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How to Avoid Résumé Writing Scams

Make sure the writer you hire doesn't write you out of a job opportunity — and your cash

En español | It's bad enough that displaced boomers take longer to find a job. It's even worse if you've been trying for way too long and your résumé hasn't helped land you a single interview. So maybe you're considering hiring a professional résumé writer. But how?

Meeting with resume-writing service

Having an in-person meeting with a résumé writer can help you avoid scams. — Istockphoto

Run an Internet search on the words "résumé writers" and you'll get nearly 55 million results — including complaints from scam-claiming customers, websites offering "free help" links that may harbor malware, and low-ball offers that seem too good to be true — and often are.

See also: How 50+ workers can sell their skills

There's no doubt that a good résumé can generate enough interest to help you get an interview. But professional résumé writers can charge as much as $2,000, with no guarantee of results. (In fact, any résumé writer who "guarantees" that his or her work will land you a job is your cue to find another.) Here's how to get the "write" stuff without being wronged:

1. Consider (reputable) do-it-yourself options

If money is an issue, first try getting guidance to help you improve your résumé. In addition to AARP's Work channel, local universities sometimes provide free or low-cost résumé writing classes, often hosted by faculty. Online help is available at CareerOneStop.org and some USDA-affiliated County Cooperative Extension Services. Avoid unfamiliar websites that promise résumé writing links or attachments; they could be a front for malware-spreading scammers.

2. Where to find pros

Some (but not all) members of the National Résumé Writers' Association (NRWA) and the Professional Association of Résumé Writers & Career Coaches (PARW/CC) have earned association-provided certification. While those decrees offer some indication of expertise, they aren't foolproof.

When searching websites of résumé writing services, head to the "About Us" page. Better ones will have detailed info about their writers and company. On the other hand, a "résumé mill" typically uses template documents that others will not, says Ruth Pankratz of the NRWA. Also seek recommendations from local career consultants, employment agencies or even your previous employer. Of course, you'll want to check reputations with the Better Business Bureau and do an online search on Ripoff Report or other complaint boards.

3. Do an interview

Never hire a résumé writer who relies solely on provided forms you're asked to complete; the good ones take time to interview clients about their experience, qualifications and goals. "It's really best to hire a local résumé writer, says Frank Fox of PARW/CC. "You want to personally meet with that person and know where they are while working for you." An online-only relationship is ripe for scams.

Also ask résumé writers about their experience and understanding of your particular industry (and writing résumés for those in it).

Then ask questions such as:

  • How will you tackle writing my résumé? How will that differ from your work for other clients?

  • How skilled are you at working with people like me (and those in my industry)? Can you provide examples to quantify your answer?

  • Can I see samples of your past work that aren't posted on your website? Can you provide past recent clients I can call for references? (Take a pass on those who provide neither.)

  • What did you do before becoming a résumé writer? What made you enter this profession?

4. Know the bottom-line price

Many résumé writers charge by the hour — between $15 and $250 — so ask what the cost covers. (The initial consultation should be free.) Andrew Rosen of the career advice blog Jobacle.com notes that many reputable résumé writers offer a conditional guarantee, including no-cost revisions or refunds for unaccepted work by customers.

Up-front payment is usually required and is tax deductible. A good résumé writer should spend hours getting to know a client, and at least three to five hours to craft a résumé, says Fox. And that's a good reason to avoid online-advertised services that promise next-day résumé delivery for low-ball prices, typically between $29 to $50.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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