- The Washington Times - Monday, August 17, 2009

NEW YORK | Fred Alm wants a full-time job. So much so that he paid a professional $200 to make his resume sparkle.

“I figured it would be worth it, even just to see what happens,” said Mr. Alm, a 52-year-old resident of Troy, N.Y., who teaches business classes part time at a community college.

It’s only been a week since Mr. Alm got his new resume, but he thinks the investment will pay off. It now starts with a “personal profile” that brings together his mixed background as a teacher and marketing professional. Then it dives into his key skills so hiring managers can see why he’s right for the job.

Whether the changes will make a difference is still to be seen. Unable to turn teaching into full-time work for the past several years, Mr. Alm decided to explore other opportunities. The timing isn’t in his favor.

Despite some glimmers of improvement, the job market remains crowded with an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent. That figure rises to 16.3 percent with those who’ve given up looking or settled for part-time work.

Given the competition, Mr. Alm isn’t the only one looking for an edge. You may also wonder whether a resume writer, a job coach or other career services professional can improve your chances.

Here’s the rundown on what you need to know.

• Picking a professional:

The career services industry is not regulated; anyone can sport the title of “job coach” or “resume writer.” Professional organizations and schools offer numerous certificates, but one can go cross-eyed trying to figure out what the various acronyms mean.

For instance, the International Coach Federation, the National Resume Writers Association and the Career Management Alliance each offers its own credentials. It’s also possible to find a perfectly capable professional with no certifications but plenty of experience.

“People should hire coaches or resume writers whose work they’ve seen and with whom they feel trust or a rapport,” said Liz Sumner, executive director of Career Management Alliance, a trade group of about 400 career service professionals based in Peterborough, N.H.

If you’re more comfortable working with an established business, many recruiting firms now offer career services, too. One time-tested way to find a trusted professional is to ask friends and family for referrals.

Whatever route you choose, ask for work samples and a free consultation before forking over any money. A consultation might take about 15 minutes and should offer a sense of what to expect from the arrangement.

Finally, get the deal in writing. Spell out the services to be provided, and by when. This ensures that both parties are on the same page.

• Resume writing:

Given the sea of information online, it’s natural to wonder what exactly you’re paying for when hiring a resume writer or career coach.

With resumes, it’s not just a matter of having a proofreader check your grammar or fill in a template with your details. The process generally starts with an extensive interview that lasts about an hour or longer and covers topics including past jobs, your work style and career goals. The line of questioning is meant to uncover accomplishments you might not have considered significant.

“Once my candidates start talking to me, I’m always amazed that they don’t give themselves credit for all they’ve done,” said Alison Rosenblum, owner of Hudson River Career Resources in Albany, N.Y.

The writer should then compose a resume highlighting your most compelling traits.

You should get a draft resume about a week after the interview, with an option to suggest changes for no extra charge.

• Coaching:

Hiring a full-service career coach usually involves a much deeper commitment. It generally covers all aspects of the job search, including prepping for an interview and tips on networking.

In addition to the one-on-one sessions, you might get take-away assignments to ensure you’re staying active in the job hunt. Sessions can take place over the phone or in person.

If you don’t need — or can’t afford — that level of guidance, career coaches often offer a la carte help, too. For instance, you might just want help polishing your online profile.

Of course, most people aren’t hiring career coaches just for technical tips. For many, the benefit of a coach is having someone to keep them motivated and on track.

“Coaches can hold you accountable to achieve your goal,” said Amy Richardson, a spokeswoman for the International Coach Federation, a trade group based in Lexington, Ky.

Objective feedback from a professional could also shed light on why you’re not getting calls back.

• What you’ll pay:

Prices can vary greatly. Flat fees are more common for specific tasks, such as resume writing or creating a Web page. The Career Management Alliance estimates that a resume for a midlevel professional can cost $400 or more, but it’s likely you’ll be able to find something much cheaper. Check with local job placement firms to get a read on going rates.

For broader career guidance, you’ll likely be charged by the hour.

The International Coach Federation says you can expect to pay an average of $160 an hour, with coaches often recommending a set number of weekly or monthly sessions. Coaches might offer discounts for small group sessions or a package of services.

For instance, career coach Jan Melnik charges between $850 and $1,200 for an executive-level resume, cover letter and action plan that spans eight weeks. Clients can pay extra for help with specific items, such as writing e-mails or cold calling potential employers. The additional services range from $300 to $500, said Ms. Melnik, who is based in Durham, Conn.

It’s unlikely you’ll recover any money if you’re unhappy with the resume writer or career coach you hire. You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or your state consumer agency, but there’s no guarantee your case will be investigated.

• The alternatives:

There are ways to get personalized career advice on a budget.

College career fairs are usually open to alumni and anyone in the community surrounding the campus, said Ms. Melnik. These fairs typically have on-site career coaches or resume writers who give free one-on-one sessions.

Many career coaches also do pro bono work; Ms. Melnik suggests checking with public libraries, nonprofit groups and community centers for free career workshops.

Another place to look is your state unemployment offices. The level of services varies depending on where you live, but most centers offer interview training or resume reviews.

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