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Dear Sam: Don’t follow outdated standards to create a résumé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

Dear Sam: Feel confident, build connections

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I constantly receive LinkedIn requests to “connect” with people in my network, even from people I hardly know. I am not into social media and do not want to put myself out there for everyone to see, but I have also heard that I have to be active on LinkedIn because I am conducting a job search. Can you tell me what I should (and perhaps should not) be worrying about? — Steve

Dear Steve: LinkedIn is an incredibly valuable networking forum. The site not only provides you with the opportunity to deepen existing network connections, but also to capitalize on the networks of others and broaden your reach.

How can this be helpful in a job search? If you search LinkedIn for network connections that could prove influential in your search, chances are that the larger your network, the higher the possibility you may have a person of influence — or even a decision maker— in your chosen field already within your reach. Here are some tips that may prove helpful as you leverage the power of LinkedIn during your job search.

• You can be somewhat stealthy on LinkedIn — you can remain anonymous when searching other profiles, you can turn off activity broadcasts so your network is not alerted when there is activity on your account, and you can even block select connections from seeing your profile at all.

• Accepting connection requests helps expand your network and broaden your reach. LinkedIn “connections” are not like Facebook “friends.” Do not think that accepting a connection request means you have a personal connection with the individual; in fact, you may not even really know him or her. Accepting a LinkedIn connection request means, “Thank you for access to your network. If my network can be of assistance to you, I am happy to reciprocate.”

• Seek recommendations and endorsements for your top skills. There are tools built into LinkedIn that let you easily request recommendations from those in your network. Having recommendations attached to your professional experience adds value beyond what your résumé can typically convey and provides instant third-party credibility to your claims. I will caution you, however, not to reciprocate those recommendations. You want to have far more “recommendations received” than “recommendations given”; otherwise, your recommendations look a little disingenuous.

I hope these tips make you feel more comfortable when using LinkedIn and when accepting those connection requests. LinkedIn provides free webinars for job seekers; I suggest you check those out.

— 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 7th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Should applicant disclose diagnosis or special needs?

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Dear Sam: Should you ever reveal a learning disability on your résumé or in an interview? I have a 37-year-old daughter trained as a state-tested nursing assistant.

She was recently released from her job — after six years and nearly perfect attendance — for actions that may be related to her language-based learning disability, diagnosis of high-functioning Asperger syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. These imposing-sounding conditions do not always present themselves in obvious behaviors and are more understandable if you know her conditions. She has not revealed these to her recent employer. Now, in looking for a new position, she wonders if and/or when they should be made known to a prospective employer.

Also, should we explain her situation to her most recent employer in hopes of obtaining a better understanding of the impact her disorders might have had on her job performance and recent release?

As a basically responsible, independent, homeowning adult, she wants to make it on her own — and in large part, she has done that. But there is concern that issues might compromise her future performance. As parents, we aren’t sure how to help. Through her entire life she has “fallen through the cracks” because her conditions are not serious or obvious enough for people to easily notice, and they are compensated for by her generous, gentle personality.

Now she is struggling to find a new position, a situation that plays to her weaknesses, and has to figure out how to deal with the inevitable questions about how/why she left her previous job. — Concerned Dad

Dear Concerned Dad: I am touched by your advocacy efforts for your daughter. I am also the parent of a child considered to have special needs — my son is currently navigating elementary school — and who may need accommodations when he enters the workforce.

I typically recommend not disclosing a diagnosis to a potential employer unless the candidate will require specific accommodations that would not be made for others. The general school of thought is that if an employer can detect your “disability,” it should be disclosed.

I performed additional research to ensure this was the right advice for you, based on your daughter’s diagnosis. From what I read, I would say this would still be the way to approach a potential employer. In 10-plus years and more than 7,000 résumés I have written, I have only disclosed a diagnosis a handful of times; most were related to vision or hearing impairments that would require accommodations and would be evident at an interview.

If your daughter feels she can approach her last employer and ask about the specific reason(s) for her release, and perhaps also what they will disclose to a potential employer calling for a reference check, I would recommend doing so. I would also encourage her to explain her conditions to that employer; this may impact any references they may provide for her. Perhaps, depending on the receptiveness and understanding of her past employer, she could even request a letter of recommendation based on the years of service she provided before the actions occurred that you believe resulted in her dismissal.

Your daughter will want to craft and practice her answer about the reason(s) she lost her past job; any discussion she has with her past employer will shape the way she constructs her answer. The key is to accept responsibility for her departure, communicate what she learned and show continuous improvement.

Based on experiences with my clients, along with research I performed, I would say that disclosing her diagnosis before receiving a job offer is not advisable. Instead, presenting her “differences” to an immediate supervisor, once hired, is the best way to ensure she will have the environment, support and understanding she may need in her next role.

— 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 2nd, 2014 at 10:01 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: If it doesn’t add value, don’t add it to your CV

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: As an adjunct professor, I have created a CV (curriculum vitae) and embedded links to my website so potential employers will be able to view my training certificates, teaching evaluations, diplomas, and lists of seminars and other presentations. I was wondering what your take is on that approach. — Ben

Dear Ben: My first question is, do the links add value to your candidacy? If the answer is yes, I think it is a perfectly appropriate approach that could add to reader engagement for select hiring managers.

Since you attached your CV and I was able to see what those links provided, however, I question whether adding these links adds value in your case.

The training certificates and diplomas are really unnecessary. The reader generally will not assume you are falsifying information, so listing training on your CV will suffice; there is no need for someone to look at the actual certificate.

The lists of seminars and presentations are also noted on your CV, so there is no additional value in taking the reader to a link to see the same list again.

As for the teaching evaluations, because they are difficult to read and only a handful of the comments are really constructive statements from college students, I would suggest pulling select excerpts and placing them on your CV instead of sending the reader to a link where he or she will have to comb through lots of comments to find only a few really strong ones.

Lastly — and perhaps most important — your website is very outdated.

When you ask the reader to jump from your résumé to another source, the information they are pushed toward needs to be impressive, add value and reinforce the professionalism of your candidacy.

I fear you developed your website in the late 1990s, when we were all learning rudimentary Web development and design. Because of this, your website will actually reflect poorly on your candidacy and how relevant your skills are.

Granted, you are not teaching Web design or programming, but you should always consider the impression every aspect of your candidacy will make, both online and in person.

I am confident you can create your best brand on your CV without the use of external links, and that would be my recommendation. Best to you.

— 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

August 24th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Solving résumé conundrums

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I have found out that an out-of-state veterinary hospital I worked for earlier in my career has closed. Should it still be listed on my résumé? – Janet

Dear Janet: Absolutely! Can you imagine the holes we would all have in our résumés if we did not list employers who had gone out of business?

Just because a past employer no longer exists does not mean you do not explore your role fully. A potential employer will not be able to check these references, but not to worry — this is not uncommon and will not be the deciding factor in evaluating your candidacy.

If you are still in contact with peers or supervisors from that past employer, you can list them as references instead of a traditional human-resource contact.

Dear Sam: Is there a “best” font to use for your résumé? I have always used Times New Roman in font 12, but I keep seeing résumés that use all sorts of fonts and sizes. Is my way still “current”? — Andrea

Dear Andrea: You are right; today’s résumés use all sorts of fonts and sizes. Times New Roman is still the most common font, but it is overused and does have an “older” look to it.

Other serif fonts that can be great options include Book Antiqua, Garamond and Cambria. If you want to create a modern and clean look, choose a sans serif font such as Tahoma or Calibri. All of these are great options.

Benchmark your font size off of Times New Roman font 11. There is no one perfect size — Book Antiqua works well at 9.5, while you may want Garamond at 11.

Don’t choose a font, however, that is not fairly common on all systems; otherwise, you may run into an ugly font-substitution issue on the recipient’s system.

— 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

August 17th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Résumé not getting the attention your candidacy deserves?

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Dear Sam: I am a registered nurse and work in a hospital emergency department. I have been employed with the same hospital for four years and am looking for a change. I have submitted résumés to various hospitals, but I am not having any success. I have attached my résumé, and would  appreciate your expert opinion. — Michelle

Dear Michelle: I definitely can provide insight into why your résumé is not getting the attention you believe your candidacy deserves. First, let me paint a picture of your résumé for readers.

The résumé opens with your contact information, which immediately transitions into a work-history section, where you present your past three positions (beginning in 2007), spilling onto Page 2. You describe these positions with a total of 87 words. Beneath each employer, you list five bullet points that range from one to six words. To illustrate this for readers, I am going to list one of the sections below:

TRIAGE

Care plan implementation per
24-hour observation unit patient care

• Direct patient care Adults/Pediatrics

• IV line placement l Medication administration

• EKG/Telemetry monitoring

Following this, you present your education (an associate degree) and certifications, closing your résumé with “References Upon Request.” Your résumé is a prime example of an underdeveloped presentation of your candidacy. Here are a few ways you can improve your presentation.

First, open your résumé with a summary section that highlights the key aspects of your candidacy. Why and how are you different from other qualified competitors? How is your experience unique? Why should you be contacted for an interview?

If you do not communicate these things to the reader, you will never make it through the screening process. With résumés reviewed for an average of four to seven seconds, the reader does not have time to evaluate how your experiences make you qualified.

Next, tackle your résumé’s lack of content. You can’t describe seven years of experience in only 87 words. Your very brief bullet points only communicate the expected parts of a nurse’s role. You must go further if you want to differentiate your candidacy.

Saying, “I can do the basic job functions” will not draw the notice of a hiring manager. To get the interview, your résumé must declare, “I can perform the role while adding value beyond expectations.” Prove this by providing evidence of your past contributions, ways you have gone above and beyond, ways you are different from your peers and opportunities you’ve had to contribute beyond the scope of a traditional clinical role.

Your education and certifications sections are fine. I would simply note that you do not need superfluous information, such as a complete address for an educational institution. The highlights in those sections are your actual degree and your credentials, so draw attention to those items with selective bold formatting.

Finally, don’t waste valuable résumé real estate by noting that references are available; in today’s age, that is assumed.

I know you can have a great résumé based on your experience; you just need to revamp your approach, rehabilitate your content and renew your formatting. 

See for an example of a well-organized nursing résumé.

— 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.

Microsoft Word - (c) ladybug-design, inc. - registered nurse sam

Written by Linda Garner-Bunch

August 11th, 2014 at 9:27 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Build your best résumé

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I am 62 years old and have worked since the age of 15. After 34 years in the insurance business, I transitioned into a new field and recently completed an associate degree in medical assisting.

Due to a fall at the end of 2012, I have been collecting workers’ compensation. Now, in addition to having a gap in employment, it seems one of my past employers is telling prospective employers that I am collecting workers’ compensation.

I am getting some interviews but am not getting a job. What do I list on my résumé for 2012 forward? What am I doing wrong? – Sharon

Dear Sharon: If you are getting interviews but not job offers, I would suggest taking a look at what is happening in the interview that could cause an employer choose another candidate instead of you.

Can you follow-up with any of your past interviewers and ask for feedback? Many managers are happy to review the application and interview process for a candidate with whom they have invested time.

As far as the gap on your résumé, since you went back to school to complete a two-year degree you have the perfect gap filler. Be sure your education leads your résumé (under the qualifications summary) and that you note the years spent pursuing your latest degree; this will fill the gap in employment.

Concerning the workers’ compensation, I think you should  tell prospective employers, during the interview, about your situation. Explain that you fell and could not return to work; during that time, you evaluated your career options and decided to return to school and pursue a new professional endeavor.

Finally, make sure your résumé does not include 47 years of experience. Your résumé should present a competitive, 10- to 15-year picture, along with your degree and a qualifications summary promoting the transferability of your past and the relevance of your recent education.

— 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

August 3rd, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Don’t let yourself be defined by unflattering job title

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: My current job title (accounting coordinator) is considered a junior accounting role. However, I perform much more than data entry. I am the sole accountant and perform every function in accounting, including preparing financial reports and performing variance analysis. I work for a very small company where each person manages his or her own department but has the title of “coordinator.”

When interviewing, the interviewer always seems to get stuck on my title, often questioning why I carry that title yet do much more. I try to explain, in a positive manner, that the manager has labeled all staff as coordinators, but it doesn’t seem to help them get past my job title.

I am trying to break into a larger company and advance my career. I am so much more than a junior accountant. I almost feel as if I played myself down by taking this position, if titles are really that important. Should I avoid using that title at all? — Sadly Stuck

Dear Sadly Stuck: I understand your dilemma, and believe it or not, it is not that uncommon for me to work with clients who possess titles that are not actually aligned with what they do every day. Not to worry; there are lots of ways we can paint the right picture through content development, formatting and positioning.

First, be sure everything in the qualifications summary of your résumé accurately shows the breadth of accounting functions you have performed, never mentioning the title you carried.

I suggest that you open your qualifications summary with a professional title such as “staff accountant” or “accounting manager,” depending on the level of position you are seeking.

In the professional-experience section, downplay your title by avoiding formatting that draws attention to it. Often, when a title does not reinforce a candidacy, I list noun phrases where the title would be expected; this immediately conveys the level of responsibility one has held. Follow this with a description of your role, noting your actual title somewhere within the first sentence. Let me give you an example:

Star Enterprise, Cleveland, Ohio

Accounting Management | Financial Reporting | Variance Analysis

Serve as sole accounting professional for a business with 20 employees, two
locations and $2 million in annual revenue, managing all accounting functions
under the title of junior accountant. Create and maintain solid internal controls.

Do you see how it works? The reader’s attention is first drawn to the functional areas in which you work. You can list more than three noun phrases; perhaps just extend from the left to the right side of your page — and bury your title in the opening sentence. Then, when the hiring manager screens your résumé he or she is not first hit with a title that might taint his or her vision.

I have seen this strategy work time and time again and am confident it will work well in your situation.

Also, be sure you are not getting stuck in a negative mindset. You don’t want to negate this strategy by inserting your job title somewhere else in your résumé or cover letter, or by trying to “explain away” the reason for the title.

— 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

July 27th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: How to write an effective cover letter

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I have heard no one reads a cover letter. Is that true? If so, do I need to take the time to write one? — Warren

Dear Warren: A cover letter is your opportunity to introduce yourself to a prospective employer, expand upon and personalize your résumé, provide the narrative your résumé does not often allow and highlight how your skills and experiences fulfill the employer’s needs.

A cover letter should be a key part to every application. While it is true that only half of hiring managers actually read cover letters, we are playing to that half of your audience that looks at the letter for additional information on the value of your candidacy. These readers read your cover letter to find out about what we call your “transitions, additions and losses.” Keep in mind that a cover letter not only expresses your interest in the company and/or position, but it also gives the employer the opportunity to observe your attentiveness to detail, spelling, grammar, and quality of your written communication.

When writing a cover letter there are many strategies you can employ in the development and organization of the content. Here are some guidelines:

Open the letter by noting your key qualifications and the position of interest. Use the first paragraph to capture the recipient’s attention and make him or her want to read more. To do this well, you have to clearly understand your key qualifications, the position of interest, and the intended audience.

Use the center section of your cover letter to explore your experiences, successes and skills that support your performance. I often use bullet points to focus the hiring manager’s attention on the most important pieces of information.

Tailor your cover letter to the position and/or company. If you have a clearly defined goal, you do not have to rewrite your entire cover letter for each employer, but be sure the skills highlighted are those most relevant to the opportunity of interest.

Keep it brief. As a rule, cover letters should be no more than one page.

Do all you can to acquire the name of the hiring manager and address your cover letter appropriately.

Use the same heading for your résumé and cover letter to present a clean, professional package.

— 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

July 21st, 2014 at 9:05 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Return-to-work résumé requires careful planning

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I’ve been a full-time mom for 16 years; before that, most of my early jobs were in the retail arena. In 2012 I earned my bachelor’s degree in general studies and completed continuing education toward a human resources certificate. The attached résumé was completed by the career services department at my university. Any suggestions? — Wendy

Dear Wendy: It can certainly be challenging to create a résumé based on experience from more than 15 years ago. The career services department got you started on the right track, but I do feel there are areas that need attention to create your best candidacy.

• Formatting not pleasing to the eyes

To me, the format is too aggressive — the large blocks of black shading with white text are distracting and create a very masculine résumé. I do not think the format reflects your professional candidacy or your personal character.

• Questionable headings

I am always careful when I name headings, making sure they are accurate and reflect the clients’ skills and experiences listed within the section. In your case, I feel someone stuck to a template a little too tightly.

At the top of your résumé, the summary (which is not really a proper qualifications summary but rather a list of areas to which you have been exposed in your career) is labeled “Areas of Expertise.” I know this is picky, but are you really an expert in all of those areas? If I am working with a seasoned professional, I may introduce select skills with that heading, but I think elevating some of your skills to this level could actually damage the chances of the reader seeing the “real” you.

Your professional-experience section is titled “Selected Accomplishments,” but nothing listed is an accomplishment. Be careful not to overstate your experience: You want to create a marketing document, but accuracy and honesty are important above all else.

• Content (or lack thereof)

I understand the need for a functional design and highlighting areas of experience versus places and times of employment. However, to properly evaluate your résumé, I would need to know your exact dates of employment before deciding whether or not omission of all dates is appropriate. Usually, complete omission of dates is a red flag for hiring managers.

Have you had any part-time roles while raising your children? Any volunteer work that could be included? Think of experiences, other than education, that could potentially be dated and reflect recent, relevant experience. Did you work on the PTA coordinating community fundraisers or support any other causes? Think about other things you can highlight that are not “pure” professional experiences.

In addition, you have only three sentences conveying the value of your professional experiences. I want to see that area developed more. Tell your audience how the work experience you gained 16 years ago is relevant to your current goals.

The bottom line: I feel you have a launching point from which to start with your résumé. However, there is significant room for improvement in presenting your most relevant qualifications so you can compete in the human resources arena. I wish you success.

— 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

July 13th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

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