I'm a little late with this posting, but a couple of weeks ago Jason Alba over at Jibber Jobber wrote an interesting post that got a lot of attention. His main subject was the free resume critique service offered by The Ladders but his comments apply to more than just that company and so I wanted to use the post as a jump off point to discuss something that's been bothering me for a while ... the problem with free resume critiques.

First, here's what Jason wrote:

Here's the situation: You send a resume to The Ladders for their free critique. Then you get back a letter telling you what all the problems with your resume is, and for a fee they will get you a new one. Last I remember the fee is around $700. Remember, we are usually talking about resumes for executives.

The biggest red flag I've read is that the critiques are form letters. They will even critique their own, The Ladders generated, resumes! It's a simple process that a salesperson goes through to make a sale, not a real resume critique that a professional resume writer would give.

In other words, it seems they hardly even look at the resume... they just get you back a scary letter saying how bad your resume sucks, and that they can make it shine like new.

Now I should point out that several commenters dissented with Jason's view, saying that as resume writers working for The Ladders, they try to give fair critiques and don't just go for the sale. I'm not associated with the company, so I have no idea if this is correct.

But I do know this ... the old saying 'there is no such thing as a free lunch' is definitely true.

The Problem with Free Critiques

Critiquing a resume takes time and effort. It also requires some knowledge of the person the resume belongs to. For example, I might critique your resume and say that it fails to show quantifiable impact in your last two positions - but how do I know that you actually had quantifiable impact in your last two positions? I don't! I'm just giving you the standard line.

The difficulty of properly critiquing a resume means that no one can afford to do it for free. I know - I tried! When we first started out business, we offered free critiques. We did it because we had seen everyone else doing it and it seemed like a good idea. We even partnered with some other websites and offered free critiques to their site visitors. Boy was that a mistake! We spent all our time writing resume critiques. Pretty soon, we realized that we needed to develop a template so that the critiques were easy to produce. But of course, this defeated the purpose, because now we were not really providing a full critique.

Eventually we gave up on the idea. I think it's wrong to offer something that you can't deliver and as we got more and more swamped with requests, that's what I felt we were in danger of doing. Yes, these critiques often generated sales - the harsh truth is that most resumes are pretty bad and when people realize just how bad their resume is, some of them decide to ask for help - but we just couldn't keep up the pace and do a good job of critiquing each resume.

Now our free help comes in the form of an online course. If people are interested in a professional resume rewrite, they can ask for a proposal. In the proposal, we do outline some improvements that need to be made, but we don't even pretend to be offering a full, detailed critique of the existing resume. We know that we can't do that effectively without knowing something about you, and without spending significant amounts of time on each critique. That's why, when clients actually do want a full critique, we charge for the service and spend quality time on the process.

So Is There Any Point in Asking for a Free Critique?

This is not to say that there isn't valuable information to be gleaned from requesting a free critique. Even though the service who responds will almost certainly be using a form letter, some will give you useful nuggets of information to consider. Many will be trustworthy and honest in their feedback. You may even consider hiring them to rewrite your resume. And there's nothing wrong with that as long as you're making an informed decision.

If you do decide to request free critiques as a way of choosing a resume service, my recommendation is to ask for at least three and then compare them. Look for areas where they all agree (that's where you know you have a problem!). Look to see who has really honed in on something specific in your resume. Look for suggestions for improvement. Ask yourself who seems to understand your goals. Who seems the most honest - about both the good and the bad? Choose the service you feel most comfortable with and then do further research before making a decision.

But if you want a real critique that will help you make dramatic changes to your own resume, just know that you're not going to get it for free. Be prepared to invest between $100 and $200 and to spend some time providing information to the resume service. Only that way will you get something detailed and in-depth enough to be really useful.