The CV Challenge

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Can a software program really help you generate a better resume? We put the two top-selling products to the test.

BUILD AND FORMAT your resume automatically!" gushes the box for WinWay resume Deluxe, from Nova Development. "100,000 Job-Winning Phrases — Say good-bye to writer's block!" Its rival, Individual Software's resume Maker Deluxe, takes the assistance a step further: You don't even have to be bothered with retyping. With its latest version, you just import your old CV for rehabbing.

Since most of us like working on our resumes about as much as we enjoy being buried alive, the notion that programs could do much of the work for us has a certain appeal. But can they really build a better resume? We put them to the test. We asked three guinea pigs — a salesman, a lawyer and an investor-relations professional — to redo their resumes twice, once using WinWay and once with resume Maker (both $39.95). We sent the results, along with each candidate's original CV, to a recruiter in their field to see which he or she liked best. The results:

resume Maker, it seems, has a penchant for overorganizing. On its advice, the lawyer dutifully listed his qualifications, professional experience and job history under separate headings. But recruiter Jane Howze, managing director of The Alexander Group in Houston, found this irritating: "If I interviewed him, I'd have to spend the whole time matching the experience with the jobs." The software similarly encouraged our salesman to include a job sum- mary and skill list-in addition to his job history. Once again, the recruiter, in this case Stephanie Koshel of Executive Sales Search in Seattle, was put off, calling the result "too stretched out, redundant."

With WinWay our testers got far fewer creative suggestions on organizing their resumes. As a result, their revamped CVs had all the structural pizzazz of an East Berlin housing complex. A flop? That's what we thought until we showed the resumes to recruiters. To our surprise, they praised them for their efficiency.

"It's better to just stick with a standard, traditional format," says Koshel.

Our investor-relations man paid $250 for a service to produce his original resume. Too bad. Maryanne Rainone, senior VP at New York-based search firm Heyman Associates, preferred the software-formatted versions for their cleaner look. That reaction was typical. Both programs forced our testers to ditch their long paragraphs for more succinct, bullet-point layouts — a development our recruiters cheered.

WinWay got the best reviews from recruiters. Unless you adopt one of its tacky "theme" suggestions — choices include big yellow stars and puffy blue clouds — it tends to produce a simple, easy-to-read layout. But with resume Maker, the recruiters grumbled about font overload and multiple layers of indentation. "It makes you kind of walleyed," says Koshel.

Another quibble with resume Maker: Exporting its resumes into Microsoft Word transforms them into a rat's nest of strange symbols, arbitrary spacing and unnecessary line breaks. "I had to redo all of it manually," the lawyer groused.

Both WinWay and resume Maker offer a vast library of phrases that you can pop into your resume like a new part on a car. If you're working on your education section, a click of a mouse brings up dozens of possible statements such as "On Dean's List for ___ consecutive semesters." Most of the suggestions are sorted by occupation — though WinWay's job range is bizarre. We couldn't find any phrases for CEOs or CFOs, while cemetery managers and chief cigarette and filter inspectors have plenty of options.

The lawyer and investor-relations pro had little use for these phrases. They were too narrow to plug into their resumes. A typical resume Maker offering: "Served as associate for nationally recognized personal injury law firm, specializing in plaintiff's law covering personal, financial and workplace injury."

The salesman had more luck. He replaced many of his long-winded statements — "Performed several sales and training clinics to both end-users and dealer sales staffs" — with sharper suggested ones — "Initiated and led seminars for dealers and end-users." Koshel noticed the improvement, particularly with the WinWay resume. "There were more action words," she says. "It gets to the point."

Bottom Line
Do these programs work? Well, if you buy one, don't think you can go out chugging margaritas while your computer is at home grinding out your new CV. Each of our testers complained that the programs didn't make resume writing any less of a chore. But it's hard to argue with results, and in each case, the recruiters liked the resumes produced by the software better than the original ones.

Of the two programs, our testers favored resume Maker. But recruiters had the opposite reaction: They generally preferred the no-nonsense WinWay resumes. Our advice? Buy resume Maker if you want a nicer resume-building experience; endure WinWay if you want to land a job interview.