Nothing in the résumé business varies more than the level of service. One of the clearest and most important indications of service level is how much time they spend digging for individualized information.

The real key to an effective résumé is concrete information—with enough detail to make you stand out from similarly qualified people. Generic questions don’t provide that. Further, the types of information needed, and the emphasis given to each, will vary from one specialty to another.

For mid- to upper-level job seekers, a résumé service that can make a big difference in your job search will spend two or three hours just on interviewing. And, before the interview, they’ll spend almost as much time reviewing your information and then developing questions, checking background information, and developing possible lines of inquiry for information that might not surface without some digging. (At least, that’s what I do. I don’t know about anybody else. But if a résumé service doesn’t need at least a few days’ lead time before the interview, that’s a red flag.)

Even for people just entering the job market, I’ll usually find about forty-five minutes worth of questions—the less experience you have, the harder it is to dig for things that will make employers take you seriously.

Low-end résumé services really don’t do much more than Word formatting for people who can’t do it themselves. And today, there’s an even lower end, even more numerous—operations that just let ChatGPT’s AI do the whole job.

Some résumé services that want to charge more will try to add some glamor to the process, but may not do much more that is of any value. They’ll often talk as if there are some magic phrases and formatting techniques, known only to résumé writers, that they can add to your basic information to make a killer résumé. Many of them may actually believe this, and in any case they will give you something that has obviously been worked on beyond slapping your information into a template.

Only a smaller number will even make a stab at active information-gathering. Often, though, that amounts to no more than the “free initial consultation”—whatever questions they ask during your brief initial phone conversation. Or they may send you a questionnaire.

Scripted interviews generally don’t add much, either. They’re typically done from a list of generic questions, and the same list is used for everyone (“two major achievements in this job, two examples of how you used your ____ skills to solve problems,” etc.), with no consideration for conditions in different industries, or for the client’s unique background, objectives, and situation, or the unique aspects of the client’s industry, or the unique aspects the organizations they worked for. Often, they may just be aimed at getting a little more detail on what you did in each job.

For my approach to in-depth interviewing, see The In-Depth Interview on the Process and Policies page.