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Managing Client Interactions

by Louise M. Kursmark, MRW, JCTC, CEIP, CCM

Just last week, I experienced the complete spectrum of client experiences with regard to resume review and revision. Client A was thrilled with the draft, made literally no changes, and spent perhaps five minutes in post-draft conversation with me before immediately putting his new resume to work. Client B also said he was very pleased with his resume but wanted to “work through a few tweaks.” He faxed me a heavily marked-up draft and then spent an hour on the phone reviewing and explaining his changes. We went through that same process twice more – each time getting shorter, thank goodness! – before he professed himself 100% satisfied and ready for the final documents.

The extreme contrast between these two clients made me think about my business processes. What made the difference between Client A and Client B? What could I have done to streamline Client B’s review? What should I do differently in future to avoid a similar scenario? Here’s what I learned and appreciated from this experience.

Embrace the Balance

I noticed I never question myself when I have a run of Client A scenarios! It’s only when the occasional Client B comes along that I worry I might be doing something wrong. Yet in the big picture, there are far more speedy resume revisions than protracted ones. As a rule, they balance each other out. So it makes sense to take the occasional lengthy process in stride and realize it all comes out in the wash. Just reminding myself of this truth improves my tranquility.

Understand Client Types

My Client B is a high-level executive who works in the esoteric world of leveraged finance. His close attention to details enabled him to become very successful in an extremely fast-paced and competitive arena. He applied this same laser-like focus to his resume. No detail was too small to be examined, discussed, and then decided upon. In fact, I realized as we worked and reworked the document, if he hadn’t gone through such an extensive review process, he wouldn’t have felt good about the resume!

I could discern my client’s style from the get-go, when he sent me a nine-page resume that he had laboriously worked down to six pages. I was prepared for him to be detail oriented, highly technical, and verbose. Mentally preparing myself for that kind of client and a lengthier than normal interaction is a good first step in overcoming my natural impatience for a lengthy review process.

Focus on the Work

As writers, most of us take pride in our professional skills, and we put so much of ourselves into our work that it’s hard not to take it personally when clients critique our efforts. But making the matter personal won’t help you draw it to a successful close. Try to keep your feelings out of the issue, focus on the work itself, and never fall so in love with a phrase, sentence, or paragraph that you can’t see other possibilities.

Fortunately for me, Client B is extremely charming and easy to work with (it just takes a while!). He never made me feel that I hadn’t done a good job. In fact, he was very complimentary about the strategy, writing, and editing that had brought his six-page resume down to two. Both he and I put all our attention on making sure the resume was as perfect as it could be, and as a result the review process was always pleasant and productive.

Go Back to the Beginning

Whenever there is lengthy editing to a document, there is a danger that the initial focus will be lost, or repeated edits will change the meaning of a sentence or a section. For every resume project, but especially when we have gone through lengthy and/or numerous review cycles, I like to look at it with fresh eyes before finalizing the next draft. For me it’s extremely helpful to review my interview notes, reread the client’s paperwork, and refresh my memory about current objectives. Then I read the entire resume top-to-bottom, with those objectives clearly in my head, and can make sure the document supports the client’s goals.

If you’re having trouble with repeated client revisions, you might need to spend a few minutes with your client discussing her goals as stated at the beginning of your interaction. Describe how you crafted the resume to align with those goals, and point out any changes she is requesting that conflict with the goals. You might gently remind your client that she can’t be “all things to all people” but that the resume you created does position her for her stated goals.

If nothing else, your “back-to-the-beginning” review will reassure you that you are on the right track and the edited version will indeed support the client’s goals.

Remove Obstacles

In a protracted review process, it is very helpful for you to be extremely efficient in getting subsequent drafts to your client. The minute you get off the phone or receive a marked-up copy, get to work, polish the next daft, and send it to your client. You want to position yourself as highly responsive and eager for your client to move on with his career transition. The fewer the delays, the fewer reasons the client will have for prolonging the process. In fact, he will probably be very appreciative of your efforts and do his part to keep the process moving as well.

Be Honest With Yourself

We all experience the occasional long client review cycle. But if the majority of your client reviews are multi-step, protracted, even painful processes, it would be a good idea to take a critical look at your work and perhaps get an outside opinion as well. Perhaps you need to improve your strategic thinking skills, your resume formatting and design capabilities, your basic writing and grammar skills, or learn some new strategies for positioning and presenting your clients.

Ongoing training keeps our skills sharp and gives us confidence that our work is of a high-quality and professional caliber. At the least, consider partnering with another writer to share ideas, ask questions, discuss industry trends, and keep each other refreshed and up to date.

Select Clients Carefully

If you know that certain kinds of clients – whether representing a certain personality type, job function, or industry – repeatedly give you headaches, practice saying “no” and referring them to other writers. Everyone will be much happier!

But don’t be afraid to stretch from time to time. I find that it is the most challenging clients who drive me to do my very best work. I am on my mettle, more determined than ever to produce a great product. There is great value in going deeper into the process, admitting new ideas, and being forced to explain what I did and why. And in the end, it is usually those same challenging clients who become my very best referral sources!

Ultimately, Client B is happy. Client A is happy. And I’m satisfied that I did good work for two very different clients. So I guess you could say it was a good week!

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