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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

Dear Sam: Address basic résumé problems, increase chances of success

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Dear Sam: I need help with my résumé, and I don’t know where to start. To me, on a scale of 1-10, my résumé is a 5. I know I have the experience needed for most front-desk jobs, but I just do not know how to get my résumé to catch an employer’s attention. I would really appreciate any and all the advice you can give me. — Kenisha

Dear Kenisha: I am so glad you sent me your résumé. In its current format, I know hiring managers will not be able to see your ability to perform the duties that you know you can do.

In terms of a score, I would rate it as only a 2, I’m afraid, Kenisha, and I only tell you this so you can see the level of improvement available and how your results could dramatically change if you take advantage of those opportunities — and that your résumé has much room for improvement.

Here are the top problems I see:

• Your lack of focus does not allow others to see who you are.

You must create a target and a theme from the top to the bottom of your résumé.

Opening with an objective statement only tells an employer what you want, not what you can do for the company. Change the focus, and use the top of your résumé to highlight your related front-desk skill set. I suggest focusing on your administrative and customer-service strengths.

• Your education section is in the wrong place.

You are not a recent graduate; therefore, your education should be the last thing presented on your résumé.

In your case, it may be best to omit the education section altogether. The section is actually telling an employer not that you have a high-school diploma (which is what I imagine your goal to be), but rather that you do not have a college degree.

• The formatting is outdated, and it does not support your claims.

As a front-desk professional, employers expect you to have a certain level of technology savviness. Be sure your résumé’s formatting does not counter this claim.

• The content underestimates your professional value.

Explore your professional experiences fully — two-word bullet points do not carry value. In addition, writing about your experience provides you with the opportunity to highlight your written communication skills.

I know you can have a great résumé, Kenisha, and I hope these tips help you better present yourself to potential employers. The sky is the limit!

— 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 8th, 2014 at 9:49 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Dig deeper to differentiate your candidacy

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I read your column and find myself in the same boat as the girl who wrote to you about trying to find a receptionist position. I have had two interviews for one particular position but have not heard back from the employer. Would you look over my résumé and give any suggestions on where I could find a better template? — Ashleigh

Dear Ashleigh: I urge you to not only completely revamp your résumé — it is outdated, especially for a young candidate — but also to truly determine what value you offer, how you are different and what is unique about your candidacy. Understanding these areas will not only help you create a stronger résumé, but it will also help you craft your message during interviews.

Your résumé is underdeveloped. I am shocked that this résumé yielded an interview at all, as you use only 36 words to describe three professional experiences.

Start with positioning yourself in a qualifications summary. What do you want to do? You are pursuing a business-management and human-resources degree, so are you looking for something related? The skills you identify as key qualifications are good, but you need to validate those skills with evidence throughout the content of your résumé.

Also, your work-experience section is lacking. You cannot expect a hiring manager to glean value from a list of one- to four-word bullet points. This brevity does not allow any exploration of the transferability of the functions you have performed. Think about what you have done and how it relates to where you want to go. What goals did you have? Did you exceed them? How did you perform above and beyond expectations? Dig deeper to differentiate your candidacy.

As far as a “template” goes, that is part of the problem. You have selected an archaic template to present your candidacy. Instead, leverage the administrative skill set you are promoting to create something unique. Check out books or websites like mine for inspiration, but never use a template, or you will end up looking like many other candidates out there. I know you can come across as a strong candidate. You just need to do some due diligence to make it happen.

— 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

June 29th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Job seeker should plan for, avoid potential disqualifiers

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Dear Sam: I read your article titled “Is it my age?” and it really hit home. I know you are probably bombarded with emails requesting assistance and suggestions with respect to résumés, but I thought I would give it a try.

I will be 65 years old in September, have worked all of my life and am still in good health. Most people find it hard to believe I will be 65 soon.

I was told you should include only the last 10 years of your career on a résumé, but if I do that, it will appear that I did nothing before 2008 because the majority of my work career (i.e., 36 years) was spent at one company.

I did tone down my résumé (1972-2008) to focus on administrative support, since that is the type of employment I am seeking. I am attaching my résumé, and I would appreciate your thoughts and comments. —Sandra

Dear Sandra: I try to respond to every single Dear Sam email. Only a handful make it into the newspaper, but my team and I really do respond to every one possible.

I am so glad you asked this question, which is one of the most common questions I am asked: “How do I convey my “value” when trimming my career to avoid overqualifying myself or unnecessarily aging my candidacy?” It seems like a catch-22, doesn’t it? If you trim your experience, you sort of look like everyone else — but if you don’t, you fear being screened out due to unfortunate assumptions or discrimination.

There is a way to strike a balance between your desire to present your qualifications and experience and an employer’s desire to find a qualified candidate.

First of all, your résumé is not doing you any favors. I fear you have been misguided into developing such a brief résumé that it lacks the ability to communicate the value you have contributed to past employers.

Not only do you not open with a qualifications summary — you instead open with an objective statement which immediately dates your candidacy and approach — but your first statement, in a summary of skills section, is a killer: “40-plus years of administrative-assistant experience.”

Never will you see a job posting that calls for 40-plus years of experience. By focusing on this, you are immediately positioning yourself as overqualified, in your 60s and potentially too expensive. You do have to “right-size” your candidacy by presenting 10 to 15 years of professional work history.  Even if you had taken that approach, however, that first statement would completely undo your strategy.

Instead of stating your years of experience, why not communicate the value you have offered past employers? Talk about things like the size of the teams you have supported, the efficiencies you have created and the myriad of functions you are able to manage without supervisor oversight. In essence, give the hiring manager a reason to bring you in for an interview — other than the number of years of experience you possess.

Next, in the professional-experience section, drop the months of employment and only use years. Provide years of each position after the titles so you can trim your 36 years with your earliest employer. By doing this, you can present your last two roles back to 2008 and then include about the last 10 years with your first employer.

By dating titles and not employers, you say, “I worked in this position from 2004 to 2008” instead of, “I worked with this company from 1972 to 2008.” Do you see the difference?

At the end of your professional-experience section, you can then simply add a note that says, “Additional experience with ABC Company performing administrative, customer service and operations support functions.” By doing this, you tell a potential employer that you do have additional experience with that employer; by not dating that early experience, you avoid aging your candidacy.

You could really have a phenomenal résumé; you just need to be a little more strategic in communicating your value and avoiding potential disqualifiers.

— 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

June 22nd, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Résumé style, content date his candidacy

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I am 57 years old, and I can’t seem to get my résumé noticed. I need help! I have been applying for countless jobs and can’t seem to get any interviews. My wife thinks it’s my résumé; I think it’s my age. Regardless, I am getting no callbacks, interviews or even thank-you letters. — Rob

Dear Rob: Thank you for sending your résumé so I could diagnose the issues.

Your wife is correct: It is your résumé that is disqualifying you from potential opportunities. You have only presented 24 years of professional work history, so readers can’t calculate your age from how much experience you have presented — but based on the way you have written your résumé, you have aged your candidacy.

First, I am assuming you are seeking a role in construction management, based on what I read in your qualifications summary. Based on this, I would expect to know: (1) what types and sizes (dollar value, square feet, etc.) of projects you have worked on; (2) what makes you marketable and the most qualified candidate; and (3) how your experience has positioned you as a subject-matter expert in your field. Explore your key qualifications in greater detail to help differentiate your candidacy in a very competitive market.

Second, you are presenting a 24-year history as a business owner. For many employers, hiring an entrepreneur can be a little more risky: What is to say you would not decide you want to be the boss and run your own show again? You have to dig deep and explore the value your business-leadership experience provides when transitioning into an employee role. Deliver a balance of the core elements of your role, along with key project highlights, to make sure your background comes across as unique and value-added.

Lastly, omit your education section. You are not really communicating that you have a high-school diploma, but rather you are highlighting that you do not have a college degree.

I know you can have a much more strategic résumé that positions you as uniquely qualified and does not unnecessarily age your candidacy.

— 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

June 15th, 2014 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

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