Software programs that will help you write a last will and testament raise the question of price: Since these programs cost about $50 and replicate information in books that sell for $20, why buy a computer version?
In the case of wills, that question is not so easy to answer. But in another category of self-help -- writing and printing a re'sume' -- computer programs are genuinely superior to books and worth some extra cost.
Several are on the market now, for MS-DOS, Macintosh, Commodore, and so forth. They, too, cost about $50 as a list price, which means about $38 from most software stores or mail-order houses.
These programs prompt you to enter various pieces of information, such as school record, last job and health. Using your input, they produce a neat, organized re'sume' that's ready to mail. Some programs include address tables for major companies and organizations while others include simple career planning and job-hunting tips.
There are a plethora of How-to-Write-a-Re'sume'-and-Get-Rich guides in any bookstore, but re'sume'-writing computer software has inherent value you can't get from a book.
For one thing, most re'sume'-writing programs on the market are equipped with fairly high-powered formatting and printing functions. Using an ordinary printer (dot matrix will work, but ink-jet or laser printers are better), they can produce a striking document that might just set your re'sume' apart from the crowd, unless others in the crowd use the same re'sume'-making software.
The storefront copy machine and printing businesses that have sprung up near every college campus frequently offer a re'sume' service. They give you a neatly organized and printed re'sume' for about $100, with a further charge if you want to change anything later.
Most of these outfits are just running standard PC re'sume' software -- the same programs you can buy. If you already have access to a computer and a halfway decent printer, you can get the software yourself and produce a re'sume' on your own for a lot less money. And running your own re'sume' software lets you customize the document for each specific employer.
Unlike a book, these programs can help you avoid simple errors that can be fatal in a re'sume'. Generally, they come with built-in spelling checkers to save you from looking sloppy. Their programmers have made room for all the standard sorts of information that ought to be included in a re'sume', perhaps saving you from leaving out something important.
An MS-DOS program called "Re'sume'Maker" (Individual Software, 1-800-331-3313. In California, 1-800-874-2042) is a fairly complete example of the breed. It lets you pick from 17 basic re'sume' styles, such as a chronologically structured re'sume' for a manager, or a functionally structured form for a computer professional. If you don't know what type seems right, the disks contain models of each variation on the standard curriculum vitae form.
The program also has a number of form cover letters, but they're all boring and cliche'-ridden, so you're probably better off ignoring that part of Re'sume'Maker. The disks even include a list of "action words" that are supposed to grab a potential employer's attention; these magic incantations include "revitalized," "activated" and "slashed."
Re'sume'Maker does an adequate but not exciting job of printing the final document. You can get a little more variation in printing formats from a program called "Betterworking Re'sume' Kit" (Spinnaker, 1-800-826-0706). With versions for Mac and DOS computers, this offering takes more advantage of the capabilities of modern PC printers to turn out documents that could only have been produced in a print shop as recently as five years ago.
By the way, if you have any qualms about producing such a personal document on a computer, you can forget them. While you're writing your re'sume' on a computer, the companies you apply to may be reading it the same way.
Several software outfits sell PC programs designed to read through thick stacks of re'sume's and narrow them down to a few that a company really wants. A firm called MicroTrac has a $7,000 program, "Restrac Re'sume' Reader," that scans re'sume's into the computer as they arrive and then searches for keywords or experience for which the company is looking.
Since we now have computers writing re'sume's that other computers will read, we can just about eliminate the human entirely from the equation. Hey, that's fine with us: Whoever enjoyed job-hunting, anyway? It's the kind of chore we prefer to have our computer do for us.