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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

Dear Sam: Mitigate your risks proactively

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I am over 60 years old, college-educated, but unable to find employment.

Three years ago I lost my job for a reason that is currently in dispute, as I sued my former employer on being terminated. Sometimes I get an interview, and all seems to go well, but then I hear nothing. I realize that lawsuit data is readily available online, so I am concerned that potential employers are finding this information and that it is causing an adverse reaction.

I am the victim in the lawsuit, but I feel like this may be keeping people from hiring me. How should I address this issue? What can people do when they want to stand up for their rights but not hurt themselves for future jobs? — Anonymous

Dear Anonymous: I assume that until the event that led to your termination, you contributed strong performance in your previous job. If this is the case, I would gather all the evidence you can relating to your performance, whether in the form of past performance reviews, letters of recommendation or more informal recommendations from peers via LinkedIn.

While there is little you can do to prove or prevent discrimination based on the results of formal or informal background checks, I arm clients in similar situations with the power to proactively mitigate their risks.

If you obtain an interview and believe a background check will be completed, I suggest that you provide the interviewer with an explanation of the situation, being sure to stay positive throughout your description. Share what you have learned from this experience and what you are looking for in your next employer — and provide ample professional and character references. Most employers understand that there are often situations beyond your control, and not all employers discriminate based on that information alone.

Also, make sure your résumé and interviewing skills are not hindering the process. I wish you success as you navigate this challenge.

— 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

February 15th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Correcting deficiencies in résumé will boost interviews and job offers

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: With the threat of my current employer downsizing at any moment, I have been exploring other employment options. I started searching in June and have had interviews but am not receiving any job offers. What am I doing wrong? — C.

Dear C.: If you are getting interviews, you must be doing something right. I can see from your résumé that you are headed in the right direction, but there is room for improvement. You need to make sure potential employers are really seeing the value you offer.

Perhaps if you improve your image on paper, you will secure additional interviews — and your job-offer rate will improve.

There are three main concerns I have with your resume:

1. You begin with a self-serving objective statement.

You have only four to seven seconds to grab a reader’s attention. A statement like, “Highly motivated and dedicated individual seeking a challenging position that will allow me to further develop my existing skills and enable me to acquire new capabilities” does nothing to convey what you can offer the

Instead, open your résumé with a strong summary of the unique experience you offer.

What about your candidacy is different from that of your competitors? How are you going to differentiate yourself once you get to an interview? Think about these questions, and formulate your responses into a solid qualifications summary to open your résumé.

2. It is imperative to fully develop the statements on your résumé.

Currently, you have lists of fragmented bullet points, none of them more than a few words long. Create a summary of each of your roles, present them in a paragraph format and remove statements that add little to no value to your candidacy. Statements like, “documented imaging” and “provided customer service” are too vague to help your case. Every sentence on your résumé should add value.

Expand on your statements — think of the challenges you faced, the actions you took and the results you achieved. Instead of simply stating that you provided customer service, say something like, “Delivered exceptional, brand-centric customer service and support to both internal and external customers, demonstrating strengths in meeting customers’ needs in a fast-paced and high-volume environment.”

If you only communicate the basics of your roles, you will be left in the shadows while your competitors — who may not be as qualified — shine, based on their ability to present the value of their functions.

3. You need to identify ways you contributed above and beyond your job descriptions.

Your résumé includes no information about how you delivered value beyond expectations. You may be granted interviews based on your clear ability to do the job, but I fear you are not being offered the job because others are better able to demonstrate that they can offer value beyond the basics.

Think about those challenge-action-result statements, and identify ways you really did do more than expected. Did you improve a process? Did you increase organizational efficiencies? Did you reduce claims-handling timelines? Did you bolster quality? You must convey how you can add value beyond expectations in order to shine in a competitive climate.

I believe that if you address the deficiencies on your résumé, you will hit the market with a stronger presentation of your candidacy and secure that all-important next career position.

— 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

February 8th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Handle employment application with care

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I have had four job-interview requests within the past six weeks.

While this is encouraging, the application process may be disqualifying me as a candidate: The application reveals my age by asking for my birth date. I handle the age issue by reminding the interviewer that I do not intend to retire for many years.

But, when the application asks for my past employment history, I am listing salaries that are higher than the pay level for the jobs I am interviewing for. I feel that this is a disqualifier, but I do not want to lie. Should I leave my salary history blank? — L.J.

Dear L.J: Salary questions are so touchy. The school of thought is that whoever brings up salary first loses. If you do not have to include salary history, I would definitely avoid providing that information.

Unfortunately, many applications require previous salary information. If completing an application online, sometimes the application will not proceed to the next question without certain information being provided. In this case, if there is a space for comments (or if you have direct access to the employer via an introductory email or an in-person interview), make it clear that, while your salary history reflects a certain pay level, you are not seeking compensation in that range for this role. Being honest and forthright can only help your chances in this case. Another strategy is to not to provide detailed information about every job you have held since the infancy of your career.

Be sure to read the application carefully. If it requires you to enter every job ever held you must do so — but perhaps the application only requires that you cover the last 10 years, or maybe your last five jobs. Sometimes I find that candidates think they to have to present “everything” on an application when the language actually doesn’t demand such detail.

— 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

February 2nd, 2015 at 8:15 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Résumé should show value previous career brings to new goals

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Sally, a licensed social worker who recently lost her job due to downsizing, sought to return to a direct-care environment. After spending five years working with patients over the phone, she was eager to return to her roots in direct care. Sally wanted to focus her search on county and state positions, specifically working with seniors through the Agency on Aging.


Sally had a résumé, but it was designed and written in an out-of-date and ineffective way. Not only did the content solely focus on her day-to-day responsibilities, but the format was also less than appealing. The résumé opened with an objective statement, followed by less than 200 words describing seven years of experience and ending with an education and volunteerism section.


Knowing that Sally wanted to return to her roots in direct care — specifically working with older clients — I gathered related, transferable facts about her background during our phone consultation.

A modest person, Sally said she never thought of her positions in terms of the value she contributed; instead, she “was just doing her job.” I explained to Sally, as I do with many clients, that her résumé needs to show any accomplishments that will differentiate her from other candidates. If we simply conveyed day-to-day functions and did not show the value she contributed, she would look equal to her competitors and not get the interviews she wanted.

Fortunately, Sally did have functions she performed that were helpful in differentiating her candidacy. Even though some of those functions were not traditional “accomplishments,” they were still very effective in positioning her ahead of the competition.

Vitally important in the success of Sally’s new résumé was creating a great format, presenting Sally as a social worker dedicated to the aging population — and overcoming the fact that her last position was not in a direct-care setting. Through a soft, feminine design, combined with strong content and a focus on the transferability of her last position, Sally’s new résumé emerged as an effective tool in current job search.


Sally was kind enough to email me to tell me of her job search success:

“I just wanted to thank you so much for the wonderful job you did creating my résumé. It helped me land the job I have been looking for. I start [next month] and will be a case manager for the Area Agency on Aging. I will be working in their program, which helps seniors age 60 and up who are on Medicaid stay independent in their own homes. Thank you so much for your help.”


The best results always come from a combination of a great résumé and a great candidate. Sally had the experience; she just wasn’t able to package it in a way that got her foot in the door.

I often find that my clients are stuck on the fact that their recent experience isn’t as related to their current goal as they would like. They lose sight of the fact that they are still qualified for what they want to do, and it often takes just a little objectivity to figure out how to market the transferability of recent less-related experiences.

— 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

January 27th, 2015 at 7:57 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: It’s not necessarily time for Plan B

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I have been applying for jobs on a daily basis, with no success. I think my background is marketable, so I am perplexed as to why I never get a call for an interview.

I offer more than 10 years of accounting experience, in addition to several years of experience as a controller, which included team leadership, operations management and IT oversight. Based on these experiences, I am applying for staff accountant, managing accountant and controller roles. To me, this does not seem like much of a stretch. Is the market just so saturated that I need to figure out a Plan B? — Adrian

Dear Adrian: It’s not time to throw in the towel. You are completely qualified for the roles for which you are applying.

The problem is that you are being underserved by your résumé. Because your résumé is not effectively marketing your candidacy, you really have no idea how the market will respond to a well-developed résumé that presents your candidacy in an optimal manner.

It’s time to optimize Plan A, not resort to Plan B.

You need to bring your résumé up to date with today’s best practices in personal branding. It looks like you are using an outdated résumé template, and it is just not working. Today’s value-based résumés serve as self-promotion tools that communicate not only the scope of your roles (this is all your existing résumé conveys) but also how you added value beyond expectations. This is really the key to presenting a value-based résumé and a value-added candidacy.

Consider the ways you excelled in your roles, how you went above and beyond your job descriptions, and what you consider to be your key contributions. These factors are the key to an effective résumé and a successful job search. I urge you to review examples of effective, practices-based résumés on my website or from other expert resources. Then re-engineer your résumé, and relaunch what I am sure will be a much more successful search.

— 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

January 18th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Use caution, be mature when posting on social-media sites

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: My daughter graduated from college, started her first job — and was recently fired after she made some disparaging remarks about her employer on her personal Facebook page. Needless to say, my daughter is embarrassed. She is also concerned about the impact this will have on her employment search. She obviously needs to make her Facebook page completely private — or delete it entirely, in my opinion. Beyond that, what should she do to curtail any additional fallout from her actions? — Catherine

Dear Catherine: What a shame — an opportunity vanished in the stroke of a few keys. This is not the first time I have heard of this happening. Many people have learned that what they do in their private lives can impact their professional lives.

First, everything on Facebook is the property of Facebook. Even if you have a “private” profile, your information may be viewed by people other than your friends.  In addition, if you are not careful about your privacy settings, friends may be able to share your posts, which could take the content completely out of your control.

If you are going to have a Facebook page, you must make it as private as possible, unless you are absolutely sure you will never post anything that could damage your personal or professional character.

I have even heard of companies asking employment candidates to log into their Facebook accounts during interviews. I’m not joking! The practice is common enough that it even has a name — “shoulder surfing.” Providing anyone with access to your Facebook account or giving another person your password is against Facebook policy. You should never allow an employer to see you log in to your account. If an account is private, it is exactly that — private. Candidates should feel confident in refusing such requests and either citing the Facebook user policy or explaining that they have a personal policy of not providing others with access to their social-media accounts.

When your daughter is asked why she left her previous employer, she will have to be honest. Being terminated — and the reasons for the termination — will be discovered during a background check, so she has nothing to gain by being dishonest. This is actually an opportunity for your daughter to show that she has learned a lesson and overcome an obstacle. Employers know employees face challenges in their jobs, and companies want resilient team members who are not easily derailed.

During her interviews, your daughter will want to tell the truth and immediately share what she learned from the experience. Explaining to a future employer the steps she has taken to ensure that this will never happen again — from making her Facebook page private to gaining the maturity to not share inappropriate thoughts on social media — will indicate both professional and personal growth.

It would be great if, as a result of this experience, your daughter becomes more interested in social-media security, its impact on brand equity and consumer behavior, and how a community of users interacts to share thoughts and prompt actions.

Depending on her career, this could show great insight into a topic of relevance and concern for most companies today. I am sure your daughter will get back on track quickly. One day, she will reflect back positively on a valuable lesson learned early.

— 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

January 11th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Explaining employment gap may not be necessary

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: In 2010 I left corporate America to take care of my two young children. I worked part time for a while, until the company went out of business in 2012. I then attended a certification course for about a year. I am worried about the employment gap on my résumé. Is it appropriate to address the gap and explain that I stayed home with my children? — Sally

Dear Sally: There is no need to address the reason for your gap in employment on either your résumé or your cover letter.

When hiring managers read your résumé, notice the gap and see that you are a woman, they will probably assume you took time off to stay home with a child.

I don’t think you need to address the gap at all.

Instead, you should focus on your previous experience, achievements and continued professional development. By concentrating on your work experience — versus the reason for your absence from the workforce — you focus the hiring manager’s attention on the areas that enhance or support your candidacy, leaving the gap in employment as a minimal factor in your evaluation.

Having said that, I will note that some candidates feel more secure if they explain the reason for a departure from the workforce. If you fall into this category, you can explain the reason for your gap in employment in your cover letter.

If you engaged in community involvement or volunteered in other ways, completed additional training or continued to develop your professional self in any way during this gap, be sure to mention what you did.

Hiring managers can connect the dots and are, in my experience, refreshingly understanding when life takes a person away from his or her profession.

While your gap in employment is something to be handled carefully in your résumé and cover letter, I do not think you need to be consumed with worry about it being a disqualifying factor.

Best of luck to you!

— 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

January 4th, 2015 at 4:00 am

Posted in Dear Sam

Dear Sam: Tips help job seekers create effective résumés

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Samantha Nolin#webDear Sam: I don’t know what to do. I’ve sent out more than 100 copies of my résumé for jobs I felt I was fully qualified for, and I’ve had very little interest. I’m an administrative assistant, and I know that the job market is tough right now. I’ve done a great job at every company I’ve worked for, and I have excellent references — I just don’t know how to say that on my résumé. Is there anything I can do to improve my results? — Julia in Cincinnati

Dear Julia: The most common complaint I hear from administrative assistants is that they do not have any accomplishments to highlight on their résumés. Most feel that they have played a supportive role their entire career. Because of this, they do not think they can attribute any achievements solely to their efforts.

However, I have yet to work with an administrative assistant who didn’t have achievements of some kind — such as increasing organizational effectiveness by revamping the filing system, performing his or her job despite limited articulation of responsibilities, or even helping others better perform their jobs by seeking out and taking on bigger tasks.

By showcasing where you have driven value for an organization, you will really position yourself ahead of the competition and stand out from the crowd.

I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight creative tactics you can use to make a better first impression in a couple of other career fields.

• For the teacher: One of the fields I enjoy writing most about is teaching. There are a number of ways you can make a résumé stand out as a teacher.

First, instead of opening your résumé with your full name, use your teaching name, such as “Miss Charlie.” This unique approach immediately positions you as a teacher and engages the reader.

Imagery is a useful tool for teaching résumés. Often this will be something as simple as alphabet blocks, but I have also created teaching résumés with images of children playing, writing on the blackboard, etc. These images grab the reader’s attention and make a case for the strength of the content in the résumé.

Lastly, if you have them available, I suggest adding written comments you have received from parents and students. You can even present these comments in a handwritten-style font to add a personal touch to your résumé. Such testimonials, particularly if they are from students, reinforce the claims presented in your résumé.

• For the multitalented job seeker: I work with a lot of clients who tell me they are open to many different opportunities and can do “pretty much anything.”

While this claim is wonderful for expanding the client’s prospects, it does make writing an effective résumé more difficult.

In this situation, I showcase the client’s background in the professional
experience section (which will essentially stay the same regardless of the job opportunity).

I then incorporate a list of competencies. Changing this list is an easy and quick way for the client to tailor a résumé to each job opportunity. I like to position this list down the left side of a résumé in its own column or at the end of the qualifications summary. Your competency list can include any type of experiences or skills that represent notable strengths. Develop a general set of these brief noun phases, then simply tailor them to each opportunity based on the keywords in the job description.

This is a very simple thing anyone can do to create the tailored feel that hiring managers are looking for.

— 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

January 2nd, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Dear Sam

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