Dear Sam
Samantha Nolan
More than two million weekly readers have asked hundreds of questions and absorbed hundreds of answers, putting the latest advice from 'Dear Sam' to work in their own job searches. With a straight-forward, caring, and honest approach, 'Dear Sam' responds to readers' questions regarding resume development, cover letter strategies, job search tactics, and interviewing protocol, and is regarded as a trusted and valuable resource for today's job seekers.

Candidate returns to her roots

October 19th, 2014

Candidate’s Background:

Sally, a licensed social worker who was recently downsized, sought to return to a direct care environment. After spending the past 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’s Original Résumé:

Sally had an existing résumé which was designed and written in an antiquated manner. Not only did the content solely focus on day-to-day responsibilities, but also the format was less than appealing. Sally opened her résumé with an objective statement, followed with fewer than 200 words describing seven years of experience, and ending with her education and volunteerism. In brief, her résumé was out of date and not effective.

Sally’s New Résumé:

Knowing that Sally wanted to return to her roots in direct care, and specifically target her job search to environments where she could work with an elder population, I gathered the related and transferable facts about her background during our phone consultation. As a modest person, Sally 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 of my clients, that a résumé has to speak to what you did that will differentiate you from other candidates. If we simply conveyed day-to-day functions and did not speak to the “value” she contributed, then 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, and even though some of them were not your 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 design of a soft and feminine résumé combined with strong content and a focus on the transferability of her last position, her résumé emerged as an effective tool in her search to secure a social work position in a direct care and eldercare environment.

Sally’s Results:

Sally was kind enough to email me to tell me of her job search success. She stated, “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. Anyway, thank you so much for your help.”

Keys to Sally’s Success:

The best results always come from a combination of a great résumé marketing a great candidate. Sally had the experience; she just wasn’t able to “package” it to get her foot in the door. Often I find my clients are so stuck on the fact their recent experience isn’t as related as they would like, they lose sight of the fact that they are still aptly 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. I’m thrilled Sally will enjoy her new position with her target employer.

Beware of the risks of self-publishing

October 12th, 2014

Dear Sam: My daughter graduated from college, started her first job and was recently fired from her role as she made some disparaging remarks about her employer on her Facebook page. Needless to say she is embarrassed and 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—but beyond that what should she do to curtail any additional fallout from her actions? — Catherine

Dear Catherine: What a shame, Catherine. An opportunity vanished in the stroke of a few keys. This is not the first time I have heard of this happening, however, so you should know that candidates are just really learning that what they do privately can effect them professionally. First, everything on Facebook is the property of Facebook. As such, you should know that even if you have a private profile, people other than your friends are viewing your information. Likewise, if you post information and are not careful about your privacy settings, you could have a friend share the post, 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 never going to post anything on there that could damage your personal or professional character.

Some companies are asking candidates to log into their Facebook accounts during interviews — I’m not joking. Providing anyone with access to your Facebook account, or giving anyone your password, is absolutely against Facebook policy. You should never allow an employer to see you log in to your account. If it is private, it is exactly that, private. Candidates should feel confident in refusing such a request and citing either the Facebook user policy or explaining that they themselves have a social media policy that defines never providing anyone with access to any of their social media accounts, nor would they ever defy a future employer’s social media policy.

As for your daughter, when she is asked why she left her past employer she will have to be honest. Being terminated and the reasons for such activity will be found out during a background check so she has nothing to gain by not being completely honest. In addition, this is a great opportunity for her to demonstrate how she learned a lesson, overcame an obstacle and moved on. Employers know that employees will face challenges in the normal course of their roles and they want resilient team members who are not easily derailed.

During her interviews, your daughter should tell the truth and immediately present what she learned from the experience. Explaining to a future employer the steps she has taken to ensure this will never happen again—making her Facebook page private and also maturing to the point that sharing a thought on a social media platform would not be her first reaction—will show professional and personal growth. It would be great if, due to this experience, she became 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 really show great insight into a topic of extreme relevance and concern for most companies today. I am sure she will get back on track quickly and one day reflect back positively on a very valuable lesson learned early.

Streamline efforts for stronger outcome

October 5th, 2014

Dear Sam: I am struggling with my résumé. I have looked at other résumés and used them to form my own; therefore, I have six versions using pieces from each. I have wasted a lot of time with this and still don’t have a “winning résumé.” What I am doing wrong? – Lea

Dear Lea: There are a number of ways you can increase the effectiveness of your résumé. First, remove your objective statement. Objective statements are self-serving; they do nothing but waste space on a résumé, and only serve to tell the hiring manager what the candidate wants, not what the candidate can do for the employer. There is no doubt that there will be a time and place for you to communicate your preferences, desires, and goals, but your résumé is not the time nor the place. With a saturated candidate market and an employer-friendly hiring climate, you must leverage the most valuable real estate on your résumé—the top of page one—to immediately communicate what value you can provide to a potential employer. Build this section promoting past successes and speaking the language of the job postings you are responding to. If this section is written well and targeting your candidacy effectively, the screening process will end after reading this section and your résumé will be in the “call for an interview” pile.

Next, I am confused as to what type of position you are seeking. Let me tell you what I think when reading your summary: “A versatile and skilled professional with 17 years of progressive leadership qualities and excellent hands-on experience in management, executive secretarial and administrative positions. “ My questions would be, “What type of job does she want – management, administrative, or support?” and “If she has 17 years of experience, is she going to want to take a support role when she is stating she is a leader?” This is far too broad an opening statement and immediately positions you as a jack-of-all trades and a master-of-none. That is not a position you need to put yourself in given your really impressive track record.

This opening statement does not define who you are and does little to tell the reader you are a perfect fit. Your summary goes on to include so many skills and experiences, that I’m left wondering if you know what you want to do. Perhaps this is really the problem: Do you know what you are targeting? I fear you have been put in a situation where you have not received the interest you wanted, so you have made changes to make your résumé appeal to more and more people. Unfortunately, making your résumé so broad actually does the opposite; it will make your candidacy appeal to fewer and fewer hiring mangers as the content is diluted and doesn’t speak the language of any one audience. To revamp this section, spend some time defining what positions you really want, then craft a summary that markets you well for that type and level of opportunity.

The key to success in creating an interview-winning résumé is understanding your objective and writing a compelling, targeted marketing piece that promotes you based on what you want to do, not what you have done. I have a feeling that having presented the latter, up until now, doing so has caused a lack of focus in your résumé. Once you have determined your goal, recreate your résumé with that goal in mind, and you will emerge with a much stronger, targeted résumé.

Overqualified equals not qualified

September 28th, 2014

Dear Sam: I am struggling to understand why, when I apply for positions I could literally perform with one hand tied behind my back, I do not get a call for an interview. Not only do I have a master’s degree in human nutrition and a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, but I also possess significant experience owning my own practice as a consulting dietitian, as well as working with an acute care facility as their clinical dietitian, building a medical nutrition program from the ground up. I am now trying to market myself for a new clinical role and am finding I am not even getting a call back for support roles. What can I do to ensure I get looked at for these roles? — Jasper

Dear Jasper: Unfortunately, I hear this a lot from candidates; they are applying for roles they can “do in their sleep” and find it impossible to believe that hiring managers are not snapping them up for opportunities well beneath their expected pay grade and skill level. Let’s think about this differently and from the side of the hiring manager: Would you be the “best” candidate if you are not challenged, are not compensated at the level to which you are accustomed, and perhaps are not used to being the subordinate employee? Hiring managers will think, Probably not. When applying for roles, unless you are able to trim your experience and do what some call “dumb down” your résumé—I did not create that term; it is what some use in the industry when presenting a candidate for a position less demanding than their previous roles—you will never be seen as the best fit for a support role.

Hiring managers, especially in an employer-friendly market with an oversaturation of qualified candidates, seek to pursue candidates who are neither over- nor under-qualified. The best candidate will possess the majority of the required qualifications, will offer recent experience performing in a similar role, and will be assumed to have compensation requirements within the range offered. If you are well educated—perhaps more so than what is required—and possess significant leadership experience as an entrepreneur / consultant and leader within an acute care setting, applying for support roles likely isn’t the best fit.

Why not instead revamp your résumé to communicate the strong management story you have to tell? Currently, from looking at your résumé, I can see so many opportunities to improve the content and the aesthetic. First, create a qualifications summary communicating the breadth of your exposure. Promote the uniqueness of your candidacy by presenting highlights of your program development experience, your accomplishments improving quality and compliance, and of course, your patient-centered approach. Within this summary, be sure you are conveying all of the highlights of your candidacy that you cannot afford for a hiring manager not to know. Realize this may be the only section of your résumé screened during the initial scanning process, so make the most of this real estate and time in front of the hiring manager.

Next, flow into an industry experience section where you communicate the depth and breadth of your expertise. Be sure to build your consulting role section fully, exploring your key engagements, the challenges you faced, the actions you took, and the outcomes you drove. Remember, the reader will value the experience only to the point that you present it, so do not dilute the impact by presenting just a sentence or two on some pretty significant experience.

I know once you revamp the content of your résumé and realize the level of opportunities you need to pursue, hiring managers will see you as the “best-fit” candidate and your phone will start ringing as you expect. Best of luck to you.

Broadening horizons and restarting after being downsized

September 21st, 2014

Dear Sam: I was recently downsized from my 23-year role in the customer service industry. My job was outsourced to a call center—overseas—as is often the case these days. I never thought I would need to look for a job at the age of 53; quite frankly, I don’t know where to begin. What I do know, though, is that I need to create a résumé that positions me for roles in multiple areas. I fear my age will work against me, so I do not want to pigeonhole myself into solely customer service jobs. I am thinking I may return to an administrative role, could continue to work in customer service, but may also explore more operations-focused roles where I manage a process or program. Do you have any examples I could look at to provide guidance on how to even approach a résumé at this point in my life? Thank you. — Ken

Dear Ken: I am so sorry to hear of your recent downsizing. You are right; that is still a very common occurrence, but shocking nonetheless. I recently worked with a client in the same situation and I think her résumé will provide you with some ideas on how to structure the presentation of your background to position your candidacy effectively for the roles you are seeking. Let me go through my approach with my client Jessie to inspire your résumé writing juices!

Jessie came to me after she was downsized from an airline. She barely had a résumé and provided me with a very primitive list of her jobs since 1988 with her titles and literally a handful of words describing each role. Through my conversation with Jessie, I dug deeper, asking questions about the scope of her roles, the challenges, her crowning achievements, and what she took from one job to another. Through that discussion, I was better able to see how each of her roles positioned her as more qualified for the next. With this information, I started creating what would become a two-page résumé positioning her for customer service, administrative assistant, and operations support roles.

Based on the diversity of positions for which Jessie wanted to apply, I created a somewhat open-ended qualifications summary. Jessie had worked for very notable organizations—and I wanted that to come through loud and clear in the initial scan of her résumé—so I included the logos of the organizations in which she had worked. Doing this provided potential employers with an immediate understanding of the level of customer service and administrative / operations support Jessie must have provided given she had worked for some world-class organizations. In addition, I added an excerpt from one of her letters of recommendation immediately to reinforce the notion that Jessie was great at what she did.

Within the professional experience section of Jessie’s résumé, I presented her roles with a brief paragraph summary followed by two to three bulleted highlights introduced by functional area. Introducing these highlights with a functional subheading allowed me to focus and frame the experience as I wanted it to be seen. For instance, a hiring manager could easily perform a visual scan of Jessie’s résumé and get a great sense of the areas in which she had contributed, just by reading the functional subheadings. This strategy allowed me to reinforce the experience on which I wanted the reader to focus. In addition, each job summary was introduced by highlighted noun phrases communicating the keywords most relevant to the job she performed. This too allowed for greater focus on select aspects of Jessie’s roles. While there still was not a terrific amount of content on Jessie’s résumé, it was highly focused and proved very effective in her search.

I hope this provides a quasi-roadmap for you, Ken, and inspires you to create your own unique image on paper. Best of luck for a tremendously successful search. View Jessie’s résumé here