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.

Targeted searches generate the strongest results

May 24th, 2015

Dear Sam: I was just laid off and do not know how to even begin a job search. What should I do to get my search off the ground? – Ron

Dear Ron: I’m really sorry to hear of your layoff. Let me outline the critical steps to get you started in the right direction:

1. Define your purpose. Have you considered what types of opportunities you want to pursue? This is the most critical step to ensuring a targeted and effective search. Do not get caught conducting a “general” search, which will only result in watered down results, instead position yourself for something, not everything, and be strategic with where you send your resume. Conducting a targeted search, while reducing the overall number of positions you may apply for, I promise will yield stronger results and a higher average return rate.

2. Develop a great resume. Once you have defined your target create your resume, infusing it with language found in job postings of interest. In essence, when considering your target audience—the hiring managers you are trying to attract—you want to make sure you are speaking their language. To do that you need to know what you want to market yourself as and translate your past experiences—and this is the key to an effective resume— to create a strategic image of what you have done that positions you for what you now want to do.

You may have heard of keywords that need to be included in your resume, and speaking the right language, as mentioned above, means that you will be incorporating appropriate keywords and key phrases to secure the attention of your target audience. Keywords are simply the skills, experiences, abilities, and credentials your targeted hiring managers are going to be seeking. So, if you have defined your purpose, and are qualified for the jobs to which you are applying, incorporation of those keywords will come naturally in the presentation of your background and key qualifications.

Lastly, in creating your resume do not forget to develop a unique aesthetic which reinforces the tone of your candidacy. Do not use old formats, instead check out recently written books, websites like mine, or create something from scratch to showcase a little personality on your resume, all working alongside your content to differentiate your candidacy.

3. Create a strategic job search action plan. Now you have defined your purpose and marketed yourself on paper, begin to outline where you are going to look for a job. Do not get caught in a rut of simply applying for jobs on the open market, instead leverage networking, prospecting, referrals, LinkedIn, professional affiliations, and job search events as additional elements of a multi-pronged distribution strategy.

4. Track and follow up: Create and maintain a job search journal tracking your search. Print out every job you apply for, noting why and when you applied, why you would be a great fit, and when you followed up on the opportunity. This tool will become invaluable during your search, not only serving as a resource when a potential employer does call you for a phone or in-person interview, but also as a tool to reflect on the effectiveness of your search.

5. Be positive. Remaining positive is critical in conducting an effective job search. Find a support system to keep you on track, accountable, and optimistic. Many associations have job transition groups where you can network with like-minded professionals—many of whom are still employed—to gain insight into value-added distribution opportunities. Continue to reflect and refine your approach and search strategies until you see responses, remembering that targeted searches generate the strongest results.

Faux pas and fixes

May 17th, 2015

Dear Sam: I have been downsized as a Baby Boomer I find myself in unfamiliar territory. I created what I thought was a good resume, but having put my resume into the market without so much as one response, I’m beginning to realize that my resume is outdated in style and format. Could you give me some tips to help me create an up-to-date resume? – Jim

Dear Jim: Once you have the basics drafted, carefully craft the content and design of your resume, being sure to not fall victim to the often-committed Baby Boomer resume faux pas…

Faux Pas:

Be sure to follow best practices techniques in creating a resume that is up-to-date in content, design, and prioritization of information. You will not believe how many resumes I see for seasoned professionals that open with an objective statement and an education section, sections that do little to differentiate their candidacy.

Fix:

Up-to-date resumes open with qualifications summaries, serving as a summary of the information contained throughout the remainder of the resume. As a seasoned professional you should have a 2 or maybe even a 3 page resume, making the qualifications summary critical to the 4-7-second screening process. Take the time to make this summary market you well, conveying why a hiring manager cannot afford not to bring you in for an interview. Objective statements have not been a resume staple for 10+ years so be sure you are not aging yourself with an outdated strategy.

Faux Pas:

When reviewing your career, remember that hiring managers are much more interested in what you have done recently, so including information from 20 or 30 years ago will likely do more harm than good. Be sure to focus on the last 10-15 years of your career, particularly if you are applying for a position that does not necessitate more experience.

Fix:

There is a technique in resume writing called “bylining.” This simply means breaking format at the end of your professional experience section and presenting earlier experience(s) without dates. To do this well you must change the way the information is being presented in order to justify the omission of dates. For example, if you are presenting your career back to 1995 but held a job in the early 1980s that is directly related to your current career target, you may add a statement at the end of your resume akin to: “Additional experience with ABC Company as a Sales Manager.” You can elaborate on this statement if you like, perhaps presenting some key accomplishments in the role, but the key is to not present dates. Bylining this early experience allows you, as a candidate, to pull from all your related experience, discuss the benefits of that role elsewhere in your resume and cover letter, provide additional evidence of your qualifications at an interview, and do all of those things without unnecessarily aging your candidacy.

Faux Pas:

Think about it, if a resume is unattractive—and it will be if you are using the same format you used 10+ years ago—it repels readership.

Fix:

Check out professional resume writing websites like my own for ideas on attractive formatting, being sure to create your own look that doesn’t look like an overused Word template available to the masses. The look of your resume says a lot about your candidacy, your attention to detail, and your ability to create an engaging document.

Faux Pas:

Too many candidates feel paralyzed when it comes to what to place in an education section when they do not have a degree. Usually I see candidates list their high school diploma in this section.

Fix:

As there is nothing you can do to change this overnight, do not include information in an education section that in essence highlights a qualification you do not possess. Instead of only listing a diploma, consider omitting the education section entirely. You will not believe how easy it is to not notice the lack of an education section when the resume of the resume is selling the candidate’s unique qualifications. If you completed some college you can list this as coursework you completed toward an undergraduate degree, but rarely would you ever need to only list your high school diploma in that section.

Are you sabotaging your chances?

May 3rd, 2015

Meet Todd!

Todd has served in technician roles for the majority of his career. Serving in the military for two years, he progressed to working in the private sector for an equipment repair company; after two years, he joined his current employer for eight-plus years. In his current role, Todd rebuilt engines, gained experience working in diverse areas of the organization—field service, dyno room, and engine rebuild department—and had also been selected to provide on-the-job training for new and existing employees.

What did Todd need from me?

Todd wanted to be promoted. He felt he had gained the team leadership and training experience needed to qualify him for “the next level” and wanted his résumé to show that. Not having a tremendous amount of experience writing a résumé, and feeling fairly uncertain when it came to self-promoting, Todd’s existing résumé served as a lackluster representation of his experience.

Why wasn’t Todd’s résumé generating calls?

Todd had a very old-fashioned résumé, akin to many that I see on a daily basis, void of sophistication when it came to content, formatting, and placement of information. Todd’s résumé opened with an Objective Statement which wasted the most important real estate on the résumé and told prospective employers nothing about how he was uniquely qualified for his roles of choice.

Next, Todd presented a Capabilities section which was a short, six-bullet list of training and soft skills. Nothing in this list would not be expected of a technician in his field; therefore, it did not differentiate his skills nor did it further position him for the promotion he sought.

Next, appeared an Education section with degree and non-degree granting institutions presented, in addition to his high school diploma. In all, this section encompassed a solid one-third of page one of Todd’s résumé, yet possessed not one differentiating or key qualifying factor.

Lastly, and close to the end of page one of Todd’s résumé, he presented his work history. In each of three sections, Todd listed his employers, years of experience, and three to five bullet points of no more than seven words each. Sum total, Todd presented 12 years of professional history in 53 words!

The key to success…

Todd needed a résumé to not only validate that he was a qualified technician, but to also prove that he possessed the key experience and characteristics of a supervisor, trainer, or project manager. By talking with Todd, I was able to have him elaborate on his experience, narrate some of the reasons he felt qualified for “the next level” in his career, and provide mission-critical content to give his résumé the value it needed to position him for a promotion.

Todd’s new résumé opened with a Qualifications Summary, serving to tell his target audience what he could do for them. It then flowed into a Professional Experience section, which presented a more thorough overview of his positions and the accomplishments he drove. Todd’s new Professional Experience section contained 365 words versus the original 53, a stark improvement in the ability to contain keywords and desired qualifications. Lastly, Todd’s Education section was right-sized, with non-differentiating information being omitted, including his high school diploma and incomplete degree.

Did the phone start ringing?

It did indeed! Todd wrote, “I searched for a position, other than a diesel technician, for about a year. I was contacted very few times for an interview. All of the contacts I received were to let me know the position was filled. I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to advance my career. I was guided to Samantha to enhance my résumé. I was blown away by the difference between the résumé I was taught to write, and the résumé her service provided. I was shocked by the number of inquiries about employment I had with the new résumé. My phone was ringing off the hook. I had more job interviews in the two months following the use of Ladybug’s résumé service than ever before. I received a position as a project manager in just two short months. I was able to pick my future instead of settling for a position.”

View the résumé that helped Todd secure the promotion he had always wanted here

Diagnosing the real problem

April 26th, 2015

Dear Sam: I am a 38-year-old woman who has been trying to find a job within my area. I am a seasoned administrative professional and I have been on 190 interviews in the past 2 years. This has been quite frustrating. Despite having experience, no one is giving me a chance to prove my worth. Do you have any advice for a woman with my skills? I have attached my resume for your review to see where I might be causing a snag with my job search. – Tamara

Dear Tamara: Why are you looking at your resume if it has yielded 190 interviews in 2 years? That is one interview every 4 days! I would go to your local job search agency and inquire about interview coaching as something is clearly not coming across well in the interview. When the resume is getting results, there is no reason to reinvent the resume! Professional firms like mine offer coaching, but you can also head to your local job and family services office where a counselor could sit face to face with you, explain interviewing strategies, and perhaps identify what nonverbal or verbal cues may be occurring that are preventing you from getting the job.

Having said that, Tamara, your resume is clearly working for you, but there are still opportunities for improvement. You have not presented one accomplishment on your resume. Are employers perhaps inviting you for an interview based on where you have worked and the titles you have held, and then perhaps not seeing the “value” you contributed? You must use your resume to garner the interest of the reviewer and differentiate your candidacy from the other candidates who will be just as qualified. Perhaps give some additional thought to the content you are delivering and the accompanying messages you are conveying during your interview. Ensure both are packed with value based on the fact you not only performed your jobs, but delivered value above and beyond.

Dear Sam: I read your column regularly and desperately need your help. I am 55 years old with questions and concerns regarding employment. I am having a difficult time trying to find work! I am beginning to think it’s because of my age. Am I high risk? A liability? Why aren’t employers calling me back? – Theresa

Dear Theresa: The concern I have with your resume is that you have not fully explored your roles, responsibilities, challenges faced, differentiating experiences, and key contributions. You really are not conveying your age on your resume, given that you only date experiences back to the year 2000, so your age is not playing a role during the resume screening process. I would, however, omit the dates on your education, as by presenting the years you graduated with select certificates, you are adding years to your candidacy unnecessarily.

As mentioned, the issue with your resume is that it is lacking engaging content and packaging. Each of your five positions is described with a handful of brief, fragmented sentences. You are creating no visual interest with this approach—no bullet points, no selective formatting, and no prioritization of content—and, therefore, likely not holding the attention of the reader beyond the average 4- to 7-second screening process.

Why not revamp your resume to explore your roles in a brief paragraph—which hides short fragmented statements—with accomplishments or highlights explored in bullet points? Bold the key takeaway in each bullet point to add visual interest and pull the reader through your resume. Once you do this, I think you will create more excitement about your candidacy. You have great, related, and relevant experience, so you just need to present it in a more attractive package.

Lastly, I noticed that your salary history is included as page three of your resume. I just want to be sure that you are never sending that out unless specifically requested. That alone could harm your chances of getting in the door if your past compensation rates are deemed to be too high or even too low.

Faux pas and fixes

April 19th, 2015

Dear Sam: I have been downsized as a Baby Boomer I find myself in unfamiliar territory. I created what I thought was a good resume, but having put my resume into the market without so much as one response, I’m beginning to realize that my resume is outdated in style and format. Could you give me some tips to help me create an up-to-date resume? – Jim

Dear Jim: Once you have the basics drafted, carefully craft the content and design of your resume, being sure to not fall victim to the often-committed Baby Boomer resume faux pas…

Faux Pas:

Be sure to follow best practices techniques in creating a resume that is up-to-date in content, design, and prioritization of information. You will not believe how many resumes I see for seasoned professionals that open with an objective statement and an education section, sections that do little to differentiate their candidacy.

Fix:

Up-to-date resumes open with qualifications summaries, serving as a summary of the information contained throughout the remainder of the resume. As a seasoned professional you should have a 2 or maybe even a 3 page resume, making the qualifications summary critical to the 4-7-second screening process. Take the time to make this summary market you well, conveying why a hiring manager cannot afford not to bring you in for an interview. Objective statements have not been a resume staple for 10+ years so be sure you are not aging yourself with an outdated strategy.

Faux Pas:

When reviewing your career, remember that hiring managers are much more interested in what you have done recently, so including information from 20 or 30 years ago will likely do more harm than good. Be sure to focus on the last 10-15 years of your career, particularly if you are applying for a position that does not necessitate more experience.

Fix:

There is a technique in resume writing called “bylining.” This simply means breaking format at the end of your professional experience section and presenting earlier experience(s) without dates. To do this well you must change the way the information is being presented in order to justify the omission of dates. For example, if you are presenting your career back to 1995 but held a job in the early 1980s that is directly related to your current career target, you may add a statement at the end of your resume akin to: “Additional experience with ABC Company as a Sales Manager.” You can elaborate on this statement if you like, perhaps presenting some key accomplishments in the role, but the key is to not present dates. Bylining this early experience allows you, as a candidate, to pull from all your related experience, discuss the benefits of that role elsewhere in your resume and cover letter, provide additional evidence of your qualifications at an interview, and do all of those things without unnecessarily aging your candidacy.

Faux Pas:

Think about it, if a resume is unattractive—and it will be if you are using the same format you used 10+ years ago—it repels readership.

Fix:

Check out professional resume writing websites like my own for ideas on attractive formatting, being sure to create your own look that doesn’t look like an overused Word template available to the masses. The look of your resume says a lot about your candidacy, your attention to detail, and your ability to create an engaging document.

Faux Pas:

Too many candidates feel paralyzed when it comes to what to place in an education section when they do not have a degree. Usually I see candidates list their high school diploma in this section.

Fix:

As there is nothing you can do to change this overnight, do not include information in an education section that in essence highlights a qualification you do not possess. Instead of only listing a diploma, consider omitting the education section entirely. You will not believe how easy it is to not notice the lack of an education section when the resume of the resume is selling the candidate’s unique qualifications. If you completed some college you can list this as coursework you completed toward an undergraduate degree, but rarely would you ever need to only list your high school diploma in that section.