are professional resume writing services worth it?

A reader writes:

I was wondering what your opinion is on professional resume writing services. Are they worth it? What about for new grads?

I have 5 years of post0secondary (a degree with a semi-connection to my current field, and a diploma directly connected to my current field) concurrent with 6 years of experience. Some of my experience is directly related to my current field (Early Childhood Intervention) and easily identifiable, some of it not so much (i.e.: admin work) but is still relevant (i.e.: my admin experience helps me keep accurate and detailed records and data for the children I work with.) Also, since I work with so many clients with such varying needs, my experience at my previous and current job reads like a laundry list of accomplishments and skills. It’s hard to be succinct and accurate when my role is kind of all over the map.

I was thinking of having my resume professionally done since I have no idea how to put my experience on paper in an organized way that will make sense to hiring managers. I feel like once I have the basic wording and formatting done I can use what I get from the service to tailor my resume to a job opportunity. Do you think this would be helpful, or is it a waste of money? Every time I sit down to update my resume (which was originally put together in high school and then reviewed by my University’s career center when I graduated — I got hired straight out of school so I never updated it for my current full time position), I get really overwhelmed and give up.

Do I just need to sit down and power through it or could having a set of professionally trained eyes sort it out for me be helpful?

I wish I had a good answer to this, and I don’t.  Actually, I have an answer but it’s unhelpful: If you find a good resume-writing service, it’s probably worth it, but there’s such a large chance of ending up with a bad one that it’s difficult to recommend it wholeheartedly.

I’m sure there must be good resume-writing services out there, but they seem to be rare. When I’ve looked at the example resumes that most of these services have online, I’ve been unimpressed — from the actual substance of their makeovers to just general sloppiness, like spelling errors and inconsistent verb tenses. (Of course, you can fix the latter yourself, but it says something about their overall quality.)

On the other hand, if you’re as stuck as you sound, maybe it’s worth having someone at least give you something to work from. Just make sure you see before and after samples before you commit, and don’t go with the first service you look at; hold out until you find one that seems to genuinely do a good job.

However … I’d at least start by trying to do it yourself. Look at some sample resumes online for inspiration (if any have an objective at the top, move to a new site) and try to do your own first. And don’t be daunted by the process — a resume is really just a reverse-chronological list of where you’ve worked and what you achieved there, with the basics about your education thrown in at the end, written in normal language with a focus on your accomplishments. Everything else is frosting. And as for feeling like your experience is all over the map, stick to the basics when something doesn’t feel relevant to what you want to do now, and add more detail about accomplishments when it is.

Give it a shot. If you do it and you’re convinced it sucks, then maybe it’s time to turn to a professional. Just be really, really picky about who you hire.

(By the way, let’s avoid pushing specific companies in the comments, since some messages are certain to be from those companies themselves and I’d rather not have the job of having to figure out what’s self-promotional and what’s an honest review.)

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