A review of 5 free resume review services. Are they helpful?

Illustration Showing Twitter Posts of Five Resume Review Sites

Job hunting is humbling enough without seeing the initial section of a resume critique beginning, “First off, there’s an issue with the design of your resume.”

Patricia Bouweraerts Author Byline

Workplace Story chose a handful of free resume reviewing services listed near the top of a Google search, and analyzed sample critiques for usability, positive tone, readability, clarity, personalization, insightfulness, and soft sell of upgraded resume writing products.

In September, a PDF resume was uploaded to six sites — representing the writer’s graphic design and marketing communications specialization with nine years of experience. The resume’s design, an infographic concept, was created based on trending resume layouts in the graphic communications field.

Sample Resume Submitted to Resume Review Service Sites

Free resume review services evaluated below include the following:

  • Employment BOOST
  • LiveCareer
  • The Resume Center
  • TopResume®
  • ZipJob

The same sample resume was also submitted for review to Monster.com two separate times, but error messages were received. Monster representatives identified the uploaded document as not being a valid resume file, and wrote that online systems are unable to correctly parse information from a creative infographic resume. Therefore, scoring for the Monster.com free resume critique was not immediately possible.

Scoring rubric used to evaluate the services on a ten-point scale was based on the following criteria:

  1. Usability: the process to receive a review was straightforward and user-friendly.
  2. Positivity: a cordial introduction and positive writing style set an encouraging tone.
  3. Readability: the presentation of the review was well-organized and readable.
  4. Clarity: points made in the critique were easy to understand and use.
  5. Personalization: comments made were specific to the resume submitted, with non-stock answers provided.
  6. Insightfulness: new, unique insights were offered for which most average job seekers may not be aware.
  7. Soft sell: upgraded, pay-for services were not presented in a hard-sell format.

Top score with an average of 8 points out of 10: ZipJob

Usability: 10
Positive tone: 6
Readability: 8
Clarity: 9
Personalization: 8
Insightfulness: 10
Soft sell: 5

ZipJob returned the most thorough and insightful review of the five free resume review services.

Despite the initial statement that there is “an issue with the design of your resume,” the critique gave a clear explanation as to why, and presented helpful suggestions. It was apparent that a real-life breathing human being looked at the resume, and that this person showed dedication to providing a quality product to the customer. The reviewer was identified with first and last name as Judy Klein, Certified Resume Expert. She also provided her email for any additional questions.

The graphic designer resume was sent as a PDF, a file type that most applications accept. Graphic designers are typically instructed during college to show flair in their resume to reflect their industry skills, and Word resumes are largely frowned upon in the field. Most of the reviewing services disapproved of the infographic-themed resume, but ZipJob explained its reasons with understandable language.

“Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have difficulty reading creative resumes that use some type of graphical element — this includes icons, stylized fonts, graphics, and colored boxes,” Klein wrote. “But unfortunately, ATS software is far from perfect. They can sometimes inadvertently filter out candidates who would actually be a great fit for the position. And that means, in some situations, an employer may never actually read a resume from the perfect candidate.”

The positive aspects of the review were:

  • The review was well organized; four sections were introduced, and each followed in order.
  • The reviewer talked about key words and soft skills in a clear way.
  • Of the five reviews, this one gave the best description of task-oriented language, as contrasted with achievement-based statements. A few examples were provided.
  • Klein found “filler words” in the resume and described what action verbs look like — again, providing examples.
  • The review gave suggestions for naming resume files.

The places where the review might be more personable include the following:

  • The greeting read “Hi -,” instead of addressing the recipient by first name.
  • The reviewer may not be familiar with resume design practices in technical occupations.
  • Key words and specific industry phrases were introduced, but the reviewer did not give any examples of the type of word or phrases that may work well in this particular resume.
  • Strong elements of the resume were not mentioned, only the factors to be improved upon.
  • There is a hard-sell approach to upgraded resume writing services.

Examples of hard-sell techniques were references to paid professional services included in the review, and the placement of logos for desirable employers in one of its sections. Four marketing emails were sent in the two weeks following receipt of the review.

Scoring an average of 6.85 out of 10: LiveCareer

Usability: 10
Positive tone: 4
Readability: 8
Clarity: 8
Personalization: 3
Insightfulness: 6
Soft sell: 8

LiveCareer is an instant review service, so one can reasonably expect that it is automated and not personalized by a human staff member. Results are nearly immediate.

This review also started out with a discouraging, rather than encouraging statement, “9 critical errors found in your resume,” and that “29 percent of resumes scored higher than yours.” It may have read more positively if the second statement was instead worded as “71 percent of resumes scored lower than yours.” Essentially, the two percentages mean the same thing.

The review was clearly organized into standard content sections for most resumes — such as contact information, education, and experience — this format made comments easy to follow. The description of what a summary section should contain was the most clear and concise of the five reviews.

Because of the automated nature of this review, the text did not accurately reflect the content of the submitted resume, “You haven’t filled out the ‘experience’ section of your resume yet.” In reality, the PDF resume file contained four job experience entries, along with title and company names.

The positive aspects of the review were:

  • Well-organized into a grid presentation.
  • Specific directions for writing were offered, such as to use a 3–5 sentence career summary, and to list experience in reverse chronological order.
  • Instructions were provided to title each resume section with an appropriate heading.
  • Several examples of filler words were provided, more than other critiques.

The places where the review might be more helpful include the following:

  • A very brief review; not thorough or detailed.
  • The review indicated there were spelling errors and that their spell check does not recognize proper names, but did not indicate how to state proper names associated with employers.
  • It was not personalized; there was no name of a reviewer or contact for further questions.
  • Strong elements of the resume were not mentioned, only the factors to be improved upon.
  • Five marketing emails were sent in the two weeks following receipt of the review.

When clicking on a link in one of the follow-up marketing emails, “Your resume is ready,” the site automatically attempted to create a new resume based on the originally submitted one. Upon inspection, there were obvious mistakes made in the document, such as contact information, education, and summary excerpts placed under the “experience” heading.

With an average of 6.43 out of 10 is Employment BOOST

Usability: 10
Positive tone: 7
Readability: 10
Clarity: 4
Personalization: 5
Insightfulness: 6
Soft sell: 3

Employment BOOST’s free resume review was delivered as a PDF attachment along with an email that introduced what the critique would cover. It was signed by career services associate Jaclyn Gabel, a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW). A code was also offered for $20 off the cost of upgraded services such as resume writing or career coaching.

The review was presented as a “Resume Scorecard” that looked like a one page school report card, with positive customer endorsements on the second page. In the review, Employment BOOST is listed as a U.S. owned and operated company.

The positive aspects of the review were:

  • The column that featured grades such as A- or B were encouraging, you are not hit with negative language to start.
  • The scorecard is separated into a table, so the information is both easy to read and later refer back to.
  • Clear suggestions were provided about not repeating career history information in the career summary, and keeping a resume to about 400 words per page.
  • Tips were offered such as researching industry buzz words and competing job seekers’ LinkedIn profiles.
  • It was interesting to learn in one of the columns that the average person can read 300 words per minute, and that hiring managers typically spend 15 seconds scanning a resume.

The places where the review might be more customized include the following:

  • The review is very brief and doesn’t cover a lot of territory.
  • Confusing acronyms including SARs and PARs were not immediately decipherable.
  • Advice was given to create a “unique design,” which was unusual given the nature of the specially designed infographic resume format.
  • The terms ATS and SEO were not thoroughly explained.
  • Client accolades took up a full page of the review, close to one half of the total content.

Also, scoring an average of 6.43 of 10 is TopResume®

Usability: 10
Positive tone: 2
Readability: 8
Clarity: 7
Personalization: 5
Insightfulness: 5
Soft sell: 8

TopResume’s critique was written by Katie Warren, who also provided her email contact information. After introducing herself in the first paragraph as someone who reviews hundreds of resumes each month, she began the first section with a negatively worded sentence.

“We’ve all been told that looks don’t matter as much as substance, but in the case of your resume this just isn’t true,” Warren wrote. “I found your design to be visually uneven. The appearance is not polished, and it doesn’t say ‘high potential’ as your experience suggests.”

She wrote in the introductory paragraph that the resume was reviewed compared to similar job applicants; however it was not acknowledged that graphic designers use more highly designed resumes than other fields.

The positive aspects of the review were:

  • Clear recommendation was provided to word resume content in the context of being an “achiever,” not simply a “doer,” with results-based language instead of task-based wording.
  • There were real-world examples used to illustrate the concepts of passive and active language.
  • Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) were explained and the resume was passed through the software, highlighting how the ATS systems can mistakenly interpret content.
  • The review advised saving a copy of the resume in Microsoft Word for some of the online application submission platforms.

The places where the review might be more positive include the following:

  • Warren stated that there was no career summary, and that there should be more bullet points, when in fact there was an unlabeled summary near the top, and the submitted resume included 22 bullet points.
  • Task-based sentences in the resume were zeroed in on, even though there were several results-based phrases included in various sections.
  • The review critiqued non-action verbs in the resume, but ignored active verb phrases that were present, such as “met all deadlines,” and achieved “record return rate.”
  • Negative language was also used in reference to hiring managers “looking for an excuse to eliminate you as a candidate.”

This critique was straightforward but did not balance its suggestions for improvement with any positive feedback. This may be discouraging for a job seeker.

In this instance, a response was emailed back to Warren about graphic design resumes being more uniquely laid out to show applicable skills of the candidate. Warren wrote back that formatting and keyword improvements in a resume will increase interview opportunities.

“If the results of the ATS (applicant tracking system) portion of your critique did not accurately portray your career, this is likely due to improper formatting, phrases, and keywords used on your resume,” she wrote.

Warren added that resume writing services would optimize the resume for keywords, optimize ATS search results, and better capture a prospective employer’s attention.

Coming in with an average score of 5.14 out of 10 is The Resume Center

Usability: 10
Positive tone: 5
Readability: 7
Clarity: 4
Personalization: 3
Insightfulness: 4
Soft sell: 3

The review by The Resume Center was the only critique received that addressed the resume sender by a full and correct first name, and the reviewer gave his first name as Joseph. The review was brief and interspersed with advertisement for resume writing and consultant services.

The positive aspects of the review were:

  • The review clarified that it was acceptable, and even preferable to include the candidate’s personality strengths in a resume.
  • Clear direction was given to not use personal pronouns such as “I” or “me.”
  • Under the subhead “What you got right,” seven positive aspects of the resume were listed.
  • An overall percentage grade gave an indication that the resume can “potentially pass the first inspection but fail you when compared to other candidates.”
  • The review stated that bullet points were good, but too many bullets can detract.

The places where the review might be more accurate include the following:

  • The resume was referred to as a CV, but that terminology typically refers to longer form, academic resumes.
  • The critique advised that achievements should be emphasized, but did not see the recognition section of the submitted resume or bullet points which gave measurable accomplishments.
  • A LinkedIn profile was recommended, although there was, in fact, a LinkedIn URL placed on the resume top left.
  • Sections “What you got wrong” preceded the paragraphs labeled “What you got right.”
  • The infographic resume uploaded for the critique was laid out in clearly identifiable sections with accompanying graphics, but the review stated “The document provided was not well laid out…”

Confusing or contradictory language may be a red flag when seeking assistance for writing advice. Although it was a benefit of this critique to give some positive feedback, under the “What you got right” list, one of the items was “Inappropriate section order.” It was unclear if that was an item for improvement, or praise for not using the incorrect section order.

Address is a controversial subject in the world of resume writing

Hiring managers and resume reviewers differ on whether a candidate should include their street address on a resume.

In an August Quora post by recruiter and executive search professional Dan Ogden, he wrote that one of his resume pet peeves was the lack of address. Ogden responded to a comment on the post with his reasoning for preferring a physical address on resumes.

“If you’re in Madison, Wisconsin, I’m not considering you for a role in Manhattan, New York, when there is sufficient talent pool here to not have to deal with relocation budgets or lost production waiting for you to find a place and properly settle in to a completely new environment and routine,” he wrote.

Rob Schwartzman responded that street addresses can cause unconscious or conscious bias during the hiring process.

“If I use an address in Boro Park, Brooklyn, there can be stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against me as a religious Jew,” Schwartzman wrote. “If someone places an address of certain neighborhoods in D.C., there can be similar presumption that a candidate is African American. These biases before even interview can be difficult to demonstrate in EEO cases.”

ZipJob’s expert Judy Klein agreed that full addresses are unnecessary.

“Your full address isn’t necessary for the header and should be removed,” she wrote. “Instead, just include your city, state, and zip code. “Unfortunately, some of the larger organizations won’t even open resumes that have the full mailing address on them due to privacy reasons.”

LiveCareer’s review differed, stating that the contact information section should include the street address.

Therefore, job seekers may decide to research whether to include their street address based on usual and customary practices in their specific job field or industry.

Choosing the right resume critique is important for goal setting

Preparing a resume is a central task for job seekers. It’s one of the initial steps when searching for a new position; however it is also the first place to meet acceptance or rejection.

Warren observed in her critique that when you have spent a considerable amount of time with a document, it is easy to miss some awkward sentences. Thus, seeking a resume review appears to be a wise step for many candidates. There are a number of online resume critique providers to choose from in addition to the reviewers that are evaluated here.

And because a negative or ill-fitting resume critique has the potential to affect an individual’s confidence — even if the service is free — it may well be a good idea to treat each resume review offer as one of the many applicants for your own attention, document submission … and your time.


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