Solve the following problem: Two job seekers use different resume-writing services for comparable projects. One pays $500 while the other pays $100. Who’s gotten the better deal?

Sprucing up a resume
  1. Why use a professional?
  2. Find a certified professional.
  3. How to cut costs.
  4. The hybrid approach.

Trick question.

Both may have received fair value. According to my admittedly unscientific survey of about a dozen resume services, there’s no one market rate or even a narrow range. Prices fall all over the place. That said, here are some general guidelines.

First, here’s the bad news. For an experienced resume writer with credentials from a leading trade association and a strong track record, you’ll be hard-pressed to come in under $350 and prices may exceed $700. Oh, by the way, many of the best resume writers only work with executives, whom they usually charge over $1,000.

Now, the good news: You can find solid resume writers for less. Or, if you’re willing to settle for a more resume-by-numbers process, there are creditable services charging less than $100.

Ultimately, you should go with the service that suits you best, provided it doesn’t break your piggy bank. You need to feel comfortable with the person whose work could well be the difference between a first great job and a rejection. Some people prefer the laid-back approach, others the drill sergeant.

Why use a professional?

There’s a lot to be said for sure hands and a highly customized approach.

The most seasoned writers have been churning out resumes for more than a decade. A few have been recruiters. They know what companies are looking for and can help you focus your goals, not to mention find pearls in your background where you’ve seen only oyster shells. The best pros may spend hours with you before they tickle a computer key.

Take resume writer Jacqui Barrett. The owner of Overland Park, Kan.-based Career Trend asks new customers to fill out a sheet of work-related questions and interviews them about their answers for 30 minutes to an hour. She calls herself a job seeker’s “collaborative partner.” “After the work sheet and interview is done, then I know about someone,” she says.

Barrett charges a minimum $495 per resume for college students and other early-stage job seekers. Cover letters and coaching cost extra.

Finding a certified professional

She’s been writing resumes for nine years and belongs to an elite group, now about a dozen strong worldwide, of certified Master Resume Writers. To earn certification, resume writers must have at least five years’ experience and submit at least five samples of their work to current masters; recertification every two years requires submission of five work samples.

“What I do is more customized,” says Barrett. “It takes more intelligent energy to pare information down to the most critical content.” Barrett also says, “Without precision focus, even for a candidate early in a career, a resume won’t fit the needs of any hiring manager.”

Recent college grads coming to Jan Melnik, another longstanding Master Resume Writer, usually pay about $750 — Melnik charges $230 per hour — although she’s been known to offer discounts to relatives and good friends of previous customers. The president of Durham, Conn.-based Absolute Advantage tends to spend most of her time familiarizing herself with an individual’s background. Her price includes sheets of information on such helpful topics as using the Internet in your job search, salary negotiations and interviewing techniques. “When my clients get the full package, they’re prepared to search for a job properly and interview effectively,” Melnik says.

How to cut costs

There are ways to keep costs down. You can make it easier on your resume writer by having a wealth of well-organized background material at the ready. That may require a little sit-down-and-think time. “Now what did I accomplish in that summer job? Whom did I report to? What were the dates? What are my career goals?”

It’s also possible to find outstanding resume writers who simply charge less. Some may not have a feel for market rates, while others may have a soft spot for younger job seekers. If you’re lucky enough to find one of these writers, smile and tell your friends. “There are good deals to be had out there,” says Melnik.

Moving downstream pricewise, in a random Google search for resume services we found A and A Resumes, which is offering a $99 deal for a resume edited by three professional writers. The firm provides a job-search guide with its services and says that “if you’re not employed within 30 days … we’ll gladly rewrite, reformat or make any changes necessary to improve your results.” A and A advertises more than 80 years of combined cover letter and resume-writing experience and more than 13,000 satisfied customers.

The advantageously named Resumes.com charges a scant $39 for its resume-writing package. This is more a do-it-yourself approach. You get step-by-step instructions to produce your resume, examples of good writing, free cover and thank you letters, and e-mail notification when your background matches the criteria in a job ad.

The hybrid approach

Then there’s what I’ll call a hybrid approach. Use a less-costly cookie-cutter service, add your own flourishes and then send it to a more accomplished resume pro. Many of them offer free or inexpensive consulting services. They’ll tell you how you can make improvements.

Of course, then it’s up to you to bring what they say to your computer screen.

To see a real resume that has gotten a professional polish, read ” Resume: before and after.”

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