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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 dearsam@arkansasonline.com. To find out more about Nolan, visit www.ladybug-design.com.

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 dearsam@arkansasonline.com. To find out more about Nolan, visit www.ladybug-design.com.

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 dearsam@arkansasonline.com. To find out more about Nolan, visit her website, www.ladybug-design.com.

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 dearsam@arkansasonline.com. To find out more about Nolan, visit www.ladybug-design.com.

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 dearsam@arkansasonline.com. To find out more about Nolan, visit www.ladybug-design.com.

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 dearsam@arkansasonline.com. To find out more about Nolan, visit www.ladybug-design.com.

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 dearsam@arkansasonline.com. To find out more about Nolan, visit www.ladybug-design.com.

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

October 12th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Hidden formatting characters can speak volumes

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I am not a whiz with Microsoft Word and do not know how to turn off all the little markings that reveal my spaces, tabs and other formatting.

Also, the document has wavy green lines under everything — in addition to the wavy red lines that show my spelling mistakes.

Can the person I am sending my résumé to also see these things, or are they hidden for the recipient? — Kramer

Dear Kramer: Sometimes, the way a résumé is set up in a Word document speaks volumes about the candidate’s technical skills — or lack thereof.

Unfortunately, if you save your Word file with those hidden characters visible and with both the grammar- and spell-checkers turned on, the reviewer will indeed open your file and see all of those items.

Even if you turn the nonprinting characters off — meaning you have clicked on the little paragraph symbol in your Word document’s toolbar to hide these characters — the reviewer can easily turn them on if he or she wants to see your formatting prowess. I would imagine most hiring managers have better things to do with their time than analyze the way a document is formatted, but if you are applying for administrative roles, you should be very careful to ensure that your document is perfect, both with and without those characters visible.

For instance, using spaces to try to align dates on the right side of the page (instead of a right-aligned tab) will make you look like a novice user of Word. While you mentioned that this is indeed the case, you should still do your best to maximize your presentation. Be sure to brush up on your Word skills before a job interview.

Those little red and green wavy lines reveal your spelling and grammar errors. Any résumé will have green wavy lines beneath sentence fragments, which is perfectly fine. Just be sure to turn off the grammar checks and spell checks once you are 100 percent certain your document is perfect.

Of course, you can save your Word document as a PDF file and send that to hiring managers instead, which will bypass all of your concerns. However, when a Word document is requested, be sure your hidden characters are not overruling your administrative claims.

— 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 dearsam@arkansasonline.com. To find out more about Nolan, visit www.ladybug-design.com.

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

October 5th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Creating generalized résumé to ‘keep options open’ may backfire

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I am trying to develop a résumé that positions me for accounting — and possibly auditing — roles. However, if I see a position I want to apply for in another field (I was a nurse earlier in my career and am interested in exploring that again), I do not want to limit my options. How can I develop a résumé that keeps my options open? —Annie

Dear Annie: I hear this question all the time. Candidates are so afraid to close doors that they create résumés with no targeted content, and the result is a very diluted approach.

While keeping your options open on a résumé may seem like an effective strategy, it is actually quite the opposite. I understand the need to not limit options in today’s job market, but a one-size-fits-all strategy is rarely effective. Instead, you should identify a primary target, even if this means you have a secondary target that requires a modified résumé. If you present yourself as a jack of all trades, you suddenly become master of none — clearly not a good presentation of your candidacy.

Defining your purpose is the critical first step in crafting an effective résumé, a step that facilitates your understanding of what your target audience is looking for and what keywords to incorporate into your résumé. While you may think broadening the scope of your résumé will yield more responses, it will likely do the opposite.

Let’s take a look at your specific situation. When presenting your candidacy for an accounting or auditing role, your résumé should reflect your recent, relevant experience in those fields. Your language should incorporate accounting and auditing keywords, such as reconciliation, reporting, payables, receivables, general ledger, journal entries, compliance, etc., and you should use a traditional reverse chronological format. You may even omit your nursing experience, since it occurred more than 15 years ago and does not really enhance your candidacy.

This résumé will not be appropriate when applying for nursing positions; the keywords will not resonate at all. When applying for nursing roles you will need to turn your candidacy upside down: Use a combination format résumé so you can highlight your earlier professional experience as a nurse. Your qualifications summary will contain completely different content, and your core skills be quite different from those on your accounting résumé.

You should think seriously about your candidacy in the nursing field and consider whether you will truly be the most qualified candidate for a specific role. Just because you think you can perform a job does not mean the hiring manager will view your candidacy as strong enough to compete against applicants with recent, relevant experience. This can be a tough pill to swallow, but defining what roles you are highly qualified for is an important step in conducting an effective, rewarding job search.

If you want to pursue both career options, you need to develop two different résumés. Preparing a résumé to “keep your options open” will yield very little — if any — response and will significantly dilute the effectiveness of your job search.

If you only need one job, develop the most targeted résumé possible to increase your chances of getting a response from a prospective employer.

— 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 dearsam@arkansasonline.com. To find out more about Nolan, visit www.ladybug-design.com.

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

September 28th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Don’t follow outdated standards to create a résumé

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Dear Sam: There’s so much, often conflicting, advice out there about how to create a top-notch résumé. Can you give me some key recommendations? — Jamison

Dear Jamison: There is far too much résumé advice floating around out there, much of which is dated and goes against today’s best practices. I spend a good portion of time educating clients about up-to-date résumé strategies and dispelling old advice that’s still being pushed as steadfast résumé “rules.” The following is some of the best, up-to-date advice for developing your résumé.

AESTHETICS AND FORMATTING

Lack of visual appeal is one of the major downfalls for many résumés. Many résumés are created using very common templates and are inconsistent in the use of fonts and spacing.

While content is very important in creating a résumé that will grab the attention of a hiring manager, the aesthetics of that document can either compel or repel someone’s interest. You must engage the reader through the use of a professional, visually appealing layout.

HEADING

While many believe this element is self-explanatory, I often see major mistakes in the heading. Your résumé heading should include your name, address, cell number and email address. You may also list your home phone, but only do so if you are the primary person answering the phone; you don’t want someone besides yourself to create a first impression.

Never list your work phone number unless absolutely necessary — and never list your employer’s 800 number; this implies that you do not value your current employer’s resources.

Also, be sure to check the greetings on your voicemails for all phone numbers listed. Make sure those greetings establish the first impression you are seeking.

Finally, take a moment to look at your email address and make sure it reinforces the professional tone of your résumé. I see many email addresses that contain birth years, ages and other personal information that should not be presented on a résumé.

QUALIFICATIONS SUMMARY

It concerns me that a large percentage of résumés waste space on a vague “objective” rather than a qualifications summary. Instead of simply stating your objective, this section — along with everything else on your résumé — should be developed to show how your skills and experience best qualify you for the type of position you are seeking.

Develop your qualifications section based on a primary objective, presenting a brief summary of key qualifiers related to your objective. To help engage the reader, make sure you understand the keywords for the positions that interest you, and infuse this section (and the rest of your résumé) with those keywords.

This high-level summary of your candidacy is the most difficult section of a résumé to write. As a tip, start writing your résumé from the bottom up, beginning with the easier sections and ending with the summary. I suggest writing the summary last so you will have a clear picture of what you have to offer your target audience.

Typically, when writing a résumé, I discover several key points in a client’s background that stand out as being the most important or impressive, and this guides my development of the qualifications summary. If you are still struggling with this section, check out books from the library, look at the samples on my website or ask a friend to help you identify your key offerings and value.

Read next week’s column for more tips on creating a great résumé.

— 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 dearsam@arkansasonline.com. To find out more about Nolan, visit www.ladybug-design.com.

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

September 14th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

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