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Resume Writing
by Mandy Hougland

Return to Business & Technical Writing · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

Resume writing is the perfect staple to keep in your cupboard of services offered. Nearly everyone, at some point in life, needs a crisp, clean sell-sheet to get them in the door of a potential employer. What's more, resumes perpetually need updating and refining. New jobs are added as years go by and new versions created as career aspirations change. Because it's a lifelong process, there will always be a demand for this service.

Is Resume Writing for You?

A resume is not a biography. It's a list of job-related experiences that illustrates what a person brings to the table in the workforce. It should be clear, concise and to-the-point, without rambling explanations or overuse of parenthetic references. A good resume makes your client shine. One that's poorly written gives the impression that he or she is less than professional.

If you can organize important facts around a clear objective, are good with words, and can operate a modern word processing program, chances are you can churn out professional resumes with little trouble at all.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to get the job done. Though certifications are offered through organizations like the National Resume Writers' Association and the Professional Association of Resume Writers, it's certainly not necessary to obtain certification status before you get started. Most of your clients won't care if you're certified -- or even know there is such a thing. Instead, they'll take you at your word that you can create a document that makes them look good on paper.

And here's how you'll do it...

First Things First

Conduct a little market research to find out if there are other resume writers in your area. If so, what sort of fee schedule do they use? What do their packages include? You'll want to find a competitive advantage.

My standard start-up package includes five print-outs of the resume, cover letter and references page on bond-quality paper, five matching envelopes in standard size, and one photocopy for the client's records. But, I also throw in some extras -- like large, flat mailing envelopes; an inexpensive, but impressive resume folder; courtesy reply cards; and most importantly, an electronic copy of the resume on disk or CD. In today's electronic world, the ability to copy/paste or upload one's resume to jobsites (like Monster or CareerBuilder) is essential.

Now, about your fees. If you've been doing commercial writing for awhile and already have your hourly rate established, you're halfway there. If you're new to the business, you probably haven't set an hourly rate. The acceptable range is truly broad. Seasoned writers can charge as much as $125/hour, while those new to the field usually bring in anywhere from $35 to $50/hour. You can charge less if your writing income isn't all you're counting on for livelihood. But, beware of charging too little, as clients might not take you seriously.

Consider the market. What are your competitors charging? How much experience do you have compared to them? How quickly can you turn projects around? I wouldn't go below $50/hour -- even starting out -- and I wouldn't go above $110. But this is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. I could write another full article on setting rates!

After you've nailed down an hourly fee, estimate how many hours it will take to complete a resume -- from first draft to completion of the package. The interview takes at least half an hour, but I consider this a consultation and don't factor it into my price. Weigh the cost of supplies. Consider things like paper, folders, CDs or diskettes, etc.

Multiply your hourly rate by the number of hours you estimate you'll spend on each resume, then add the cost of your supplies per resume package. For example, if your hourly rate is $50, and you determine that supplies will run you about $3 per client, then your package price should be about $53.

Also, consider whether or not you'll charge for extra copies, additional edits, multiple versions or customized cover letters. Typically, additional customized versions cost about one-fourth of what the original package cost, and cover letters are anywhere from $12 to $18, depending on length and difficulty.

Keep in mind that many job hunters don't have a great deal of cash. You'll want to charge what you're worth, but don't count on making a big profit margin on each client. Keep your rates reasonable, and the result will be more business, which in turn, leads to greater profit. In other words, take the discount approach and see where it leaves you.

Devising a System

Like any creative project, resume writing is a process. Some clients will come to you with nothing to work with. Others will bring an old resume from which you can pull history. Either way, a standard questionnaire is helpful in collecting the information you'll need to do a good job representing the client on paper.

You can create a simple questionnaire using Microsoft Word. Design it as though you were working with a client who had no previous resume to work from. You'll need to include basic contact information, including email addresses and cell phone numbers; names of schools attended, dates, degrees or certificates earned; work history with dates, titles, general responsibilities and achievements; professional affiliations; and continuing education.

After you've set up your system, meet with your new client in person. Sometimes I work from my home office, but other times it's just as convenient to meet resume clients at a coffee shop. Take along your questionnaire, but don't just hand it to them. Initiate conversation. Get the client talking about him or herself while you fill in the blanks. It also helps to bring along a small recorder, but don't persist if it makes your client nervous.

Drafting the Masterpiece

There are three basic formats used in resume writing. The chronological type is probably the most well-known and widely accepted. These resumes typically begin with some sort of summary of skills, then follow through with employment history, which starts with the most recent or current employer. At the end, education and professional affiliations are listed.

The functional format gives precedence to experience, or function, over actual dates. These are used less frequently, and are often more fitting for those who have spent their entire career with one company, having moved up through the ranks.

As the name applies, the chrono-functional resume combines the chronological and functional formats. This is my personal favorite because it provides the best of both worlds. Interviewers who are concerned with dates of employment are satisfied, and so are the ones more concerned with experience and abilities.

If you're not certain which format to use, I recommend studying a little book called Resumes that Knock 'em Dead by Martin Yate. There's also scores of resources available on the web. And, if you're using Microsoft Word, there are three templates available, plus a resume wizard to get you started.

When writing about skills and job descriptions, use active language and powerful wording. For example, "maintained" sounds better than "handled". "Managed" is more impressive than "oversaw".

Cover Letters and References

Depending on your client's needs, you may be asked to write a cover letter to go along with the resume package. Whether the client wants a customized cover letter or simply a generic one to go with all the resumes being distributed, you should definitely include this in your services. It completes the package, and it's just professional.

A separate page of references is optional, but I always offer this in the package price. When creating the document, references should be labeled as personal or professional. Simply listing them down the page is quite acceptable. Make sure your font matches that of the resume, and do include a header with the client's name and contact information.


Once your draft is complete, give it a close edit to make sure important details are correct. Use the spell-checker, and make sure formatting is aligned. Print or email a copy to your client and ask him or her to review the draft. But remember, you are the expert. The client should be instructed to look only for incorrect or misunderstood information. Be collaborative if wording is an issue. The client knows his skills and past better than you do, but you know how to make it sound professional.

Getting the Word Out

In my experience, word of mouth has been my greatest advertising tool. Happy clients refer other happy clients. They also return for updates, additional customized versions, and extra cover letters.

Most newspapers have a businesses and services section where you can run a fairly inexpensive ad. However, there are so many other viable options to get the word out, I wouldn't recommend spending huge amounts of cash flow on ads.

Consider attending a local networking group. Most will give you a 5-minute opportunity to describe what you do, pass out business cards and answer questions about your services. Make sure to list resume writing on all your marketing materials (i.e. brochures, business cards, and website).

Sometimes, you can collaborate with temporary employment agencies. These companies often have clients needing resumes. See if they'll refer their applicants to you. This not only helps you, it helps the agency place the candidate in a well-suited position.

Resume writing can be a fun diversion from long hours alone in front of your computer. It allows you the chance to get out and meet people, and make money while you're doing it. It bolsters your income and offers a fairly steady market. If you're not sure you'd like it, try it out on friends and family first.

Good luck!

Find Out More...

Creating a Writer's Resume, by Moira Allen
Offers more tips on the tips of topics that need to be covered by a basic resume, and how to format them.

Helpful Sites:

National Resume Writers' Association

Professional Association of Resume Writers

Copyright © 2007 Mandy Hougland
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Mandy Hougland is a freelance writer living in the Northwest Arkansas metro. She has published more than 150 articles for local, regional and national publications, including River Hills Traveler, Byline Magazine, Connecting Northwest Arkansas, and Women in the Outdoors. She also handles commercial writing assignments such as marketing materials and copywriting projects for companies small and large.


Copyright © 2019 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
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