We all want our first impression to be a hit. But where do you draw the line between mere prudence and full-out misrepresentation? If you’re seeking guidance to ensure you’re presenting the most poised and polished version of yourself, how do you know when you’ve gone too far and actually show up as someone else? Hiring a résumé service to produce a neat, concise, typo-free resume that accurately presents your skills and experience seems innocent enough. Much akin to having a trusted friend, colleague or mentor give it a once-over… but then, what about that cover letter? Where would YOU draw the line?
Image by Le Tigre
This conversation recently published by the NY Times, is an edited and condensed version of a podcast in which the panelists engage in further debate. Read the original article below, or listen to the episode here.
Can I Hire Someone to Write My Résumé and Cover Letter?
I’m looking for a new job in the nonprofit sector and am considering using a résumé service to write my résumé and cover letter. Part of me feels morally conflicted about this process. Is it fair to have someone else write the two materials that show the quality of my writing skills to my future employer? NAME WITHHELD, WASHINGTON
Kenji Yoshino: To the extent that we are saying this shows the quality of your writing skills, you are not being transparent or honest about your writing skills vis-à-vis your future employer if you have somebody else write the materials that are supposed to reflect those abilities. On the other hand, it’s not obvious to me that résumé writing reflects those skills. So I would actually drive a wedge between the résumé and the cover letter, if it is a substantive one.
Amy Bloom: I would have been very grateful earlier in my life to have a résumé service write my résumé. I don’t really consider that to be an example of your writing skills. It is an example of your organizational skills and probably even more an example of producing-a-résumé skills, which may or may not be part of your job. In your own best interest, if you have writing skills, write the cover letter.
Jack Shafer: As someone who used to sift through hundreds of résumés when I put jobs up for application, I looked very closely at the quality of a résumé. Are words spelled correctly? Is the punctuation done intelligently and by the rules? So I wouldn’t dismiss the art and the craft of résumés so quickly.
Bloom: I would certainly rather hire somebody who was smart enough to ask a friend to proofread a résumé than somebody who turned it in with a bunch of typos. That’s showing common sense.
Yoshino: What if you’re not going to have the chance on the job to vet every single piece that you write with colleagues to make sure that it’s perfect? The principle here is that it’s unethical to misrepresent skills relevant to the potential employer. I think we agree on the principle and disagree only on its application.
Shafer: No, I don’t think so. Who among us has not misrepresented their skills to an employer when asked, “How’s your French?” “My French is pretty good” — and you haven’t opened a French textbook since high school. The dance of the employment review in which this résumé is a part is a little bit like poker: There is ethical leeway.
Yoshino: I don’t think it’s enough to say we’ve all done it. The question is, Have we done it and remained ethical? You’ve made a case for why you believe that you can do it and be ethical. I’m less sure.
Bloom: Using a résumé service is entirely ethical. Should somebody come to me for that kind of help, I am happy to give it. I don’t feel that I am helping them misrepresent themselves; I am helping them produce a better document. I actually wouldn’t do it for somebody who I thought was applying for a job for which they did not have the skills. A lot of students bring me their résumés and cover letters, and I am glad to help and feel that I am actually behaving ethically, because I am giving them assistance, which allows them to approach gainful employment.
Bloom: I like your addition. Maybe it is not unethical to use this service this time and learn how to do it yourself.
Shafer: That would send it in the direction of, Is it unethical for you to help your child with their homework? Yes, of course, it’s ethical to help them. It’s not ethical — it’s not actually helpful — for you to complete your children’s homework. The letter writer has enlisted a sort of surrogate parent to help them complete their homework, and I’m not comfortable with it. I don’t think that behavior is ethical or representational of the skills of the applicant.
My out here would be disclosure: The letter writer would be O.K. saying to the interviewer, “Oh, by the way, I had a service write my résumé and also write my cover letter.” That would leave everybody with clean hands. But at that point, the prospective employer would say, “Take a walk,” I think.