TIPS & MYTHS

THE RESUME BUSINESS IN GENERAL:

Cheap Résumés, Small Résumé Services, & Résumé Mills;
Price/Value and Size Realities in the Résumé Business;
And Why Résumé Services Are Not All Even Approximately The Same

Résumé-service prices are all over the place. Résumé-service capabilities are all over the place, too. The connection between price and capabilities is not always close. However, while you don’t always get what you pay for with résumé services, you’ll never get anything you don’t pay for.

That’s why you have to shop for much more than price—but price, and size, can give you some important clues, especially in combination with certain other cues.

Before AI, the low end of the résumé price range was from $50 to $100 or $200. For this, you got just the information that you yourself provided, with minimal modification, slapped fast and carelessly into a one-size-fits-all, one-page résumé template, with no quality control. These were often smaller operations. However, there have been, and perhaps still are, nationally-known résumé mills that charge $900 for the same thing, with perhaps a generic scripted interview added, and maybe a second page.

With AI, the low end is now zero dollars, for the same product. Of course, there are catches. The free ones aren’t actually free. And/or they’ll spam you forever. And/or they do hard-sell upselling for more expensive services. There are a very large number of job-seekers out there to whom a hard-sell expert can sell anything once the seeker has been hooked, as long as it promises to get them the job they want. See, for example, the article on The Ladders. Many of these low-end businesses are résumé mills relying on hard-sell expertise. There also seem to be large numbers of small operators in the under-$50 range, doubtless all using ChatGPT AI, and scraping up whatever they can from whoever calls them—the same business model that spammers have always used.

At the low end, résumé services will charge you the same price whether you’ve had zero years of experience or thirty. This is a big red flag. You should expect a résumé service’s prices to vary depending on your level of experience. The longer you’ve been working, the more information has to be presented in your résumé. The more information, the more time the job takes, and the higher the fee must be. Also, as job-seekers climb higher in the ranks, there’s a bigger payoff for carefully tailoring their presentation to their market and their specialty. That takes time, too. (Not coincidentally, many one-price résumé services also tout the “one-page résumé” myth. That’s discussed in the Killer Myths section.)

There used to be a large and diverse group of résumé services that fell in the mid-range as far as price was concerned. Quality was another matter. Prices might range from about $200 into the high three digits. Some were big résumé mills, some were small operations.

Some of them delivered low-end quality, plus a few frills that still left the résumé a low-grade product. Some of them adhered to the one-price-fits-all, one-page model of the low-enders, some charged more for people with more and more-specialized experience. Some were small, some were big résumé mills; they usually had better-looking websites than the under-$100 bunch.

At the next step up towards useful quality, most mid-rangers were well-meaning mediocrities who just did what they saw everyone else doing. These might be small operations, or they might be the people who founded and staffed mid-sized operations or big résumé mills. A lot of people think that preparing résumés professionally, for others, is something that anyone at all, regardless of experience, can learn to do in a short time. Quite a few people have gone into the résumé business in that belief. Their résumés would look inferior next to a résumé written by a caring, knowledgeable professional, and often had fatal flaws.

(Eventually, they formed associations, and certified each other, in order to better distinguish themselves from the extreme low-enders. Some good résumé writers joined too, but they were not numerous enough to set the tone. Things may have improved since in the associations, but a certification is still no evidence of adequacy, let alone excellence.)

Other résumé services delivered, and still deliver, value for money. These were, and are, usually small operations. They write résumés that increase your chances of getting a job. Quality and service vary, but it more or less corresponds with price, because they are professionals who understand that good work—and learning how to do good work—took time, and time had to be paid for if you wanted to stay in business. Since they have a satisfied customer base, and can attract new customers by displaying professionalism that can’t be faked, most of them saw no need to get “certified,” though some have since done so. (I presume this is because the certifications have become rather prominent.) It seems to me that a number of these quality-oriented professionals are still around, and some others have started up, and that they have survived AI and other changes better than the small mediocrities and low-enders.

AI, and perhaps other changes, have, it seems to me, knocked out a lot of the small low-grade and mediocre résumé services. The quality professionals, most or all of them small operations, have survived better. But there are more big, low-grade or mediocre, résumé mills in the middle price range than ever before. They dominate the résumé business now. They alone have the budgets to get national exposure through Google, and the volume needed to establish partnerships with large organizations and get endorsements and top-ten ratings from major media—who get a fee for every connection, just like Amazon, or perhaps some other sort of kickback.

By all means, do a Web search for phrases like “#1 resume service”, “top ten resume services”, etc., and see what the picture looks like to you. You’ll see who gets the ratings from big-name business media. Notice that the only operations mentioned are big national ones—the résumé mills, and their prices are all over the place, but mostly from low-end to mid-range. Some of them do one-size-fits-all résumés.

The high end (say, mid-to-high three-digits to well over $1000, varying with the customer’s level of experience and job type) was, and is, a mixed bag as well as far as quality is concerned. There are some résumé mills that charge high-end prices for little better than low-end products. There are, I presume, other résumé mills that offer mid-level quality for high-end prices, and I suppose there may be some that deliver high-end quality for high-end prices—but I’ve never seen the evidence.

At the high end, as in the mid-range, the most likely-looking—and least-known—résumé services are the small operations. They may be one-person shops (like Crystal Résumés), or the one person may have hired some staff. (Becoming an employer is a BIG and scary step, and not everyone wants to take it—especially the sort of independent-minded people who became résumé writers so they didn’t have to work for someone else.) They’re the ones who can devote more of their income to expenses that provide value to customers.

Even if the service menu is the same, the best résumé services will put A LOT more time and knowledge into the job than others. (For instance, I put in more clock time on the formal quality-control stages than some operations spend on the entire job.) That investment has to be reflected in the price, and people with exceptional skills command a high price for their time. Those who deliver top quality résumés have learned the hard way to charge accordingly. In a business crowded with low-ballers, quality can’t compete on price.

On the other hand, in large résumé companies—the résumé mills—a large proportion of the price may represent the costs of scaling up, which are a much larger percentage of the gross than they are for small shops. I don’t know of any mid-sized résumé services, with, say a few dozen staff including writers. My impression is that, in order to scale up a résumé service past a certain, still rather small, size, a fair amount of capital is needed. This will likely be borrowed, or gotten from outside investors. Even if you use your own money, you will probably be following the sort of business plan that banks and investors want to see—which will be focused on volume and ROI, not value for money.

Salaries and administrative costs add up quickly—even the low salaries (or more likely, piecework payments) that are given to most résumé writers employed by the résumé mills.

To support the additional costs, you need volume. And volume means advertising budgets in the high 5-digit or 6-digit range. There are no bargains when you start advertising outside your local area. Google and LinkedIn don’t make much money from small businesses.

In fact, even the Google LOCAL listings are apt to include résumé mills with no actual local presence, which spend time and money to create the appearance of a local presence in multiple metro areas. If you don’t see anything local except the area code, they’re not local.

Another way the big nationally-known résumé companies gain volume and publicity is through partnerships with big media firms or big job sites, or perhaps recruiting firms. This may involve giving a percentage of revenue to the partner, in return for getting on the partner’s “Best Résumé Writers” list AND in their news stories. When these firms look for résumé services to “partner” with, high volume is an essential criterion—they’re getting a cut of the fees, so they want a “partner” who does a large volume of business. (Forbes magazine, for example, seems to rely a lot of this sort of partnering. Or maybe they’re just doing some very superficial research on résumé-related matters.)

Those extra costs have to be reflected in the prices you pay, but they don’t reflect any extra value for you. In fact, they’re likely to mean less value for you, because no company can fill a large stable with competent writers, let alone top-end interviewers/writers/formatters, especially for the money that the résumé mills pay their writers.

In fact, small is often better, for a simple economic reason. On the one hand, it doesn’t take much money to get into the résumé business. On the other hand, given quality work and competitive prices, the profit margin isn’t high enough to make a profit while paying competitive salaries to skilled employees—unless you can charge high-end prices, and use the money to pay skilled staff, rather than spending it on the expensive publicity needed for a high-volume operation.

So combining high quality with high volume isn’t an option, because people with professional-level skills (and even a lot of mediocre people) can do better on their own, if they have any head for business.

In addition, there just aren’t that many people with high-end skills in writing, interviewing, technical production, and quality control. There are even fewer who possess more than one of those skills at a high level.

There used to be more, but these are unfashionable skills, and the people who possess them can be awkward to have around in many organizations where the senior people have more, shall we say, ethereal types of skill. So the widespread demand for them has gone, the jobs have become unattractive to able people, and the serious training has vanished too. I doubt that any but the very largest organizations could find and hire a hundred such people. Even with remote workers it would be difficult. (Not least because, once again, such people can usually do better on their own or in some other field.) But there’s at least one résumé mill that claims to have 1500 writers in its stable.

That’s why so many résumé services are small local shops, even one-person operations. (Of course, that’s what Crystal Résumés is. Go right ahead and ask someone from a résumé mill for their perspective. I invite comparison.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A game [such as high-stakes gambling] which tends to encourage self-policing is less populated by crooks than a game which tends to lull chumps into unwariness.”

— John Scarne, Scarne on Cards.
The operative word is the relative expression “less.”

 

“When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.”

— Eric Hoffer

 

 

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