18. ChelseaB*

    It also depends on industry. I work in the federal government and the whole USAjobs resume format is SUPER strange. It is possible to get it formatted using resources public ally available but it’s tough. Resume services for fed applications is more than just the resume too…they help you navigate the cluster that is USAjobs. I transitioned from academia, worked as a fed for almost 6 years now, and I still don’t understand the process.

  19. Vin Packer*

    This is such a huge bummer to me. Finding a job is so necessary, and can be so hard. I know so many people who are great at what they actually do, but what they do in no way overlaps with resume- and cover letter-writing skills. I wish so much that there were more legitimate resources like this for people who could really use them. I feel like it would improve the whole hiring and job search process on both ends.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, unfortunately, a lot of the skills involved in getting a job are not the same as those you’d actually perform on the job. For example, I still find it outrageous (I know this is just how it is, but that doesn’t mean I have to think it’s a good idea) that a chunk of your hiring compensation is based on your ability to negotiate your salary instead of how well they think you’ll do your actual job (which may involve no money-negotiating skills whatsoever).

  20. Stephanie*

    My best friend’s mom gifted me the services of a resume coach when I was out of work. She made my resume two pages long (I had about four years’ post-grad experience at that point…) and wanted to add pictures of stuff I had done. She did have some good points about making my achievements more accomplishment based and not getting too into the weeds in my description (I had gotten really technical in a couple of my descriptions). But overall, I don’t think it’s worth it. There are too many free/cheap services out there and I get the sense that the “magic trick” is that most recipients want to see something easy to understand.

  21. HR Recruiter*

    One thing I look at are the job requirements for a resume writer. If you are using a resume writing service company look at their jobs page and read their job descriptions. I’ve seen some where the main requirement is a degree in English or something similar and skilled in grammar. If someone is a good writer it doesn’t mean they know how to properly format a resume. Personally I’d look for someone who is a good writer AND has experience hiring and reviewing resumes.

  22. stevenz*

    I have had resume writing assistance several times, from various sources including outplacement firms, state employment agencies, “experts”, and online. Every time, my resume looked different with different information in it.
    Put Education first. No, put Job Experience first.
    Don’t put in dates of employment. Always put in dates of employment.
    If you have been in the profession a long time, don’t put in jobs before 20 years ago. Put in all your jobs.
    Only put in jobs relevant to the position you’re applying for. Put in all your jobs.
    Put in your personal interests. NEVER put in your personal interests.
    Use a serif font. Serif fonts don’t convey the formality a resume demands.
    Never more than 1/2/3/5 pages.
    One space after a period. Two spaces after a period.

    Advice? Write your own resume. It is likely to be as good as anyone else’s.

  23. andnowlights*

    Will you please do a resume review offer soon? I’m getting ready to move in May, will be looking for a new job, and would LOVE to get out of being an “administrative assistant” (in name only, academia is rough with titles; I’d like to get out of academia as well). I’m completely lost and overwhelmed when it comes to redoing my resume to reflect all of that, though.

  24. MillersSpring*

    OP, your letter to Alison has a misspelled word and a missing word, so I definitely think you’d be wise at least to have a friend proofread your resume.
    …have been out *of work…
    …having my resume done professionally *be worth the price…

  25. recknew*

    I’ve paid to have my resume written twice. It’s been….a mixed bag.

    The resume I wrote for myself works really well in my current field, but nobody outside this field will even look at it. The experience is like night and day. I can send that resume out to two jobs in my field and get calls on both, or I can send that resume out to 100 jobs outside my field and get no calls at all. Shows how much employers don’t want to train people, eh? I’m the same person regardless, with the same education and intelligence and skill set, but my value to employers is clearly based on how closely my prior jobs mimic their openings. Anyway, since I hate my current field and want to do something (anything!) else, I threw up my hands and went the professional route.

    The first writer was very kind and thoughtful and spent a lot of time with me, but she did a terrible job. Her version of the resume got no more traction than my own did, and even had some typos – which I fixed, but are pretty much unacceptable in my book for someone who does this professionally. And she came personally recommended by a trusted friend who has a great career. Go figure. Anyway, in the end I chalked this up as a waste of time and money.

    The second time, I went with the local person who had the best Yelp reviews. Which seems absurd now that I type it, but thats what I did – in my defense, I am in Silicon Valley, and Yelp is no joke around here. In return, I got a resume that looks very different from anything I’ve used before. I just received it a few days ago and honestly, I haven’t had the courage to send it out yet. It phrases my career in ways that I’d never choose myself and I’m almost…embarrassed to sound so much like not-myself. But as my husband gently pointed out, sounding like myself doesn’t get me any calls, at least not outside my current field. And fortunately, this resume doesn’t say “core competencies” anywhere on it.

    I’ll see how it goes and update Yelp accordingly, I guess :)

  26. Emily*

    That’s terrible to read that professional resume writers plagiarize! No two candidates are identical so neither should two resumes be.

    I would agree with Alison that clients have every right to ask for sample resumes, specifically in the industry/niche that the client is seeking help in. If they don’t have background knowledge of your specific skillsets, your resume might not be as strong as you want it! As a professional resume writer myself, I’m happy to share samples so clients know what they are working with.

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