"Is there a Résumés for Dummies?” asked my nephew Freddy. “I’ve been looking for a job for two months with only one callback.”

I didn’t have a book for him, but I did have a phone. So I put in a call to Cherie Heid of Competitive Edge Résumés (858-414-9603, sdresumes.com) and asked her how she was better than a book (or a computer program) for creating a résumé. “A program is good for the basics — it helps you to know what format to use. The three main components for a résumé are your contact information, your employment information — where you’ve worked, what you’ve done, what your job titles have been — and your education.

“But,” continued Heid, “the problem with a program is that it doesn’t help with the human aspect. Consider a woman who is a customer-service rep, someone who answers incoming calls and helps customers with problems.” Everybody knows what her job entails, “but I’ll delve deeper and ask, ‘How many calls did you take a day?’ Suddenly, she’s not thinking of her résumé, she’s speaking to another human being who is asking about her, and she says, ‘Gosh, actually, I was the number-one customer-service rep last year. All of my coworkers answered 50 calls a day, but I answered 75.’ Now her résumé says, ‘Named top representative for efficiently handling 75 calls per day vs. the average rep, who handled only 50.’ Now she stands out.”

And standing out is the key. “It’s important to realize that a résumé is a marketing tool to sell you to a potential employer. You’re trying to get them to pick you out of hundreds of résumés. A good résumé writer can bring out all the important details that are locked in your mind. If someone comes to me without a résumé, we can go straight into a question-and-answer session. If they have an old résumé, we’ll start with that. Even if they say, ‘I just have some notes.’ I don’t care about spelling or grammar — it’s my job to fix it. I know how to sell and market you.”

Beyond the writing, “I also guide you through the job process. I can offer help with online job searches, show you the best websites for your field, and show you how to upload a résumé. I am into understanding the needs of my clients before I quote a price. On average, it runs $150 to $200, but if I have an executive for a multimillion-dollar company, it might be $300+. And for someone straight out of high school, it might be only $75.”

Norman Cohn of Career Finders Résumé Service (858-271-4227, sandiegoresumes.com) also stressed the importance of standing out. “If your résumé doesn’t say, ‘I’m the best,’” he explained, “you’re not going to get that call.” How does he know? “I used to be an executive recruiter, so I’ve worked both sides of this business. I’ve read over 25,000 résumés. I know what works. We can help because we know what hiring managers are looking for and how to make it easier for a hiring manager to find it on your résumé.” For example: “Most résumés include only ‘what I’ve done.’ Ours also say ‘what I’ve accomplished.’ Most people find it really hard to brag about themselves, so we brag about you.” Call for specifics on price.

Finally, I spoke with Scott Sorweid at Right Foot Résumé (619-723-1329, rightfootresume.com). “I focus on custom résumé design,” he said, explaining his method for making résumés stand out. “That starts by focusing on personal identity, which is really critical today. I’ll create a professional logo, usually from a person’s initials. That gives the résumé a contemporary look, and it also adds a bit of color. For someone in sales and marketing, I might use red or orange. If someone is looking through a pile of résumés and runs into one of mine, they’re definitely going to pick it up, which is the point of my service.”

Sometimes, however, “Companies have computers that scan résumés,” so it’s important to have your information properly presented. “I’ll most likely include a box that lists key skills, targeted for a specific position. The computer will be okay with it, and the résumé will actually get read.” After that, “It’s important to get your skills and achievements written in an effective way. I’ll start out with highlights of your professional experience — four or five of the main accomplishments, things with quantifiable results, be it saving time or saving money. That needs to get done in the first third of the page.” Prices range from $50 (design services) to $150 (full résumé package).

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