2003 Job Search Privacy Study: Privacy Practices at Resume Writing Services

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Resume writing services exist to help jobseekers create a portrait of their skills and work experience that is compelling enough to land the job seekers interviews for desirable positions. These types of businesses tend to be small one to 35- person operations. Data privacy has arrived in this corner of the job search universe; resumes containing rich data such as work history, name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and educational history are prime treasures in the data business. [44]

In the course of the job search study, researchers discovered a site that stated outright that it purchased resumes from resume writing services. [45] This site, HotResumes.com, also sold resumes without the knowledge of the resume owners. An invoice for the sale of over 4,900 resumes is available as proof of this sale. [46]

Because of the disturbing questions raised by the HotResumes.com statements on its Web site, and the fact that the HotResume site sold job seeker resumes, it has become important to consider the resume-writing segment of the job search industry for its privacy practices.

The resume writing business is an area where honor has ruled for decades. Most of these businesses would not dream of selling resume data. But those past days of data innocence where job seekers simply relied upon implicit trust of resume handling practices are very much gone. Privacy policies posted prominently on Web sites, which form a legal basis of trust prior to a customer’s purchase, are more appropriate in today’s data environment.

Research found that:

• Over half of the businesses posted a privacy policy, yet nearly all accepted some form of credit card payment.

• The privacy policies that were posted were generally incomplete according to OECD guidelines. A few but not all privacy policies stated outright that the business would not share or sell resumes to third parties.

• 2 of the 20 businesses were valid, up- to- date members of an e-commerce seal program.

• When contacted by email with a consumer privacy question, 12 out of 20 sites responded to the query. One business said that it deleted the email because it thought the query was spam. Of those that responded to the query, all of the businesses were forthright about stating privacy goals and standards and provided excellent privacy statements to consumers.

 

A. Introduction

Resume writers charge fees ranging from about $50 to over $800 per resume. The lowest average cost for what is considered a quality rewrite is at least $250 – $400, with $250 being considered a rock-bottom price. For government jobs, it is rare to pay less than $500 to $800 per resume. Likewise, executives can expect to pay $500 on up for a professional resume rewrite

Resume writers may be members of a number of professional organizations and may also hold a number of certificates, such as the CPRW or Certified Professional Resume Writer certificate. The professional resume writers’ organizations and certification programs are focused on training the resume writers. In terms of professional quality, these groups and certifications have served consumers well. The larger of the organizations have a code of ethics; however, these organizations do not actively enforce or mandate OECD guidelines or the full eight principles of Fair Information Practices for resume writing businesses.

This is important because of the contemporary data environment and also because resume writing services are shifting into a higher profile in general. Resume writing services are frequently pitched to consumers who are looking for jobs using commercial online services. Many online job sites and job-related organizations have some sort of affiliation or partnership with one or more resume writing services, and feature them on their respective sites in a variety of ways. For example, Net-Temps.com partners with Employment911. CareerBuilder partners with e-Resume.net.

The question of which business to choose in this category is particularly important – and challenging — for consumers. After a consumer hires a resume writing service and makes payment for services, that service will have access to some form of financial or credit card data, the address, real name, work history, and e-mail address of the person using their services. This represents a lot of data, and in an era of identity theft, it is critically important for consumers to have up-front, legally binding assurances about how the businesses will control this information. This translates to having a robust privacy policy posted on the Web site and shared in writing with consumers prior to the point of sale.

 

B. Privacy Policies on Resume Writing Service Sites

Well over half of the resume writing services studied posted privacy policies on their Web sites. It is perfectly legal for a business based in the United States to operate without having a posted privacy policy. However, consumers are increasingly advised not to frequent a business without a posted privacy policy when that business handles personal and or financial data. If a Web site does not have a privacy policy it does not necessarily mean that the business has poor privacy practices. However, a consumer would not know this, and would not have the legal protection a posted privacy policy assures.

The FTC stated as one of its goals that businesses with Web sites post privacy policies on their Web sites. In its Privacy Agenda statement, the FTC specifically has stated that:

“The FTC has encouraged web sites to post privacy notices and honor the promises in them. Many web sites – indeed, almost all the top100 sites – now post their privacy policies.”

It is a key consumer protection to post privacy policies on business Web sites when personal data is involved.

Writing services with privacy policies on their Web sites include:

  • 10 Minute Resume
  • CareerPerfect
  • CareerPro (RezCoach) (Statement of confidentiality available on site prior to notification; after notification, posted a more robust privacy policy.)
  • Competitive-Edge-Resumes (Posted after notification.)
  • Employment911 (Policy is located in Terms of Use).
  • e-resume.net (Policy is located in Terms of Use).
  • Guaranteed Resumes (BBB Reliability Seal in good standing)
  • Pathwinner.com
  • Resume.com
  • Resume Edge
  • Resumagic
  • ResumeWriters.com (Policy is located in Terms of Use).
  • The ResumePlace (Posted after notification)

Resume writing services with no posted privacy policies on their Web sites include:

  • Acorn Career Counseling and Resume Writing
  • Associated Resume Writers (FedJobs)
  • CareerChannels
  • CareerPro Resumes
  • Career-Resumes (Up to date BBB Seal)
  • Competitive Edge
  • Successful Resumes

 

C. Resume Writing Services’ Response to Privacy Query

Researchers emailed 20 resume writing services with a basic privacy query. The email was sent one time, and asked if the site had a privacy policy, and asked if resumes were ever shared or sold to others. The queries were sent October 22, 2003 to the contact email address listed for each site. The queries were sent from an email address not connected to any researchers’ names or domains. The email was sent in ASCII format, did not contain any coding or executables, and therefore was not a virus threat.

When a privacy policy was available, the contact information in the privacy policy was used. If not, the most prominent contact information was used. One email was sent out to the listed address posted on the business Web site.

The goal of this query was to see how each site responded to consumer privacy concerns, and to see how or if a job seeker could use these services while still maintaining their privacy with a business they did not yet know. The goal was also, in the case where there was no privacy policy, to see if the sites would give a consumer guarantee of privacy which would suffice in its place. In fact, all of the sites that responded did just that.

Sites that responded to the privacy query said definitively in their emails that they would not sell or share resumes. These sites included:

  • Career-Resumes.com
  • Employment 911
  • Resume Writers.com responded to the query with: “Privacy is guaranteed. This e-mail will stand as proof.” A Competitive Edge
  • Competitive-Edge-Resumes
  • CareerPro (RezCoach)
  • Career Pro Resumes
  • Successful Resumes
  • Associated Resume Writers responded with an affirmative statement: “We keep everything confidential and you will be the only one to receive your resume.”
  • e-Resume.net
  • The Resume Place, Inc.

Sites that did not respond to the emailed privacy query included:

  • Resume Edge (CyberEdit)*
  • Resumagic
  • Careerperfect
  • CareerChannels (Bridgeman)
  • Resume.com
  • PathWinner.com
  • Guaranteed Resumes (gresumes)
  • 10 Minute Resume
  • Acorn Center

*Resume Edge Vendor Response: Resume Edge is following up with the customer service department of its site to find out why the privacy query went unanswered. It is ResumeEge’s policy to answer privacy queries.

 

D. Best Practices Among the Sites Studied

Within the job search industry as a whole, the job search sites do lead the pack in terms of privacy sophistication. These sites, especially the larger sites, have access to legal counsel and are up to date on current best practices in privacy. Many of their policies reflect this knowledge.

Resume writers as a group appear to care deeply about privacy. Y et regarding the current legal doctrines and international guidelines and frameworks, many are just now beginning to translate their established practices to robust consumer notice and the other principles of fair information practices.

There are sites already displaying best practices that are positive for consumers and represent the best practices in the industry to date.

1. Unequivocal privacy statements regarding resume sharing and selling.

If a privacy policy doesn’t specifically state that a resume writing service will not sell or share resumes, then the policy is not as useful as it could be for the job seekers using these services, or trying to choose a service. A policy doesn’t have to be fancy; it just needs to be clear. ResumeWriters.com’s privacy policy, for example, did not say a lot, but it said the most important thing. It clearly and unequivocally stated in language a reasonable person could easily understand that the site will not sell resumes or resume information.

“We ask for and require certain personal and identification information in order to operate ResumeWriters.com. At no time, and under no circumstances will ResumeWriters.com distribute, disseminate, sell, or disclose any personal or identification information given to us by our customers for the purposes of writing their resumes. Any personal data that is acquired or stored by ResumeWriters.com is for resume writing purposes only. ResumeWriters.com will not store, distribute, disseminate, sell, or disclose the content of any resume writing we receive at our service.” [47]

This kind of clear, direct statement constitutes a best practice for resume writing services. This privacy notice, in combination with ResumeWriters.com’s clear response to the consumer privacy query provides excellent assurance for consumers who are seeking to protect their data from unauthorized disclosure of any kind.

Another site with a clear, direct and very positive statement about privacy is The Resume Place. When researchers initially approached this business, it did not have a posted privacy policy on its Web site. Yet this business had posted very clear privacy policies elsewhere and had responded very positively to consumer queries. This business is an example of a service that had excellent practices, but just had not posted a policy on the Web site yet.

This business took its existing clear “paper” privacy policy and simply posted that policy on its Web site, with a very clear statement that they would never sell or share resumes without permission. This is an excellent example of a resume writing service with good practices simply stating those practices to consumers.

Because a privacy policy is a legal document, it is the first step in building consumer trust.

2. Anonymous Payment

It is a positive practice for resume writing services to allow payment to be made anonymously. This provides consumers who are interested in protecting their privacy to use pseudonyms on their resumes and thus remain essentially anonymous to the resume writer.

Pathwinner.com allows users to pay by using PayPal, which is privacy-friendly and is a forward-looking positive practice for resume writing services to adopt. [48] Resume writers typically want to talk in depth with each person who gives them their resume. While this may be necessary, it doesn’t have to be done with a job candidate’s real name and address to be done effectively. It does not always serve job seekers to have to give up all of their personal details to a resume writing service, particularly in the case of very high profile executives who may be very privacy-sensitive.

PayPal or other anonymous payment options allow those job seekers who want to retain anonymity the ability to do so.

3. BBB Membership and Seal Membership

For businesses new to privacy issues, an online seal membership program is a positive step toward getting some kind of privacy policy vetting and counseling at a respectively low cost. In the case of a BBB membership, it also gives consumers the ability to look up a resume writing service’s track record, which is also positive.

Guaranteed Resumes is a resume writing service that stood out because of its valid BBB Reliability seal posted on its site. This is quite rare among the resume writing services. Another site with an up-to-date BBB Seal is Career-Resumes. The Resume-Place has posted its standard BBB membership in its Web policy, which is another good practice.

 

E. Privacy Issues at Resume Writing Businesses

Problems in this niche fell into several well-defined categories.

1. Privacy Language Embedded in a Terms of Use

A separately linked privacy policy is a defacto standard. It is not a legal standard, however.

It is arguable that a Terms of Use is not the ideal place to put a privacy policy, though this is definitely a grey area. A Terms of Use is a place where a job seeker may expect to find warrantee information and disclaimers. A privacy policy is, or should be, a separate matter and should ideally focus on how the business handles consumer data.

It is a best practice to separate the privacy policy from the Terms of Use and to treat these documents as separate links on a Web site. That way, consumers may easily and quickly find the privacy statement.

2. Broken Seals on Sites

It is a negative consumer practice to incorrectly display BBB or TRUST-e seals on a Web site. Resume Edge is a CyberEdit company, which is a division of Peterson’s, which is a division of Thomsons. [49] Resume Edge is unique in that it is the only site among the 22 studied that had both a BBB Privacy Seal and a Reliability Seal, which is positive. However, both seals were broken when researchers initially studied the site. *

* Resume Edge Vendor response: Resume Edge, in its response to this report, has taken down the invalid seals, and has stated that it will be following up on this issue immediately. Resume Edge has been in transition, as it has recently been acquired by Thomsons.

The Career-Resumes BBB seal was up to date and valid. It is positive that Career- Resumes has this seal. Ideally, the BBB Seal is to be displayed only with a posted privacy policy, according the BBB Guidelines. [50] To make this seal as valid as possible, a privacy policy should be posted, according to the BBB. [51]

3. No Posted Privacy Policy on Web Site

Some resume writing services did not have privacy policies posted on their business Web sites. This is not illegal in any way. However, it is a very positive consumer practice – especially when dealing with the combination of personal information and credit card numbers – to post a policy on the business Web site, as the FTC has indicated.

The days of implicit trust in the job search industry are by and large in the past. It is unfortunate, but true.

 

F. Industry recommendations for Resume Writers

The professional organizations for resume writers are in a position to greatly benefit their members and job seekers by taking a firm stand on the privacy issue and by encouraging adoption of the full 8 principles of the OECD guidelines by members. The current codes of business ethics for these organizations [52] are positive, but they could be even more so by incorporating this information. We urge that the professional organizations for resume writers draw up guidelines for their members regarding the internationally accepted privacy standards in cooperation with a coalition of privacy, consumer rights, and employment groups.

Given the sensitive nature of resume data, all resume writing services should be posting privacy policies on their Web sites. Consumers are becoming increasingly reluctant to engage in electronic commerce without the benefit of a privacy policy or written assurances about what happens to their personal and financial information. Additionally, a posted privacy policy helps to communicate a businesses’ privacy quality. If a business already has good privacy practices, a policy on its Web site will communicate these practices to the consumer.

The privacy policies should be linked to conspicuously and clearly from each page, if at all possible.

The privacy policies should be clear, and not contain terms that require law degrees to correctly decipher.

Resume writing services should affirmatively and clearly state, without conditions except for valid law enforcement, that the site does not and will not share or sell resumes.

The OECD has an excellent, free privacy policy generator. [53] Resume writing services, especially those new to the principles of Fair Information Practices, may find benefit from walking through this tool and seeing where the privacy bar is in terms of the most current and generally accepted practices.

Resume data combined with credit card data is extremely sensitive. A bright, clear line needs to be drawn on this issue of consumer resume privacy.

G. Consumer Tips for Using Resume Writing Services

If you do not see a privacy policy posted at a resume writing service Web site, you should think very carefully before deciding to use the site. A privacy policy is a legal document, and it is enforceable. It does give you some legal protection.

Things to look for in the privacy policy include credit card encryption, refund policy, and an explicit statement about resume sharing.

The privacy policy should state that it protects your credit card transaction. The term to look for is “SSL,” or “encryption.”
The policy should state that the business would not share, distribute, or sell your resume.

The policy should state how and under what circumstances you could get a refund if you are unsatisfied with the results of the service.

If finding the privacy policy is a lot of work, treat this as a red flag. Look for privacy policies that are clearly and conspicuously posted on the business Web site. The FTC has strongly encouraged all businesses to post company privacy policies on the company Web site.

If a business allows you to pay with PayPal, take it up on the offer, as it gives you more ability to keep your credit card information private.

Here is a checklist of the things you can look at to help you make a decision about the quality of the site:

a. Does the site have a privacy policy?

b. Does the site have secure credit card payment?

c. Does the site give you a guarantee or warrantee before you buy?

d. Does the site ask overly intrusive questions? For example, does the site
ask for mother’s maiden name, bank account numbers, or your physical characteristics? No resume writer needs this information from you, and valid resume writing businesses will not ask for this information.

e. Does the site ask for date of birth or your Social Security Number? If it does, you should not use the site, and you should report it to the FTC (1-877-FTC-HELP).

f. Does the site have adequate and correct contact information listed for it? Have you tested the contact information?

g. Does the site belong to a Better Business Bureau? Have you checked the appropriate BBB for complaints against the business? Does the site post an online BBB Seal? If so, is it a valid seal?

h. If you send a privacy query to the site, does it answer with an affirmative response to you? You should not have to give up your phone number or address to a business you do not know in order to get a valid response to your questions.

 

 

 

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Endnotes

[44] See Resume Database Nightmare: Job Seeker Privacy at Risk. February, 19 2003. <
http://pamdixon.com/jobseekerprivacystudyfeb03.htm>.

[45] See Resume Database Nightmare: Job Seeker Privacy at Risk. February, 19 2003. <
http://pamdixon.com/jobseekerprivacystudyfeb03.htm>.

[46] See Resume Database Nightmare: Job Seeker Privacy at Risk. February, 19 2003. <
http://pamdixon.com/jobseekerprivacystudyfeb03.htm>.

[47] < http://www.resumewriters.com/termsofuse.html > Accessed October 21, 2003.

[48] < http://www.pathwinner.com/frame.asp?target=servicescareer > See bottom of page, logos.
Accessed October 21, 2003.

[49] Disclosure: The principal investigator on this project, Pam Dixon, has written a book for
Peterson’s, and has signed a book contract in the past with this company that resulted in payment.

[50] BBB Code of Online Business Practices, see Principle Three. <
https://www.bbbonline.org/reliability/code/code.asp >.

[51] See < http://www.bbbonline.org/reliability/requirement.asp > .

[52] < http://www.prwra.com/standards.html> The PRWA standards state that members shall
“Maintain strict confidentiality with every client, revealing information only upon written
authorization by the client.” This “upon written authorization” constitutes a loophole
organizations have exploited terribly, with written client agreement taken as a single click on a
terms of service agreement in fine print. The standards need to be updated and modified to close
these privacy loopholes. The NRWA does not even go this far in addressing the privacy and
confidentiality issue in its code of conduct. < http://www.nrwa.com/Aboutus/Ethics.htm >.

[53] The OECD privacy policy generator is available free of charge at < http://cs3- hq.oecd.org/scripts/pwv3/pwhome.htm > .

 

 

Roadmap: 2003 Job Search Privacy Study - Job Searching in the Networked Environment: Consumer Privacy Benchmarks: VIII. Privacy Practices at Resume Writing Services

 

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