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Dear Sam: Artist should minimize potential disqualifier

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I am a self-taught artist. I am very passionate about art and design and continue to learn every day, but I feel that the lack of any college studies and a degree is preventing me from getting a good design job. I know as much, if not more, than a college graduate about art and design but don’t know how to communicate that. How can I do this, and what do I put in the education section of my résumé? — Sam G.

Dear Sam: I can feel the frustration in your letter. While there is little you can do when a degree is a staunch requirement for a position, there is a lot you can do on your résumé to ensure that you are a candidate that stands out, regardless of your academic background.

First, I hope your résumé looks fantastic, meaning you designed something unique and eye-catching to really showcase your design talents. Your résumé should be a representation of who you are as a designer and artist, showcasing some of your work. Team this with great content to really minimize the impact of the potential disqualifier of not having a formal education.

After taking a peek at your websites, I can see you are very talented in many forms of design; maybe this could be your key selling point. If you develop a résumé that presents your vast design talents (print and web, illustration and computer graphics, etc.), highlights your notable professional and freelance engagements, and also presents a little of your personality, your experience is sure to jump off the page.

Be a tad conservative in the overall design of your résumé, just to ensure that you don’t offend anyone who doesn’t share a right-brained style of thinking — but definitely showcase your talents through an amazing aesthetic, and possibly a snapshot portfolio.

Regarding your question of what to include in the education section, change the name of this section to “Strengths & Style,” and use the space to note all of the programs and techniques you have taught yourself over the years. Don’t say anything about not having a degree; it is entirely likely that the reader may not even realize a degree is missing when presented with a great-looking, well-written résumé.

By following this strategy, you will only present reasons to bring you in for an interview, not reasons to disqualify you from going further in the process.

— 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

May 3rd, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Makeover series — First impressions fueled by visual aesthetic

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Katie came to me seeking to present her human-resources credentials on paper in an organized and sensible fashion and, at the same time, downplay her administratively focused career prior to 2007.

Katie’s existing résumé was three pages long and extremely crowded with bullet point after bullet point of information — none of which jumped off the page as anything to engage the reader. In fact, Katie’s original résumé had 51 bullet points with no spacing in between, no complete sentences, little prioritization of content based on importance or relevance, and a lack of visual appeal.


We built Katie’s new résumé using an aesthetically pleasing design and a serif font because it is easy to read. Strategic prioritization of content ensures that only Katie’s recent HR experience would land on Page 1 of her résumé.

To do this, I opened the résumé with a qualifications summary, which not only included an overview of the highlights of her candidacy, but also validated some of her claims through excerpts from performance reviews. I also presented a brief list of Katie’s core skills to quickly demonstrate the breadth of experience she possesses — and some of the skills that other HR managers may not be able to claim.

We organized the Professional Highlights section into three main parts, one for each of her past employers. First, I presented an overview of the impact Katie had in each role. This one-sentence statement provides a quick snapshot of the scope of Katie’s accomplishments in each role, as well as the results of her actions. Placed in italics and bordered with a top and bottom line, this introduction frames the information to come.

Next, I presented a brief overview of each of Katie’s roles. Similar, yet much more succinct than a job description, these overviews summarize the positions Katie held and provide context for her accomplishments to come.

Then, within each section of Katie’s experience, I used bullet points to list her professional accomplishments. The most important piece of the professional-experience section, I bolded the results of Katie’s actions and validated her claims by exploring some of the challenges she faced and the actions she took.

Katie’s new résumé, while still three pages in length, is easier to read, prioritizes information for the reviewer and positions Katie as an expert in her field rather than as someone who recently transitioned into the HR industry.

I work with quite a few clients in the human-resources field. Contrary to what some would assume, since HR managers work with résumés on a daily basis, my HR clients often tell me they are embarrassed that they can review and critique applicants’ résumés all day long yet find it nearly impossible to articulate their own backgrounds on paper.

Not surprisingly, it is difficult for most candidates to identify and present their accomplishments in a self-promoting manner. With the competitive nature of the human-resources industry right now, many HR clients cite the need to differentiate their candidacy on paper as their main reason for seeking professional résumé assistance.


Katie was kind enough to let me know what she thought of her new job-search tool:

“My résumé is visually impressive and strong and is a good reflection of who I am as an employee. It is so much more targeted and powerful than my original résumé. I am confident that my new résumé will unlock the door for the right opportunity.”

Armed now with a strategic tool that offers streamlined, prioritized content presented in an aesthetically pleasing manner, Katie is sure to stand out in the sea of qualified HR applicants.

Before and after versions of Katie’s résumé appear below.

— 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

Microsoft Word - (c) ladybug design, inc - human resources sampl

Microsoft Word - (c) ladybug design, inc - human resources sampl

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

April 26th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Functional or chronological format?

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: Due to downsizing, I have recently found myself back in the market searching for a job.

I have not had issues getting my résumé noticed in the past, but now it doesn’t seem to be getting any attention. I have more than seven years of experience in outside sales and have my résumé organized in chronological order.

Do you think I would get noticed by choice employers more quickly if I used a functional resume format as opposed to a chronological format? — Lauren

Dear Lauren: Probably not. In fact, functional résumés are rarely as effective as chronological ones, because functional résumés leave the reader wondering what you did when and where.

Functional résumé formats should be resorted to only in situations in which you have little chance of getting past the screening process if you use the traditional — and much more widely accepted — reverse chronological format. Such situations could include frequent job hops, limited related experience or large employment gaps.

You can certainly pull out some career highlights and organize them by functional area, creating a combination (or hybrid) format, but be sure to note where each experience or achievement occurred.

Your qualifications summary should serve as the overview of your related and/or transferable skills and experiences; in that summary, you can pull out key words that will focus attention on the areas you would likely highlight in a functional format.

Instead of resorting to the functional format, use great content, organization, formatting, achievements and a strong qualifications summary to grab the reader’s attention.

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

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

April 19th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Spring makeover: Presentation, prioritization and personality are key

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Having worked as an accountant throughout his career, Ken came to me hoping to find a fresh new way to present his candidacy in order to entertain opportunities for new professional challenges.

Because Ken was not sure how to “brand” his candidacy because of the repetitive nature of his professional roles, he sought expert guidance in exploring his background and identifying the unique experiences and qualifications he should leverage to differentiate his candidacy in a crowded market.


Ken’s original résumé came straight from the Microsoft Office template gallery. The document practically screamed “cookie cutter,” exhibiting zero personality. The three-page document was inordinately long, and the space on the pages was poorly utilized. In addition, the font he used was far too large, all of the content was in bullet points, and no key contributions were highlighted.

While Ken will present his candidacy to a fairly conservative financial-industry audience, there is no reason he shouldn’t present a little personality to engage readers.


Ken’s new résumé transformed his candidacy. No longer did the content and formatting create a dull picture.

Instead, his candidacy shone bright with an engaging design, clearly delineated key contributions for each role, and excerpts from performance reviews showcasing some of his key qualifications and characteristics.

Instead of the outdated, objective-style statement that had opened Ken’s old résumé, the new one starts out with a clearly stated qualifications summary presenting Ken’s key differentiating factors.

Beneath Ken’s name, using a clear hierarchy of information, appears a professional title, key areas of expertise, excerpts from a performance review that validates our claims, and five well-written and well-designed tag lines exploring Ken’s candidacy.

Following the qualifications summary is a professional highlights section, where more performance-review excerpts are presented to validate Ken’s performance.

In addition, brief overviews of Ken’s roles are presented in paragraph format, accompanied by strong bullet points conveying what he did in each role that added value to his performance.

Through my consultation with Ken and the questions we explored, I was able to glean a significant amount of additional information in regard to the professional challenges he faced through the years, the actions he took and the results he achieved. This allowed me to provide the narrative needed to pinpoint and present his key career contributions.

Ken’s original three-page résumé is now just shy of two pages, demonstrating much more efficient and effective use of space and formatting. This new résumé is easy and engaging to read, showcases a little personality while still presenting a traditional image to his conservative target audience, and differentiates his candidacy through exploration of the unique contributions he has made during his career.

See Ken’s before and after résumés below.

— 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

Microsoft Word - (c) ladybug design, inc. - accounting manager s

Microsoft Word - (c) ladybug design, inc. - accounting manager s

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

April 12th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Do employers care if you have a LinkedIn profile?

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: What impact does the absence of a LinkedIn profile have on employment? Is not having a profile considered a sign of covering up your employment history or a sign of a lack of knowledge? Or do employers even care? — Peggy

Dear Peggy: It really depends.

If you are in a professional position where networking and some level of technical aptitude are an expectation, the lack of a LinkedIn profile could definitely harm you. Not only is LinkedIn a professional networking site, but it is also a prominent tool used by recruiters and employers to source candidates, so the ramification of not having a profile extends far beyond your ability (or lack thereof) to “push” information to your target audience. On the “pull” side of a job search — where employers and recruiters actively search for you versus the other way around — if you do not have a LinkedIn profile, you not only won’t be putting your best virtual foot forward, but you will also have a smaller chance of being found during profile searches.

Having said that, I believe the absence of a LinkedIn profile is a better option than having a lackluster profile. If you are going to have a LinkedIn profile, be sure it is worth the reader’s time to review it. I’d say that for such a profile to be worth your time investment, you should virtualize the majority of your contacts, add targeted content from your résumé to engage searchers and connections, join groups and associations to reinforce your brand, seek recommendations to attach to all of your roles, and accept skill endorsements from your connections.

You’ll see that there is much more to LinkedIn than simply having (or not having) a profile. To make a LinkedIn profile effective, you must put some time and effort into it — but I promise, if you do so, it will be well worth your investment.

— 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

April 5th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Spring makeover — Communicate undeniable value

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Samantha Nolin#webJeremy, a recent graduate of a master’s program in biomedical engineering, asked me to reposition his candidacy to maximize opportunities within a competitive space. As a young candidate, he was not sure how to leverage his extensive experience, education, publications, honors and awards to make himself stand out among his peers.


Jeremy’s original résumé was outdated in format, structure and content and did nothing to differentiate his exceptional skill set.

By opening with an objective statement, Jeremy’s résumé was out of touch with what hiring managers want to see. Jeremy followed this statement with a list of credentials that did not make him more notable than his peers. Because Jeremy was unsure how to present the work he completed during his master’s program, he presented his most notable experience using less than 25 words.

Messy in format, lacking prioritization of content and missing the mark in terms of today’s best practices, Jeremy’s résumé needed a lot of improvement to create an interview-generating document.


Building Jeremy’s new résumé from the ground up, we used a fully developed qualifications summary to explore the value he could offer an employer. Within this section, we presented his unique experience, areas of strength and technical competencies. Through an interesting presentation, the reader should now feel compelled — versus repelled — to read not just the summary, but the entire résumé to learn more about Jeremy’s candidacy.

Next, we structured the professional-experience section to convey the significance of his graduate-degree experience and undergraduate internship.

Emphasizing Jeremy’s research and teaching-assistant roles during completion of his graduate program is vital in positioning his candidacy. In contrast to the original 25-word description, the new section now encompasses more than 350 words and will communicate significant value to his target audience.

Jeremy’s internship is fully explored, again, taking a handful of words and turning it into a section with undeniable value. On Page 2 of Jeremy’s résumé, we continued to explore his internship experience, education, affiliations and publications.

Even though Jeremy is a recent graduate, we moved the education section to Page 2, as it is not Jeremy’s key differentiating factor. With many other candidates graduating with the same or similar
degrees, Jeremy cannot exclusively hang his hat on education alone; his experience is the unique aspect of his background. Page 1 of Jeremy’s new résumé.


After receiving his new résumé, Jeremy emailed to say, “I would like to thank you for all that your company has done for me. Within one month, I was able to get a job with a very bright future. What’s more, your company gave me the tools to upkeep my résumé and design it in a more professional way. I really do not know where I would be if it was not for you and your company.”

— 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

Microsoft Word - (c) ladybug design, inc. biomedical engineer sa

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

March 29th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Pulling the pieces together

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: How do you develop a résumé when you have a limited professional background and a large gap in employment? I worked in the administrative field in the early 1990s, then started a family.

For nearly 15 years, I focused on raising my children. During this time, I ran the financial and marketing aspects of my husband’s small gardening business, and I also worked in several retail stores on a temporary basis during the holidays. Three years ago, I started my own small business alongside a part-time marketing position. Two years ago, I began a full-time degree program, which I have just completed. I have no idea how to put all of this together in a résumé. — Rebecca

Dear Rebecca: Congratulations on your graduation. I am sure this is both an exciting time — and one also filled with trepidation.

The key to presenting one’s candidacy on paper is to paint a competitive picture. Because you only gained five years of work experience prior to staying at home with your family, at this juncture in your career, you will likely be seen as a junior-level candidate, fitting into the three-to-five-years-of-experience bracket.

I advise you to focus your résumé on the past 15 years, when you managed the administrative functions of your husband’s business and your own business, in addition to holding the part-time marketing position.

You can also byline your early administrative experience. To do this, write your professional-experience section using your recent experience; then, at the end of that section, make a note (without dates) about your early professional experience. I suggest something like this: “Foundational experience in the administrative and office-management arena as an executive assistant with ABC Company.” Of course, write this statement with the facts of your background. After this note, you can even go on to list select aspects of your earliest role that support your current career targets.

Taking this approach allows you to include what might be relevant experience without including the context of when you gained it — avoiding aging your candidacy unnecessarily. When you do this — and focus on your most-recent experience and education — you will emerge as a competitive junior-level candidate on paper and should have no problem securing the interviews you want.

— 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

March 15th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Strategic approach paints a better picture of candidacy

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I was laid off in April from my role as a receptionist. This layoff came on the heels of me being laid off from an office-manager position I held for 29 years. My administrative, office-management and bookkeeping background is strong.

My unemployment benefits will be coming to an end in two weeks, and I’m scared. I have been submitting at least two résumés each week, with little success. Even when I do get an interview, I am not granted the job. I offer an old-school work ethic, take pride in everything I do and strive to be an exemplary employee. Is the problem my age? Please help me understand what I’m doing wrong. — Elayne

Dear Elayne: I am so sorry you are in this situation. By the time I was 28 years old, I had been laid off three times. I too felt scared and discouraged when I considered that perhaps my old-school work ethic was not going to yield loyalty on both sides of the table.

Thank you for sending your résumé so I can see what you are sending to prospective employers. I can tell you are a highly qualified administrative professional, but I believe there is significant room to repaint the picture of your 29-year tenure with your first employer.

With a 1981 date sticking out on Page 1 of your résumé, I do think some hiring managers are viewing you as overqualified — and perhaps too expensive. None of the positions you are applying for will require 30-plus years of work experience, so you need to be more strategic about how and what you present from that first 29-year role.

I imagine that your titles changed throughout the years, either through promotions or simply because of updated job descriptions. This is the key to trimming the amount of experience you need to present. Ideally, you should go back 10 to 15 years (likely no more than 20 years). Think about the chronology of your time with that employer and how you can create a different picture by presenting the years you held specific job titles instead of the entire time you worked for the company. This is often the key to painting a picture that shows you as qualified but not overqualified.

For example, if you were a secretary from 1981 to 1990, administrative assistant to the president from 1990 to 1995, office manager from 1995 to 2000 and accounting assistant until your departure in 2009, I would consider only including the last two or three roles you held.

Do you see how this allows you to trim your experience considerably while still gleaning adequate value from your tenure with the company? If you include your last two roles with the company, they will equal 19 years of experience, which should more than qualify you for your next engagement. Even the inclusion of the last three roles will still paint a picture that is stronger and more relevant than going back to 1981.

Also, the format of your résumé is dating you. When you reorganize the way your early career is presented, you can highlight key functions and contributions within each of your roles. Currently, a reader has to wade through more than a page of information before reaching two little bullet points with the heading “Accomplishments.”

Think about that. You are presenting 29 years of experience — and you end the entire section with two accomplishments summarized in only 24 words. What value does this convey? Does it truly show what you did over and above your roles? I am absolutely sure it does not.

Use up-to-date content development and formatting practices to make sure the structure and presentation of your résumé aren’t working against you. I am confident that when you paint a more strategic picture, your results will be much stronger.

— 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

March 8th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Take control of your references

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: Since becoming unemployed, I am finding it frustrating that my applications are often met with automated responses.

In addition, despite being encouraged to follow up on job interviews and leads, most of those automated responses reiterate that there will be no reply emails or calls. I find that most of the time, I have no idea where my résumé lands or whether it is even looked at by a human.

When I do get an interview, I am met with praise and accolades for my 20-plus years of solid work history, yet I do not get the job.

I am beginning to wonder if my previous employer is perhaps not providing the best recommendation. What are your thoughts? — Michele

Dear Michele: Do you have a reason to think that your last employer is not providing a good recommendation?

Most of the time, employers are heavily restricted in terms of what information they can provide during a reference check. We all know, however, that sometimes these rules aren’t always followed. If you are concerned, I encourage you to reach out to your past employer and ask if he or she has been contacted for any reference checks. During that call, try to find out how many times your most recent employer has been contacted, and perhaps ask what information is verified when a potential employer calls.

Additionally, reach out to past peers and managers. Ask them for letters of recommendation that you can take to an interview. Such letters of recommendation provide instant validation of the claims in your résumé and can provide much more information on which to judge your performance and character than a neutral reference check.

By doing these things, you will be taking your fate into your own hands and ensuring that your past employer will not hinder your chances for future employment.

— 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

March 1st, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Madison’s makeover — Creating a common theme in a diverse career

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Samantha Nolin#webMadison had an eclectic career, from working in the court system to working with a media organization and, most recently, a law firm. Her goal was to position herself as an expert in select fields rather than as a Jill-of-all-trades.

Madison had a résumé that was nicely organized into the following sections: Qualifications Summary, Endorsements, Professional Highlights, Community Service and Education. Within each section, she highlighted key aspects of her roles, with some bullet points focusing on her responsibilities and others on her more impressive achievements.

What was missing, however, was the sense of a common thread throughout her career, making her résumé and experience look a little choppy — she had held four positions in eight years, and her job titles had varied greatly.


Madison wanted to secure a higher-level role in operations or office management, where she could play a key role in the coordination of processes, events or activities.

In visiting with Madison, I learned she had a consistent track record of developing first-time processes, coordinating entire process life cycles and generally managing operations, including campaigns, events and projects. Using specific examples of her performance in these areas, spread through each of her four positions, I was able to create a theme for her résumé, eliminating the choppy appearance of her original résumé.

I changed Madison’s one-sentence qualifications summary into a brief paragraph with targeted content delivering a strategic message. I then created a subheading of Operations & Office Management, Event Planning & Community Relations to position Madison appropriately and differentiate her candidacy with the following:

“Recognized as eager to accept challenges, take ownership of projects and coordinate large-scale campaigns and initiatives to generate unprecedented results. Provide creative and administrative leadership in the design and deployment of first-time and redesigned campaigns, creating the brand identity, content and distribution strategies to maximize message penetration and market response. Cultivate strong working relationships with internal and external stakeholders, listening to and identifying needs and responding with helpful assistance. Known for executing functions with ethics and integrity, achieving high personal standards on all projects and tasks.”

Next, I presented select excerpts from Madison’s letters of recommendation and performance reviews, as these were important in providing the third-party validation of claims that all hiring managers look for. Madison’s professional experience was presented to highlight the value she contributed versus the movement
in her career, followed by the Experience & Key Contributions section.

Within each employment section, I presented Madison’s key actions and results, bordered and shaded with a subtle color to provide contrast and additional interest. In these sections, I summarized the most important takeaways from each section, allowing for prioritization of information during the screening/scanning process. I also added brief introductions of Madison’s job responsibilities, followed by more expounded-upon accomplishments, presented in easy-to-read bullet points.

Madison’s new résumé was a much stronger presentation of the value she had contributed throughout her career, helping to that ensure she would be viewed as a competitive candidate for the next step in her professional journey.

In addition, through a revitalized format, strategic prioritization of content and creating a common theme to connect her roles, Madison emerged as a candidate who had made deliberate career moves to refine her skill set and position herself for a management-level opportunity in one of her areas of expertise.

Check out Madison’s revamped résumé below.

— 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

Microsoft Word - (c) ladybug design, inc. - office management sa

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

February 22nd, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

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