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The Case Against Résumé Writers

Marty Nemko

It seems that ever more people are hiring a résumé writer. But if you think about it, that's no more ethical than hiring someone to write your college application essay.

In fact, hiring a résumé writer is worse because the effects are worse. For most professional-level jobs, employers use résumés not just to see applicants' work history but to assess their ability to organize their thoughts, write well and produce an error-free document. An applicant who chooses to do his or her own work for ethical reasons or because he or she can't afford to hire a résumé writer is unfairly penalized. And if that candidate ends up getting hired, not only is that unfair to the superior applicants, it's unfair to the employer and the co-workers who are thus saddled with an inferior employee. And inferior employees result in worse products and services and so, indirectly, it's unfair to society. True, the effect of a single bad hire is rarely enormous, but collectively, across all the résumés and cover letters written or heavily edited by hired guns, it is.

If appeals to ethics are insufficient, perhaps it might help to realize that if you get a job under false pretenses, you're more likely to fail at that job and soon be back on the street, pounding the pavement and your keyboard. If, instead, you reveal your true self, including weaknesses, in writing your résumé and cover letter and in interviews, you'll more likely be rejected from ill-suited jobs and more likely hired for better-suited ones.

There are other benefits of writing your own résumé and cover letter:

-- When you land a job, you'll feel you earned it.

-- Your application will be more credible because the writing level will be consistent with your competency level. If when you interview, your verbal and thinking skills are lower than are demonstrated in your résumé, many employers will realize you had someone do your work for you.

-- If you write your own résumé, it will more likely create that all-important connection with the reader than does the typical résumé writer's effort. The latter is too likely to be filled with résumé-speak, such as "self-starting team player who delights in exceeding customer expectations and specializes in spearheading profit-maximizing initiatives, seeks leadership position with P&L responsibility in dynamic, high-velocity organization." True, some employers expect applicants to play that game, but wiser employers will appreciate the credibility of a more human, less robotically created document.

Résumé writers try to defend their profession by saying speechwriters and ghostwriters also write for other people. That's a weak argument. Just because a practice exists doesn't make it justifiable. For example, theft is common but certainly not ethical. With regard to speechwriters, citizens would be in a better position to choose which politicians to vote for if candidates wrote their own speeches. We should be voting for the best candidate, not the best speechwriter or teleprompter reader.

And it's far from ethical to say you wrote a book when someone else did. That's why ethical putative authors credit ghostwriters on the book's cover with such phrases as "with" or "as told to," on, for example, "The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley." Besides, the impact of an unacknowledged ghostwriter is much smaller than of hiring someone to write your résumé. Readers rarely use the fact of a book having been ghostwritten to decide something as important as whom to hire.

If it was ethical to hire someone to write your résumé, why, at the bottom of each résumé, don't résumé writers write, "written by Jane Jones, professional résumé writer?" If you hired a résumé writer, would you want that written on your résumé? If hiring a résumé writer was ethical, you wouldn't mind.

Most people like to think of themselves as ethical. If you do, might you want to reflect on whether hiring a résumé writer is consistent with your values?

And if you are a professional résumé writer, might it be worth considering that, as has been argued here, the résumé-writing profession makes things worse, not better? With thousands of societally beneficial professions available, might you want to consider a career change?

The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.

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