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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

Dear Sam: How to answer question of salary requirement

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: Companies occasionally ask for my salary requirement. I’ve always found this awkward to answer. Any advice? — Pat

Dear Pat: When asked for your salary requirement, there are a few standard approaches. I have detailed five of them below, along with their associated risks. You should include salary requirements in your cover letter, usually toward the end to minimize any negative impact.

1. Tell the hiring manager what you want to earn. If you have a base salary requirement, state it as such so the hiring manager will know that you probably expect a little more. The risk in using this approach is that you may be immediately disqualified because your amount is too low or too high.

2. Give the hiring manager a wide range. Most employers have a salary range for each position; the hope when using this strategy is that your ranges overlap at some point. You can either state that you want compensation in the “Mid-50s” or are seeking compensation from “$50K to $60K.” The challenge here is to not present a range in which your lowest amount is their highest available compensation (or vice versa).

3. Avoid the question by stating that you are seeking competitive compensation for your experience in the field, or that you can be flexible about a total compensation package. By doing this, you avoid answering the question and disqualifying yourself because of a number — but you do answer the question to a certain degree.

4. Say that you would love to discuss your salary requirement once a mutual interest has been established. The risk is that you will be eliminated for avoiding the question.

5. Don’t respond. A lot of candidates take this approach and hope their experiences, accomplishments and skills will be a “must-have” for the hiring manager — despite having avoiding the question entirely. Unfortunately, if you disregard this question, your résumé might also be disregarded.

At the end of the day, you have to make an educated decision about which strategy you want to employ and whether the risk involved is worth taking. None is risk free.

— 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 16th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Present recent education, accomplishments first

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Dear Sam: I had the absurd notion that my résumé was good enough to get a job. I have been submitting résumés left and right and have only had a few interviews.

Not only is the geographic area in which I am applying not that ripe with opportunities, but I am also being seen as over- or under-qualified. If I apply for marketing-manager positions, I can’t show management experience. If, however, I apply for a lateral position, hiring managers may assume my compensation requirements may be too high because of my master’s degree and 15-plus years of experience. — Rachel

Dear Rachel: That can be a sticky spot to be in — underqualified for management opportunities but being seen as overqualified for other roles because of your education and experience. However, after reviewing your résumé, I think you could qualify for management opportunities. Let me show you a few ways you can improve the effectiveness of your résumé.

Your résumé, especially when you are in the field of marketing, is akin to a brochure for a product. Infuse your résumé with personality, create your brand, and send a targeted message positioning you for management-level opportunities.

Let’s start with your qualifications summary. Currently, you highlight irrelevant early experience. I don’t like qualifications summaries that contain statements like: “15 years of marketing experience, 10 years in food service and five years in trucking.” The reader will assume those are consecutive years, not concurrent, and will assume you are older then you are with a total of 30 years of professional experience.

Instead, use this section to showcase your marketing experience. You do not even mention your master’s degree in marketing and communication until Page 2, which will likely not be seen during the screening process. This is a terrible disservice to your candidacy as a management-level candidate.

Your summary statement should introduce your marketing expertise, tout the value you have contributed to past employers, and showcase the relevance and recency of your graduate degree in the field.

Your experience section should send the same message. Present brief overviews of each of your roles in a paragraph, but then engage the reader with bulleted accomplishments. Within these highlighted areas, focus on your higher-level functions that show your leadership, strategy and management skills. Show how you have managed projects, not just executed what others developed.

Follow this approach throughout your professional-experience section, taking the time and space critical to exploring the depth and breadth of your marketing experience. For instance, currently you have just 26 words describing a 10-year position. While you add an additional 46 words highlighting what you felt were your accomplishments in that role, none of those statements is actually an accomplishment. As I read each of your three bullet points I was struck by the fact that these are inherent aspects of your job, not accomplishments. Accomplishments are things you did really well, ways you added value beyond expectations or results you drove that were at or above goals.

I am confident you can position yourself effectively for management-level positions. You just need to think about your experience differently and refine your “brand.” Check out samples on my website for ideas on creating a unique visual and targeted message.

— 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 her website,

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

November 9th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Think creatively for follow-up

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I have always heard that sending follow-up correspondence after a job application or résumé submission is appropriate and that it contributes to the notion that you’re eager and thorough.

However, with technology now in the driver’s seat of most application processes, I find that companies specify that phone calls and emails are not welcome after completing an application or submitting a résumé online. This lack of opportunity to follow up on your résumé, or even on the hiring process in general, makes the application process an extremely passive experience for the applicant.

Do you have any suggestions for appropriate follow-up methods in lieu of this standard of “no contact?” Or am I just at the mercy of the system? — Tony

Dear Tony: When a company requests that you not send emails or place a phone call after submitting a résumé, you can always send a second copy of your résumé — along with a follow-up letter — via postal service.

To do this, create a second version of your cover letter that simply reiterates your interest in the opportunity. Use the letter to convey your related experiences, skills and qualifications and how they align with the organization’s needs. You will be one of the few candidates who sends a follow-up letter and résumé, so despite not being able to follow up via telephone or email, this will differentiate you from the pack.

Secondly, you might leverage the power of LinkedIn (if you have an active profile and network) to access a decision-maker within the company instead of the hiring manager. Sending a brief LinkedIn message to a decision-maker or influential networking contact could be a way to reiterate your interest in the opportunity and seek additional engagement — without calling or emailing.

While we are at the mercy of the “system,” as you put it, there are still ways to garner the attention you are seeking.

— 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 3rd, 2014 at 10:59 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Reshape your brand: Try combination format, modern design

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I am a registered nurse but have earned a master’s degree with a focus on health care administration (MBA-HA). I am seeking entry-level positions in this field. However, most of the job offers I receive focus on my skills at the bedside. How can I get my résumé to incorporate my past experience and skills along with the new knowledge and skills I acquired while pursing my graduate degree? — Glenda

Dear Glenda: I work with many clients who are seeking to leverage recent education and relevant experience to enter a new arena.

Instead of the reverse chronological résumé you currently have, try using more of a combination format. Your current résumé presents clinical experience at the top, so the reader only sees that side of your background.

To overcome this, open your résumé with a Qualifications Summary that presents your clinical background but puts your recent education in the spotlight. Talk about your MBA-HA degree and how that education positions you for a health care administration role. Also, explain how this degree complements your hands-on clinical background.

Leverage the power of both your education and your experience to ensure the reader comes away from that summary thinking, “She has more than 20 years of clinical experience in addition to her MBA-HA degree. Her clinical track record reflects her ability to contribute to our health care organization in an administrative role.”

Next — and key to the combination format — present a Highlights section. In this section, really explore the training you completed during your degree program. Refer to your course catalog and read your class descriptions to get a sense of how to use keywords to effectively summarize your areas of training. Even though these courses aren’t necessarily hands-on experiences, they are still incredibly valuable and need to be promoted as such.

You need five or six highlights; three or four of them need to focus on your health care administration studies, while the others should note highlights from your clinical career and the more administrative sides of your roles.

In the Professional Experience section, your content should be very focused.

Present each role with a brief paragraph overview of your responsibilities, but then take the time to explore accomplishments within each role. You have been in nursing for a while and your roles have been quite diverse, so I believe there are areas you can highlight to show diversity of experience, despite the similarities of your titles.

In the Education section, streamline the presentation a little so the reader can differentiate between your academic studies and your professional-development courses.

Currently, this section of your résumé implies that all these things are equal. Instead, you need to use strategic formatting to make sure the reader can see your degrees at a glance.

Speaking of formatting…. You really need to revamp the look and design of your résumé. Currently, it lacks appeal and reads more like a plain text résumé. Very little is formatted to attract the reader’s attention — there is no spacing between sections and there are far too many ragged lines of fragmented text.

Once you revamp the content and design of your résumé, you should experience increased reader engagement.

I am confident you will be successful based on the qualifications you possess; you just need to spend a little time reshaping your brand.

— 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

October 26th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Job seeker should use résumé to paint a competitive picture

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I am 43 years old and have 20 years of work experience in sales, management, customer service and business ownership. I recently returned to school and graduated with a degree in finance last year.

I am beginning my job search in the finance sector. Should I list my entire job history on my résumé, as I have done in the past? My résumé is in chronological form. What would be your suggestion? — Tracey

Dear Tracey: First of all, congratulations on your recent graduation.

To answer your question: No, you probably should not list your entire 20-year career on your résumé.

I imagine you will need to position your candidacy at a more “junior level” since as you don’t have finance experience in your background, so presenting 20 years of work experience would only make you seem overqualified and too expensive.

Instead, present your most recent experience, maybe seven to 10 years, and utilize your course work and any class projects to infuse your résumé with finance key words.

Depending on the abundance — or lack thereof — of relevant projects you have to present, you could even consider adding a section to your résumé that highlights your academic experiences.

Doing this would allow you to fully explore your newly gained knowledge of the finance industry. You can also add those ever-so-important key words to your résumé, and push less-related experience to the bottom of Page 1.

When presenting earlier, non-finance-related work experience, be sure to market the transferability of those positions so the experience qualifies — rather than disqualifies — you for your current career objective. Best of luck in your job search, and in your new career.

— 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

October 19th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Don’t hinder job search with out-of-date approach

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Dear Sam: I’m really struggling to see why my résumés aren’t effective. I’ve explained what I did at each job and highlighted accomplishments, and I still don’t get a response. I even developed multiple versions with different objectives noted. Help! — Rachel

Dear Rachel: Your résumés don’t contain qualifications summaries; instead, you use very valuable real estate at the top of Page 1 to present an objective statement. While defining your purpose or objective is important to the development of this section, instead of simply stating your objective, you should develop the section to “sell” yourself for the roles you are seeking.

When screening résumés, hiring managers are more interested in what you can do for the company than what you want. Since an objective statement typically focuses on what you want, it really serves no purpose. In addition, objective statements have not been commonly used on résumés for more than a decade, so including one immediately ages your candidacy.

Let’s look at your objective statement:

“Seeking a competitive position in an organization with room for growth where I can contribute support in an administrative-assistant capacity.”

What is that statement really saying? It’s obvious you are applying for an administrative-assistant position — after all, the hiring manager is reading your résumé. Everyone is seeking an opportunity with room for growth, so that really isn’t “news” to the reader. So, in that very important real estate on Page 1 of your résumé, you are literally not adding any value whatsoever.

Instead of this statement, develop a qualifications summary based on a primary objective, presenting a brief summary of your key qualifiers related to your current career target. Engage the reader or screener by infusing appropriate keywords throughout this summary and the remainder of your résumé.

Most candidates struggle with their qualifications summaries.

Tip: Start writing your résumé from the bottom up, beginning with the easier sections and leading to the summary. Writing the summary last can be easier because you will have a clear picture of what you have to offer your target audience. Writing this section immediately after creating your résumé also helps, as your background, qualifications, education, etc. are very fresh in your mind.

Consider using a qualifications summary like this:

“Customer-centered administrative professional with experience juggling multiple accountabilities spanning office management, executive assistance, human resources, accounting and customer service. Extremely detail-oriented, perform additional responsibilities based on a reputation for ability to multitask, prioritize assignments and follow through on all projects. Comfortable in fast-paced, deadline-focused environments where team-based collaboration and communication are critical. Problem-solver who seeks creative solutions to avoid escalations and optimize client satisfaction.”

Do you see how this adds value to your candidacy and actually shows what you can bring to the table? This strategy will also ensure that your résumé does not reflect old-fashioned standards.

If you are still struggling with this section, check out books from the library, review the samples on my website, or ask a peer to help you identify your key offerings and value.

— 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

October 12th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

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