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Dear Sam: Résumé should show value previous career brings to new goals

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Sally, a licensed social worker who recently lost her job due to downsizing, sought to return to a direct-care environment. After spending five years working with patients over the phone, she was eager to return to her roots in direct care. Sally wanted to focus her search on county and state positions, specifically working with seniors through the Agency on Aging.


Sally had a résumé, but it was designed and written in an out-of-date and ineffective way. Not only did the content solely focus on her day-to-day responsibilities, but the format was also less than appealing. The résumé opened with an objective statement, followed by less than 200 words describing seven years of experience and ending with an education and volunteerism section.


Knowing that Sally wanted to return to her roots in direct care — specifically working with older clients — I gathered related, transferable facts about her background during our phone consultation.

A modest person, Sally said she never thought of her positions in terms of the value she contributed; instead, she “was just doing her job.” I explained to Sally, as I do with many clients, that her résumé needs to show any accomplishments that will differentiate her from other candidates. If we simply conveyed day-to-day functions and did not show the value she contributed, she would look equal to her competitors and not get the interviews she wanted.

Fortunately, Sally did have functions she performed that were helpful in differentiating her candidacy. Even though some of those functions were not traditional “accomplishments,” they were still very effective in positioning her ahead of the competition.

Vitally important in the success of Sally’s new résumé was creating a great format, presenting Sally as a social worker dedicated to the aging population — and overcoming the fact that her last position was not in a direct-care setting. Through a soft, feminine design, combined with strong content and a focus on the transferability of her last position, Sally’s new résumé emerged as an effective tool in current job search.


Sally was kind enough to email me to tell me of her job search success:

“I just wanted to thank you so much for the wonderful job you did creating my résumé. It helped me land the job I have been looking for. I start [next month] and will be a case manager for the Area Agency on Aging. I will be working in their program, which helps seniors age 60 and up who are on Medicaid stay independent in their own homes. Thank you so much for your help.”


The best results always come from a combination of a great résumé and a great candidate. Sally had the experience; she just wasn’t able to package it in a way that got her foot in the door.

I often find that my clients are stuck on the fact that their recent experience isn’t as related to their current goal as they would like. They lose sight of the fact that they are still qualified for what they want to do, and it often takes just a little objectivity to figure out how to market the transferability of recent less-related experiences.

— Samantha Nolan is a certified professional resume writer and the owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service resume-writing firm. Email resume or job-search questions to To find out more about Nolan, visit

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

January 27th, 2015 at 7:57 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: It’s not necessarily time for Plan B

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I have been applying for jobs on a daily basis, with no success. I think my background is marketable, so I am perplexed as to why I never get a call for an interview.

I offer more than 10 years of accounting experience, in addition to several years of experience as a controller, which included team leadership, operations management and IT oversight. Based on these experiences, I am applying for staff accountant, managing accountant and controller roles. To me, this does not seem like much of a stretch. Is the market just so saturated that I need to figure out a Plan B? — Adrian

Dear Adrian: It’s not time to throw in the towel. You are completely qualified for the roles for which you are applying.

The problem is that you are being underserved by your résumé. Because your résumé is not effectively marketing your candidacy, you really have no idea how the market will respond to a well-developed résumé that presents your candidacy in an optimal manner.

It’s time to optimize Plan A, not resort to Plan B.

You need to bring your résumé up to date with today’s best practices in personal branding. It looks like you are using an outdated résumé template, and it is just not working. Today’s value-based résumés serve as self-promotion tools that communicate not only the scope of your roles (this is all your existing résumé conveys) but also how you added value beyond expectations. This is really the key to presenting a value-based résumé and a value-added candidacy.

Consider the ways you excelled in your roles, how you went above and beyond your job descriptions, and what you consider to be your key contributions. These factors are the key to an effective résumé and a successful job search. I urge you to review examples of effective, practices-based résumés on my website or from other expert resources. Then re-engineer your résumé, and relaunch what I am sure will be a much more successful search.

— Samantha Nolan is a certified professional résumé writer and the owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Email résumé or job-search questions to To find out more about Nolan, visit

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

January 18th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Use caution, be mature when posting on social-media sites

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: My daughter graduated from college, started her first job — and was recently fired after she made some disparaging remarks about her employer on her personal Facebook page. Needless to say, my daughter is embarrassed. She is also concerned about the impact this will have on her employment search. She obviously needs to make her Facebook page completely private — or delete it entirely, in my opinion. Beyond that, what should she do to curtail any additional fallout from her actions? — Catherine

Dear Catherine: What a shame — an opportunity vanished in the stroke of a few keys. This is not the first time I have heard of this happening. Many people have learned that what they do in their private lives can impact their professional lives.

First, everything on Facebook is the property of Facebook. Even if you have a “private” profile, your information may be viewed by people other than your friends.  In addition, if you are not careful about your privacy settings, friends may be able to share your posts, which could take the content completely out of your control.

If you are going to have a Facebook page, you must make it as private as possible, unless you are absolutely sure you will never post anything that could damage your personal or professional character.

I have even heard of companies asking employment candidates to log into their Facebook accounts during interviews. I’m not joking! The practice is common enough that it even has a name — “shoulder surfing.” Providing anyone with access to your Facebook account or giving another person your password is against Facebook policy. You should never allow an employer to see you log in to your account. If an account is private, it is exactly that — private. Candidates should feel confident in refusing such requests and either citing the Facebook user policy or explaining that they have a personal policy of not providing others with access to their social-media accounts.

When your daughter is asked why she left her previous employer, she will have to be honest. Being terminated — and the reasons for the termination — will be discovered during a background check, so she has nothing to gain by being dishonest. This is actually an opportunity for your daughter to show that she has learned a lesson and overcome an obstacle. Employers know employees face challenges in their jobs, and companies want resilient team members who are not easily derailed.

During her interviews, your daughter will want to tell the truth and immediately share what she learned from the experience. Explaining to a future employer the steps she has taken to ensure that this will never happen again — from making her Facebook page private to gaining the maturity to not share inappropriate thoughts on social media — will indicate both professional and personal growth.

It would be great if, as a result of this experience, your daughter becomes more interested in social-media security, its impact on brand equity and consumer behavior, and how a community of users interacts to share thoughts and prompt actions.

Depending on her career, this could show great insight into a topic of relevance and concern for most companies today. I am sure your daughter will get back on track quickly. One day, she will reflect back positively on a valuable lesson learned early.

— Samantha Nolan is a certified professional résumé writer and the owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Email résumé or job-search questions to To find out more about Nolan, visit

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

January 11th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Explaining employment gap may not be necessary

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: In 2010 I left corporate America to take care of my two young children. I worked part time for a while, until the company went out of business in 2012. I then attended a certification course for about a year. I am worried about the employment gap on my résumé. Is it appropriate to address the gap and explain that I stayed home with my children? — Sally

Dear Sally: There is no need to address the reason for your gap in employment on either your résumé or your cover letter.

When hiring managers read your résumé, notice the gap and see that you are a woman, they will probably assume you took time off to stay home with a child.

I don’t think you need to address the gap at all.

Instead, you should focus on your previous experience, achievements and continued professional development. By concentrating on your work experience — versus the reason for your absence from the workforce — you focus the hiring manager’s attention on the areas that enhance or support your candidacy, leaving the gap in employment as a minimal factor in your evaluation.

Having said that, I will note that some candidates feel more secure if they explain the reason for a departure from the workforce. If you fall into this category, you can explain the reason for your gap in employment in your cover letter.

If you engaged in community involvement or volunteered in other ways, completed additional training or continued to develop your professional self in any way during this gap, be sure to mention what you did.

Hiring managers can connect the dots and are, in my experience, refreshingly understanding when life takes a person away from his or her profession.

While your gap in employment is something to be handled carefully in your résumé and cover letter, I do not think you need to be consumed with worry about it being a disqualifying factor.

Best of luck to you!

— Samantha Nolan is a certified professional resume writer and the owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service resume-writing firm. Email resume or job-search questions to To find out more about Nolan, visit

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

January 4th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Tips help job seekers create effective résumés

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I don’t know what to do. I’ve sent out more than 100 copies of my résumé for jobs I felt I was fully qualified for, and I’ve had very little interest. I’m an administrative assistant, and I know that the job market is tough right now. I’ve done a great job at every company I’ve worked for, and I have excellent references — I just don’t know how to say that on my résumé. Is there anything I can do to improve my results? — Julia in Cincinnati

Dear Julia: The most common complaint I hear from administrative assistants is that they do not have any accomplishments to highlight on their résumés. Most feel that they have played a supportive role their entire career. Because of this, they do not think they can attribute any achievements solely to their efforts.

However, I have yet to work with an administrative assistant who didn’t have achievements of some kind — such as increasing organizational effectiveness by revamping the filing system, performing his or her job despite limited articulation of responsibilities, or even helping others better perform their jobs by seeking out and taking on bigger tasks.

By showcasing where you have driven value for an organization, you will really position yourself ahead of the competition and stand out from the crowd.

I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight creative tactics you can use to make a better first impression in a couple of other career fields.

• For the teacher: One of the fields I enjoy writing most about is teaching. There are a number of ways you can make a résumé stand out as a teacher.

First, instead of opening your résumé with your full name, use your teaching name, such as “Miss Charlie.” This unique approach immediately positions you as a teacher and engages the reader.

Imagery is a useful tool for teaching résumés. Often this will be something as simple as alphabet blocks, but I have also created teaching résumés with images of children playing, writing on the blackboard, etc. These images grab the reader’s attention and make a case for the strength of the content in the résumé.

Lastly, if you have them available, I suggest adding written comments you have received from parents and students. You can even present these comments in a handwritten-style font to add a personal touch to your résumé. Such testimonials, particularly if they are from students, reinforce the claims presented in your résumé.

• For the multitalented job seeker: I work with a lot of clients who tell me they are open to many different opportunities and can do “pretty much anything.”

While this claim is wonderful for expanding the client’s prospects, it does make writing an effective résumé more difficult.

In this situation, I showcase the client’s background in the professional
experience section (which will essentially stay the same regardless of the job opportunity).

I then incorporate a list of competencies. Changing this list is an easy and quick way for the client to tailor a résumé to each job opportunity. I like to position this list down the left side of a résumé in its own column or at the end of the qualifications summary. Your competency list can include any type of experiences or skills that represent notable strengths. Develop a general set of these brief noun phases, then simply tailor them to each opportunity based on the keywords in the job description.

This is a very simple thing anyone can do to create the tailored feel that hiring managers are looking for.

— Samantha Nolan is a certified professional résumé writer and the owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Email résumé or job-search questions to To find out more about Nolan, visit

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

January 2nd, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Common résumé questions answered

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I spent more than two years pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree but was not able to complete it. How can I present an incomplete degree on my résumé? I have about four years of work experience to compensate for my lack of a higher degree. — Seth

Dear Seth: You can present an incomplete degree by stating, “Pursued Master of Business Administration (2012-2014).” If you are still planning to complete your graduate degree, state the following, “Master of Business Administration (anticipated completion 2015).” (Of course, use the appropriate completion date.)

Dear Sam: I have a pretty good résumé, but I have no idea where to start when writing a cover letter.

Is it necessary to submit a cover letter when applying for a job? I’d prefer to just submit my résumé so I don’t have to write a cover letter for every job I am interested in. I don’t apply for some positions because I can’t get over the stumbling block of writing a cover letter to accompany my résumé. — Tony

Dear Tony: A cover letter is your opportunity to introduce yourself to a prospective employer, expand on and personalize your résumé, and highlight how your skills and experiences will fulfill the employer’s needs. A cover letter should be a key part of every application, regardless of whether it is requested.

You should not have to create a new cover letter for each job application. If you have defined your career target when creating your résumé (meaning you know what you want to do, to whom you are marketing your candidacy and what language will attract his or her interest), your cover letter will be developed using that information as your guide. When you have taken time to really understand what will trigger your target audience and have incorporated that content into your application materials, your résumé and cover letter will not need to be modified each time you apply for a position.

Keep in mind that a cover letter not only expresses your interest in the company and/or position, but also gives the employer an opportunity to observe your attentiveness to detail, spelling, grammar, and the quality of your written communication.

— Samantha Nolan is a certified professional résumé writer and the owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Email résumé or job-search questions to To find out more about Nolan, visit

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

December 21st, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Avoid the ‘black hole’ effect when applying for positions online

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I feel like I send my résumé into a black hole when applying online. I submit my résumé, but rarely hear anything. I’m beginning to wonder if my résumé even arrives. When I do hear back from the company, I get an email saying the position has been filled. What am I doing wrong? — June

Dear June: Your current résumé opens with an objective statement followed by the education section, two pages of experience (listing positions back to 1994) and, at the end, sections outlining your computer skills and affiliations.

The good news: You have lots of room for improvement. Once you revamp your résumé, your job search could yield great results. Here are the areas you should address:

Objective: Remove the objective statement; instead, present a summary of your qualifications. Based on your two fields of interest, I would recommend having two versions of the summary, one for human resources and one for accounting. Combining the two in one résumé will only diminish the effectiveness of your search. Remember, the top third of Page 1 is the most valuable real estate on your résumé. Make the most of this space by telling the reader what you offer as a candidate.

Education: Since you graduated from college in 1998, this section should be relocated to the end of your résumé. In most cases, only recent graduates should present the education section up front. Remove your high-school information — it is assumed you graduated from high school if you attended college.

Experience: This section needs to be more robust and tailored to the field of interest. In your most recent position, you seem to have performed both accounting and HR functions. Prioritize this information based on which résumé you are presenting — accounting or HR. Instead of focusing on your daily responsibilities, focus on your achievements. This is vital in positioning yourself ahead of the competition. Your achievements not only demonstrate you have gone above and beyond for your past employers, but also predict your ability to do the same for a future employer.

I would recommend removing the first three positions (pre-1996). By doing this, you will have more room to focus on more recent and related experiences, and you will still show an ample 11 years of experience.

Last, remove your months of employment. Presenting both the months and years of employment shows gaps in your work history — and that you have not worked since August 2008.

Computer skills: Instead of a separate section, incorporate your technical skills into the qualifications summary. This will be especially effective when developing your accounting résumé. It is also important to note that you are proficient with Peachtree accounting software.

Affiliations: I suggest removing this section because the affiliations you are presenting stem from personal — not professional — interests. When presenting affiliations, make sure they reinforce your image as a professional. If you are a member of any local or national accounting or human-resources organizations, you should present that information.

After painting a more strategic image of your background, I am certain you will overcome the feeling of sending your résumé into a black hole and begin generating some interest with prospective employers.

— Samantha Nolan is a certified professional résumé writer and the owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Email résumé or job-search questions to To find out more about Nolan, visit

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

December 14th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Choosing a new field of interest

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I worked for the same company for almost 12 years and was recently “permitted to resign.” My problem is that I don’t really want to find another job in that industry, but I also don’t know what I want to do next.

I am struggling to get over the loss of my job and, at the same time, figure out how to apply my experience and skills to something new. Any thoughts on how I can choose a new career? I just don’t know where to start. — Julie

Dear Julie: That’s a great question, and one I am asked frequently.

I often suggest a simple exercise to help clients get an idea of what career or job might interest them in today’s job market.

Instead of searching the job boards by job title, try to search by functions you enjoy or want to perform. Keep track of the types of positions generated by your searches, and you will likely begin to see a pattern emerge.

Next, print descriptions for several of the positions and read them carefully a couple of times; then read them again, this time highlighting words or phrases that appear repeatedly within the job descriptions and requirements. The result will be a list of keywords or phrases you will need to use on your résumé to effectively market yourself for these types of roles.

The next step is to identify what skills and requirements you actually possess. Personalize your keyword list to match the skills you offer that relate to the positions of interest. When creating your résumé, refer to this list to ensure that you are incorporating the skills and requirements sought in the positions for which you are applying. These keywords will also help you determine what aspects of your 12-year career should be highlighted more prominently.

This is a very informal and cost-effective way to determine what careers interest you and are suited to your background. There are other assessments and tools to more formally define your skills and interests, but this exercise will at least point you in the right direction.

— Samantha Nolan is a certified professional résumé writer and the owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Email résumé or job-search questions to To find out more about Nolan, visit

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

December 7th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Rekindled love inspires job search for sales position

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I am 60 years old and in the process of relocating. I will soon be interviewing with an automotive dealership in my new locale. I have craved a career in automotive sales since my days as a parts-counter person at a dealership from 1977 to 1984.

On a side note, the girl of my dreams is the reason for this new and exciting shift in my life. This is the third time that our worlds have touched. We began in 1970 as teenagers, parted ways, reunited in 1977 and then parted once again until we rekindled our connection in 2010.

I have a résumé, but this new career move is so important to me that I would appreciate a professional opinion. — Tim

Dear Tim: What a sweet story! You certainly have a great reason to do everything possible to support this “third time’s a charm” love story.

Let’s look at your résumé and see how to ensure you are putting your best foot forward, professionally speaking. Let me first paint a picture of your résumé for readers:

Your opening summary statement: “Dedicated to customer service in various industries for the past 38 years, including automotive, supply, residential painting, retail hardware, self employment and a university student store.”

Next you present six areas of expertise, including customer service, resolving complaints, problem-solving, retail sales, training and retail management. Your professional experience follows, which includes seven positions, from 1973 to the present. Your résumé closes with your college education and professional development, mostly completed while working in hardware stores.

Now, let’s focus on what we can do to improve the picture.

Summary statement

Instead of focusing on your 38 years of experience (which overqualifies you and unnecessarily ages your candidacy), present your proven record of success in sales/business development, customer-relationship management, department leadership and training. Right-size your candidacy by shifting from showing the amount and breadth of your experience to focusing on the experiences you have that are most transferable to your current career target. Continue this approach in your Skills section, being sure to focus on the areas of expertise most relevant to your next role.

Professional experience

This area of your résumé really has a lot of room for improvement. First, your résumé should never go back to the 1970s if you can avoid it. I understand that your automotive experience occurred back then, but you can present that experience in a byline without dates. Perhaps only explore the expected 10 to 15 years of professional work history, then simply note that you have foundational experience in the automotive industry in counter sales and parts management.

In addition, be sure to fully explore your roles. If you only include jobs between 1997 and now — which means including four roles, a good number — you only have 30 words describing those positions. Explore these roles fully with overviews of your responsibilities and highlights of your key contributions. Relate this content to your current career target, making sure you are thinking of how each of your functions relates to what you want to do next.

Education and training

Instead of simply saying you completed course work in history and English, present the degree you were pursuing during your time in college. It is fine to present an incomplete college degree in your case, as a degree may not be a requirement for most of the roles you are pursuing.

Regarding the training you have listed, make sure everything is related to the next step in your career. Focus on the related training more than the hardware industry-specific training you received.

I know you will be successful in your professional endeavors if you take time to reshape the way you present your candidacy to your target audience.

— Samantha Nolan is a certified professional résumé writer and the owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Email résumé or job-search questions to To find out more about Nolan, visit

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

November 30th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Applicant should make the most of follow-up communication

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I applied online for a position I thought was a perfect fit for my background. In addition, I sent a copy of my résumé to the company’s vice president of operations via Priority Mail. Ten days after sending my résumé, I sent the following message via LinkedIn:

Dear Mr. Smith,

Hello. I wanted to follow up on my letter and résumé, mailed a few weeks ago, to make sure you received it. I have been doing a great deal of research on your company and am very interested in joining the team. Being a business owner for the past 18 years, I believe I can bring my skills and knowledge to help your franchisees be successful.

With sincere interest,

Thomas [last name]

I have not received a response, but I can see from my LinkedIn activity log that he, as well as one of the company’s district managers, did look at my LinkedIn profile. What should be my next move? — Thomas

Dear Thomas: In your follow-up communication, I would avoid saying that you have already applied for the job in question.

It is obvious that you applied for a job — as it is a follow-up letter — but actually stating that you have applied could make someone think, “Well, if I wasn’t interested the first time I got your application, why would I be interested the second time?”

Perhaps opening your message like this might be more impactful:

Dear Mr. Smith,

As the founder, owner, and manager of an award-winning, million-dollar-plus restaurant and catering company, I was intrigued and engaged by your posting for a Franchise Consultant.

Having owned two franchises before rebranding as my own restaurant, I am equipped with an uncommon level of knowledge of serving as both a franchisee and an owner.

Of course, you can peruse my LinkedIn profile for highlights of my career, but because the following relate to your business, I want to note that:

I offer significant experience in developing first-time policies, processes and protocols to ensure quality and consistency.

My professional record demonstrates strengths in sourcing, training and retaining high-caliber teams.

I am highly engaged within the community and embed the business as a key community stakeholder.

I know you are busy, but I am confident that it would be valuable for us to meet. May I buy you coffee, or spend a few minutes with you on the phone to confirm what I know will be a mutually beneficial fit?

With genuine interest,

Thomas [last name]

Do you see how this follow-up is a bit more targeted? Be specific, and give the reader a reason to take a second look at your candidacy.

Great job on the follow-up efforts; I am sure you will be successful.

— Samantha Nolan is a certified professional résumé writer and the owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Email résumé or job-search questions to To find out more about Nolan, visit

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

November 23rd, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

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