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How to Become a Professional Resume Writer

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Laura Smith-Proulx photoYou may have decided that, especially with today's tough economic climate, becoming a professional resume writer would be a great occupation, especially if you've been able to help friends write their resumes.

Maybe you're a displaced recruiter looking to leverage your existing skills, or a former HR professional interested in jumping into the field.

Whatever your reasons, here are 5 crucial things to know and consider before attempting to launch your own professional resume writing operation:

1 - It's difficult to write cohesively without business knowledge.

Before creating a website or advertising your new resume operation, you'll need to be honest with yourself about the extent of your business expertise.

Do you have the background and know-how to understand the metrics behind sales and operations positions? Will you be able to guide a client that isn't sure how to present a stint in the retail industry?

What will you do when an IT applicant tells you that he or she is looking for a step up in a technical career? Can you analyze the differences between a project leadership position and a program director's job?

These proficiencies are a must for anyone who wants to enter the field of resume writing. After all, prospective clients will rely on your ability to know what's relevant at any point in their careers. You'll also need a firm grasp of the latest developments in job search and hiring practices.

My advice? Become more educated on your clients' career paths, corporate hiring models, and the economic climate. Study job search 2.0 concepts by following respected career experts on Twitter.

Read career industry staples such as What Color is Your Parachute and get familiar with the Occupational Outlook Handbook so that you can understand the nuances of career change and what it means for clients that need your assistance writing their resumes.

2 - Reading resumes all day doesn't make you a writer.

The same way that reading the newspaper on a regular basis doesn't make you a journalist, and becoming enthralled by a book doesn't transform you into a novelist, having access to resumes on a regular basis isn't an automatic qualification for the job of professional resume writer.

Resume writing is a very tight and contrived form of communication, with fragmented sentence structure, limited space, and the need for parallel structure throughout each document.

You'll need a flair for written expression, a skilled command of the English language, and an eye for technical details in order to create focused and well-written resumes that truly help your clients.

Specifically, the speed and brevity with which you communicate key information can make or break your client's options. Even the most qualified candidates struggle to land jobs at the right level without a sharpened business presentation.

To help boost your writing abilities, I recommend obtaining your own copy of the Associated Press Style Guide and studying examples that demonstrate compelling writing style, strategy, and business aptitude.

You'll find great samples in the Expert Resumes and No Nonsense Resumes book series, as well as in Resumes That Knock 'Em Dead.

3 - It's far more than templates or typing.

Great resume writing requires the ability to elicit the kind of information that most people miss adding to their resumes in the first place.

If you don't believe this, then you'd need to see a sampling of the resumes that most applicants write... which skip over "details" such as multimillion-dollar budget figures, project success rates, sales awards, and their role in corporate growth.

In fact, information mining is the cornerstone of effective resume writing! Even CFOs and IT Directors leave critical details off self-written resumes - details that you'll need to grasp in order to ask the right questions.

Rewording original facts and figures won't cut it, as you'll need to truly understand each client's career change from a strategic perspective.

There are different ways to extract this data as well. Some writers elect to present their clients with questionnaires, while others prefer to conduct a thorough interview. Whatever your style of information gathering, you'll need to ask as many thought-provoking questions as possible.

In addition, graphic design is a core element of every compelling resume. Even though you may be tempted to pop your clients' data into a template, they are paying for a more customized presentation that allows them to stand out without resorting to the use of gimmicks.

Top resume writers continually refine style elements and examine trends in font, color, and formatting to present clients to the best advantage - and today's hotly competitive job market demands it.

You'll need to become intimately familiar with the formatting techniques offered in Microsoft Word, including borders, tables, tabs, text boxes, and other treatments, in order to market your clients as individuals with unique accomplishments.

4 - Spin artists need not apply.

Truly effective resume writing is NOT embellishment, lying, or marketing hype. It's centered on the ability to extract the most fitting accomplishments that make up a career, and then ensuring that they are presented in the best light.

You can expect to deal with professionals that have a job gap, unrelated experience, or other challenges. It's your charter to ensure that these obstacles don't hinder the applicant, without resorting to elaborate tactics that hide information and skew facts.

Here is where the power of your writing skills and business knowledge will make a critical difference. Employers want the truth about each applicant, and they'll reject any attempt made to gloss over important details.

Therefore, you'll want to take note of strategies for special situations, which are covered in books such as Resumes for the Rest of Us: Secrets from the Pros for Job Seekers with Unconventional Career Paths, Gallery of Resumes for People Without a 4-Year Degree, and other career publications.

5 - If you're in it for the recession, reconsider.

If you're looking to make a quick buck by churning out resumes, think carefully about the effect you'll have on others. Some professionals have tried resume writing, failed to get results, and left the industry shortly thereafter — leaving a wake of unfulfilled clients.

Most professional resume writers started out after discovering a knack for pulling careers together on paper.

Others decided to rid the world of bland resumes after having worked in HR or recruiting, with others coming from the fields of journalism or marketing.

Most writers focused on their ability to pinpoint client strengths when getting started in the business - with few lured by the prospect of a recession.

There are numerous professional associations that train, credential, and mentor resume writers, such as Career Directors International, the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, the National Resume Writers Association, Resume Writing Academy, and the Career Management Alliance.

Bottom line: writing for others - living and breathing their career histories, goals, and dreams while immersing yourself in the details — is far from simple, and requires an emotional and professional dedication to helping others through one of life's most significant challenges.

While attaining true proficiency can take years of intense work and dedication, you'll find few fields as simultaneously rewarding, demanding, fulfilling, and fascinating.

Laura Smith-Proulx, CCMC, CPRW, CIC is an award-winning Executive Resume Writer and former recruiter who has achieved a 98% success rate opening doors to prestigious jobs through personal branding techniques. The Executive Director of An Expert Resume, she partners exclusively with CIO, CTO, COO, CEO, VP, and Director-level candidates.



Published - August 2010

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