Some services aren't for everyone.

January 21, 2020


Crafting a resume is more than just being able to write well. It is being able to write well for a specific audience, with specific goals and directives in mind. It is taking the broad beating heart of a writer and trying to thread it through a needle.

I’ve been going through the process of procuring a resume writer. (No it is not directly related to a job search. It comes with the fancy new website, and the dashingly handsome pictures of my made-for-radio mug.)

Some will tell you that the principles of resume writing are the same regardless of the industry you work in. Speaking generically, this is absolutely true. However, as you begin to peel the onion back, it quickly becomes untrue. Different industries focus on different measures of success. Some industries can’t be quantified in standard business value (i.e. dollars and cents or facts and figures). There are plenty of industries where success might simply be “it worked”.

Disparate industries also grow in different ways. Leadership isn’t one-size fits all. Goals for advancement, whether short-term or long-term are going to vary from industry to industry. While the high-level structure may remain the same, the content and audience it is meant for is going to change dynamically.

The “tech resume” has become a matter of debate and discussion over the past several years. In fact, many resume writers I spoke with essentially defined a technical resume as “a set of concepts that isn’t business that I don’t understand”. I don’t mean this to sound condescending, but there is a vast lack of understanding beyond the word “technical”. A smaller selection of writers were able to discern between technological positions vs. scientific positions vs. hardware/manufacturing etc. They had some understanding.

The most elusive comprehension is that of IT vs. engineering within software companies. Those of us working for these companies probably enjoy a slight chuckle. Is there crossover? You betcha. However, the skills and ultimate purpose of the two are in complete conflict with one another. Success in one area could (and often does) result in failure in the other.

Technologists and resume writers haven’t quite achieved that middle ground yet. Resume writers are still blindly stumbling through some of the differences, and technologists are probably not making it much easier by changing the industry so damned fast.

Part of the problem can be traced back to training. If you refer to some of the certifications for professional resume writers (i.e. NCRW, et al.) you’ll find that there is no distinction made between the two. If I go to one of the certification sites and search for a certified writer, there likely is no option for “engineering”. However, if I go to the top 100 companies on Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Forbes, Crunchbase, Indeed and any other site that quantifies companies, you will find engineering departments for each and every software company set aside from Information Technology. Certifications are often targeted for obvious reasons, which means that there are going to be authors (or prospective authors) who tap into that revenue stream by creating materials designed to help you achieve those certifications. This means that the training is only going to be as good as the scope of the certification. If the certification isn’t a comprehensively representative of the domain it is intended to represent, then neither will the training.

I don’t need to beat this horse.

However, I’m going to. Several years ago, I tried going through a writer who urged me to “stay the course” and “trust the process” despite numerous red flags pertaining to the technical achievements of my career. The results were disastrous, and I spent a good amount of time having to fix the ripples it had created with respect to my career.

I’ll be honest, I’m not willing to consider myself an expert at resume writing. I think my resumes are ok at best. (I’ve read about half a dozen books on the subject, and it isn’t exactly as simple as color-by-numbers.) However I do believe that being a lifelong software engineer qualifies me as an expert in logic. If we can look back for a moment at my comments about the certifications, if a certification does not test or validate knowledge and expertise that is a facsimile of the product is intended to certify, then the veracity of the certification must be called into question.

This isn’t to say it is completely invaluable, but it does suggest that perhaps the industries in which the certifications intend to support have grown beyond the scope of the certifications. An effort to catch up to the industry is probably something that should happen in the near future.

Let’s return to my adventures in resume writer searching:

The first thing I noted was that the expense for technical resumes is often twice as much as non-technical resumes. Sometimes this is associated with the additional effort, others it is associated with a well-established requirement of expertise or knowledge of fundamental concepts. (I also suspect that some of this could be due to demand).

Typically, I tried to avoid “resume farms” or companies that assign you to a writer. Everything I had read or seen about these services suggested that they were bad news. Naturally, one in particular caught my eye, so I bookmarked it and decided to come back to it if I couldn’t find a resume writer. They checked two boxes that were attributes I held in high regard:

  • technical acumen
  • collaborative effort.

I found that many resume writers held the process extremely close to the vest. Some wanted to conduct a x-hour conversation, hide away in some attic and then produce a final result. It didn’t seem very realistic to me. I think we, the candidates, should be intimately involved in the process.

Despite the extended amount of time it will take, I personally believe it is well worth the wait. This allows us to guide the process with a push-pull effect that results in a balance between expertise from our career goals and knowledge held in place with the scaffolding provided by expert resume writers. This is going to be a journey of Frodo and Sam to Mordor to throw away the one ring. There are going to be giant spiders, and hopefully by the end of the journey we’ll refer to our documents as “our precioussssss”.

It didn’t take long for me to circle back to the resume writer I had bookmarked. They did my resume, it was wonderful, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Just kidding.

The process is a bit different than working directly with a one-person show.

I started out by doing an exhausting search on the company, the founder, etc. In general, I found it very difficult to find unbiased reviews for any of these companies. Very few of them are on Yelp or Google. If you dig, you’ll find the skeletons. Thumbtack, reddit, even reaching out and speaking to the actual references in the testimonials is worthwhile if you’re as anal as I am. On a side note, during my search I did find a number of companies that were providing fake testimonials. This is another reason to put in the extra effort towards doing sufficient background checks.

Once I was satisfied with what I had researched, I booked a consultation. The consultation was a 15-minute chat with a salesperson/services rep. I provided my long term goals, some concerns and we discussed the process. The rep was fantastic, and he was definitely an excellent “foot forward” in the process. This was a big difference maker from dealing with writers directly. His entire role was to sell, so he wasn’t encumbered with the other parts of the business. I was sold. His job was done, and it was done very well.

I did some more due diligence, and had a slight setback. Someone I had reached out to before I scheduled back the consultation, got back to me and gave me a scathing review. The review was spicy enough to make my head sweat. I dug a little harder and I couldn’t find anything else negative to that degree. Deciding it was an outlier, I cautiously moved forward.

In this case, the next steps was a deluge of documents, tests, and forms to fill out and probably half a dozen emails. The format was an old word doc designed to be filled-out directly and sent via email. Sure, it was a bit dated, but I imagine it was easier to support for the limited staff than a form-based single-page-application.

I filled out the documents, returned them to the company and was assigned a writer. The writer responded very quickly (perhaps too quickly) and immediately demonstrated that I was not being assigned someone competent about technology. The writer was cordial and very professional, but ultimately the exchange was far too similar to my previous experience for my comfort.

This is a very common complaint from technologists using resume writing services. Technical recruitment is very challenging today. It has changed dramatically in recent years. There is a substantial amount of crossover between positions making many ATS searches difficult to predict. A process-enabled development team might be using tools that an operations team would otherwise use. To omit or not to omit is the question. If developers omit this, they are ignoring a critical part of their understanding, marketability and versatility to modern software organizations. At the same time, including it in their resume also means that they are going to get bombarded by a far greater ratio of irrelevant positions.

Getting back to my epic adventure, there were a few misses here in the process. Given the nature of my past experience the “habanero” review I had been provided and the degree of the coincidence, I requested cancellation. My comfort level was low enough that it made more sense to try again. The sales rep reached out to me and had me eating from his hand fairly quickly. He gave me some assurances, and while I left it open, I was prepared to work with the team, provided I was reassigned a writer with demonstrated technical acumen. Afterwards, they did my resume, it was phenomenal, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Just kidding.

As I was literally sitting down to write an email to reconsider cancellation, I found that the owner had sent me an email later the previous evening. The passion was outstanding. However, while it was expertly written (I would have expected nothing less) and every bit as fiery as the review I had been given several days before, it was definitely one of the top ten most customer-unfriendly emails I’ve ever read.

I’m going to elaborate on some skills pertaining to customer service that we, as leaders, have to consider before contacting a client.

1.) If we have a team managing a situation, then we need to get all of the facts from that team before we respond. There is a much greater chance of us making a situation worse if we don’t have all of the facts. To be rather blunt, we’re also going to lose credibility and look ignorant in the process.

2.) Customers are going to be unhappy. Period. They aren’t unhappy to injure you. Sometimes it is the result of a misunderstanding, sometimes it is our failure. Most importantly, we aren’t always going to understand or be able to empathize with their feelings. That last part is something that is incredibly hard for us to overcome. We simply haven’t walked in everyone’s shoes. Within reason, there are going to be circumstances that trigger negative reactions that we can’t anticipate.

3.) It is possible to ask questions. In fact, generally speaking, frustrated customers are eager to explain themselves. Just getting it off their chest is going to work wonders. It might not diffuse the situation, but I guarantee that someone who feels like they’ve been listened to is going to be far more compliant than someone who doesn’t.

4.) No business, team or person is immune to failure. Plan for your “plannables”. If you offer a service that involves pairing a client with a contractor or human resource, sometimes it just isn’t going to work out. Having a process for readjusting is a necessity. You can’t plan for everything either. Sometimes it just isn’t going to work out. Find a way to exit gracefully.

5.) This is more of a continuation of 4. Every failure is a learning opportunity. You can’t grow as a company, a team or a person unless you are willing to admit your mistakes and determine what the corrective action is for your next steps. Learning organizations (irrespective of size) grow the fastest and with the greatest degree of quality of information gained.

6.) If you find yourself responding to a customer at odd hours, take a breath. Are you frustrated? tired? If so, delete your draft, go to bed, and write something when clearer heads prevail. One of my older relatives used to say “nothing good happens after 11 PM”. I don’t think he ever watched Johnny Carson back in his day, so I’m not sure I agree completely. However, in some cases, I think he was spot on.

I’ve been guilty of all of these issues at one time or another. I’ve also learned from them. I’ve blown up, damaged relationships, and put myself in a position to have to admit accountability in that “flushed-in-the-face-with-a-lump-in-your-throat” kind of embarrassment. I imagine most of us have had to do this at one time or another in some context or other.

It’s easy to look at this and think that I’m venting my frustrations. I’m actually disappointed more than anything else. The company I was working with had made some early mistakes. They had also managed to pick up the ball and run with it. Watching a team overcome a problem is a profound activity. I thrive on it. I study every aspect of it I can, because getting teams to perform is something I have a vested interest in. There is no instruction greater than being able to witness it first hand. However, watching leadership fail a team that has earned a win is a bit tragic and unfair to the efforts of that team. That is the single-most powerful impact a leader can have on a project or company. They are responsible for steering the boat. No matter how hard the teams work to keep that boat above water, they can’t succeed if the leader is driving it into the rocks.

The other disappointing factor is that no leader can be successful for any length of time by leading teams into rocks. It puts you in a tough spot as a customer, because you know they are capable of better, however you just aren’t in a position to take advantage of it.

Maybe this is about the perils of resume writing. Maybe it is about customer service. Maybe it is about the nature of change. Maybe it’s really about leadership. Today was one of those days I just felt like putting pen to paper to share an experience that others might benefit from.

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Written by Ed Mangini
A Technology Blog about useful stuff.