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Why you should avoid "free" online resume builders

(and what you should do instead)

Steve Marcum - Founder - TopStack.jpg

By Steve Marcum

Founder, TopStack

Online resume builders are growing in popularity, but they aren't what they seem. 

Resume builders have exploded in popularity over the last 5 years, attracting investor capital and proliferating in number. The idea is relatively straight-forward: provide job-seekers with a free, easy-to-format, good-looking resume they can create from a simple web browser or from their phone.

HOWEVER, that's not what they do. They're not free, and they're not effective! In fact, you'll likely pay far more than anticipated and be left with a resume that won't get you the results you deserve.

Here are my 5 reasons you should AVOID using "free" online resume builders.

#1) Resume builders are NOT free!

Every one of the companies we researched market their services as "free." But they're not. If you want to download your resume, you have to pay. Of course, they don't tell you that until you've spent hours inputting all of your information and fine-tuning your resume. Then, you go to click download and... you hit a paywall.

So how much do they actually cost? Glad you asked. 

Resume Builder
Pricing Transparency
What is Free
$24.95 every 4 weeks. $44.95 every 6 months. $74.95 every 1 year.
Modest. They have a pricing page, and it's accurate.
You can download a .txt file (which does little to no good).
$23.70 every 4 weeks. $71.40 annually.
None. No pricing information anywhere until you spend hours on your resume.
Nothing usable. You must pay.
$24.95 every 4 weeks. $95.40 annually.
None. No pricing information anywhere until you spend hours on your resume.
Nothing usable. You must pay.
$23.95 every 4 weeks. $71.40 annually.
None. No pricing information anywhere until you spend hours on your resume.
Nothing usable. You must pay.
$23.85 every 4 weeks. $125.40 annually.
None. No pricing information anywhere until you spend hours on your resume.
You can download a .txt file (which does little to no good).

In marketing, this is known as a "bait-and-switch". Tell someone it's free. Have them spend 2-3 hours updating all their information, and then hit them with a recurring payment plan to download the product. To add insult to injury, the resume builders show a teaser rate for a 7- to 14-day period on their checkout page in big, bold font... while listing the actual pricing only in small, faded fine-print. 

At TopStack, we believe pricing should be clear, transparent, and up-front. That's why our pricing page is easily accessible and transparent. In many respects, we're the antithesis of the resume builder pricing model. We show our pricing up-front, and we don't have you pay until after we've completed your resume and you're satisfied with it.

#2) Resume builders have poor, ineffective resume templates that are NOT optimized for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).

ATS stands for “Applicant Tracking Systems”. It sounds mysterious and intimidating, but it’s not. ATS is simply software that most companies use in order to screen through resumes BEFORE they hit human eyes for consideration. Imagine you're a hiring manager and you receive 10,000 resumes for a position you post online. It would be terribly inefficient (not to mention painfully repetitive) to read through a stack of 10,000 resumes just to find a short list of qualified candidates.


That’s where ATS comes in. The hiring manager will set a series of parameters to filter through a large quantity of resumes and bring the most qualified applicants to the top. For example, a hiring manager might screen for college graduates that have 4+ years of total experience and 2+ years of experience as a Software Engineer. ATS will scan the resumes and elevate those that pass its filters.

If you’re applying for a job in 2021, you MUST have a resume that is ATS-ready. If not, you might miss out on jobs to which you're qualified, simply because the ATS software didn’t pick up the information in your resume.

And here’s the GLARING problem with most resume builders: they have countless resume formats they are NOT ATS-FRIENDLY. Many of the templates use text boxes, images, and multiple columns that all interact in unpredictable ways with various Applicant Tracking Systems. Sure, they might make the job easier for their software engineers. But they're not going to help job-seekers get interviews.

Examples of Ineffective Resume Templates from Resume Builders

The job seekers name may not show up properly in ATS.

My Perfect Resume Template.jpg

This tiny font on this resume is hard to read and unnecessarily leaves too much whitespace. 

These columns can scan poorly through ATS. 

Zety Resume Template.jpg

These columns can scan poorly through ATS. 

This resume has five sections, with multiple column-sets. ATS software is going to have a hard time reading the columns separate from one another.

Resume Genius.jpg

Examples of Effective Templates from Resume Writing Professionals

TopStack Template_1.jpg
TopStack Template_2.jpg
TopStack Template_3b.jpg
TopStack Template_3a.jpg

Want to see more resumes that are both ATS-ready AND beautiful? Look at these samples. 

#3) Resume builders do not follow (obvious) best practices.

In the United States, you should NEVER put your picture on your resume, unless your physical appearance is directly related to the job to which you're applying (think modeling, acting, etc.). 

It opens up bias, ageism, and does you no good. 

I guess the resume builders missed that. Here are two templates from leading resume builder websites for U.S.-based job-seekers.

Resume-io Template.jpg
Novo Resume Template.png

This is one example of resume builders not following best-practices. You should not put your picture on your resume.

Why would a resume builder company make such an obvious mistake and encourage its users to do something clearly against their self-interest? I don’t think it’s anything nefarious. Rather, these companies are run by software engineers, not hiring managers. These companies weren’t born from the experience of recruiters, HR professionals, and career consultants. They want a product that looks good, and unfortunately, in some cases, they choose style over substance. 

At TopStack, 97% of our headcount is composed of professional resume writers, HR professionals, recruiters, and career consultants. We employ a grand total of ZERO software engineers. Our business is not software. Our business is people.

#4) Resume builders have a limited scope of services.

A resume only gets you about 20% of the way to a new job. What about cover letters? What about your LinkedIn profile?

Resume builders focus on one thing: resumes. Some resume builders offer an online editor for you to write a cover letter. But you'll still have to complete the challenging creative work and decision-making when it comes to putting everything together. 

#5) Resume builders do not offer personalized advice or suggestions. 

Creating a resume is both a science and an art. The easy part is getting a crisp, clean-looking resume. The hard part is getting it to convey who you are as a job applicant. Resume builders are platforms for you to write your resume, they don’t necessarily help you decide what to write (and what to leave off!).

When it comes to applying for jobs, every job-seeker's situation is unique. There isn’t a one-size-fits all resume, nor is there a one-size-fits-all approach to applying for jobs. You have your strengths. You have your weaknesses. Resume builders can’t provide the nuance and advice that a professional can. When you place an order with our company, we first ask what your goal is. We want to understand your situation and build a resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile that helps you accomplish your ultimate goal.


Alternative #1: Work with a professional, U.S.-based company that has transparent pricing, terrific online reviews, and strong guarantees on their work.

We provide personalized, 1x1 resume writing, cover letter writing, LinkedIn profile writing, and career consulting to help our clients succeed in today's environment. I invite any readers to look around our website and see if we're a good match for you. At the top of the page, you'll find our menu. The most frequently visited pages are our reviews page, our pricing page, and our samples page.

We're one of the largest and fastest-growing resume writing companies in the United States. All of our writers are U.S.-based, and portion of every sale is donated to Fisher House Foundation, a charity that helps families of hospitalized military members.

Our most popular package is our "Professional Package", which costs $235. It includes the following:

  • Professionally written, formatted and ATS-ready resume

  • Professional cover letter

  • Updated LinkedIn profile

  • Phone / email communication with your writer

  • 60-day interview guarantee

  • Pay after you're satisfied with your new resume

We try to be really clear and up-front about our services, our commitment to our clients, and our pricing. That's likely one reason we have over 1000 5-star reviews and an aggregate rating of 4.9 / 5.0 on all major review platforms. 

Alternative #2: Tight on money? Look at these online samples and email me for a free template.

Everyone goes through hard times, and money can be tight. If you're thinking about using an online builder to get you started, I recommend against it. The cheapest alternative I recommend would be to look at our samples page and pick any of those templates that you like. These are resume formats that we've successfully used for 1000s of clients. Send me an email with the subject line: "Resume template request" and include a message about which of the templates you'd like. My email address is


I'll email you an unrestricted, unbranded, editable copy of the resume template so you can build your own resume. You will need Microsoft Word to use it.


Rest assured, you won't get any marketing emails from us, and we won't upsell you on anything. But perhaps we'll build some goodwill and you'll refer a friend to us in the future :)

Steve Marcum - Founder - TopStack.jpg

About the Author

Steve Marcum is the founder & CEO of TopStack and owner of its parent-company, SJM Ventures. He started writing resumes, organizing mock-interviews, and advising students on post-graduate career opportunities at the Marriott School of Management in 2010. In 2018, he brought together a team of resume writers and formally launched TopStack Resume.

Steve oversees TopStack's business development, strategy, service offerings, and partnerships. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in Accounting from Brigham Young University and resides in Cary, North Carolina, with his wife and four children.

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