Dear Sam: I have read your column since I first began attending college. Finally, after six years I have completed my degree in organizational communication. I have worked since I was 15 years old and my past two positions have prepared me for an office role that would not require an 'entry level' status. However, I have applied for positions for more than 5 months and have received only one response from a potential employer. I have attached my résumé hoping you could give me some pointers on what I may be doing wrong and how to get those who are reviewing my résumé to call me versus another candidate. The problem I feel I am running into is that I am not inexperienced but also do not have 5 years of experience either.
I did not expect that finding a professional job with a decent salary would be easy, but I certainly did not expect for it to be this difficult. With my student loans becoming due in less than six months, the pressure is on to find a higher paying and upwardly mobile position where my strengths can be utilized. - Jessica
Dear Jessica: The main problem with your résumé is that you appear overqualified for any entry-level job you may apply for solely based on your content and formatting choices. Your résumé is very cluttered and difficult to read, in fact when I first opened it-and I imagine this is the reaction many others would also have-I backed away from it not knowing what to read first in the barrage of text, columns, bolding, underlining, and the overly strong font treatment. One would never assume you only had a few years of experience from looking at your two-page résumé so there is an immediate disconnect presented when reviewing your candidacy.
The key to résumé and job search success is to present the right qualifications to your target audience-all bundled in a well-written and nicely formatted package-meaning you need to communicate the type and amount of experience being sought by your target audience. As your résumé sits today you are presenting an overqualified image to potential hiring managers who are seeking someone with just a few years of professional experience.
Opening your résumé with the statement that you have 7+ years of experience-while true if you are adding your time working as a manager of a pizza shop-immediately overqualifies you for your target positions. You really have 3 years of corporate experience so I would promote that while allowing your foundational experience in the customer service arena to augment your qualifications and serve as value-added at the end of your résumé and in the interview.
Next, differentiate responsibilities from accomplishments. Currently your résumé is a sea of bullet points without any indication of which are most impressive and convey the value you added to each position. While you have pulled out an accomplishment in the left column on page one, this isn't sufficient to communicate that you were a top-performer in each of your engagements. Really take some time to review your experiences and ensure they are communicating what you learned, what you excelled in, and how the tasks you performed position you beyond a purely entry-level role.
Lastly, reformat your résumé to create an attractive one-page document. While I rarely profess to anyone to create a one-page résumé, with experience spanning just 3 years-plus your restaurant experience while you navigated college-you really should be able to accomplish a nice succinct one-page résumé while still conveying the value of your candidacy. Reformatting to create a more aesthetically pleasing look will also go a long way to getting the time and attention you deserve.
Dear Sam: I read your column each week and I know you have addressed age issues but I'm not sure how to present myself to potential employers. I retired in 2000 at age 48 with 30 years of customer service experience with a major telecommunications company. I then babysat grandchildren until 2009 until I returned to work in a retail setting until June 2010.
Now that I'm about to complete a dental assisting program, I'm wondering how to downplay my age and years of experience. I know you advise not to go back past so many years on a résumé, but the 30 years are a significant part of my employment history. Also, I'm not sure how to explain the gaps in employment. - Laurie
Dear Laurie: Congratulations on your upcoming completion of the dental assisting program! You are correct in that I would advise not to go back 30 years on your résumé, doing so would present you as overqualified. You need not present 30 years of experience to demonstrate that you have customer service skills, presenting perhaps the last 10 or so years of experience will suffice.
To present your candidacy I would create a combination résumé format. Open with a summary showcasing your customer service skills and recent training and follow with a Selected Highlights section. In this section present the most value-added aspects of your 30-year career without a mention of when things occurred, in other words, no dates appear in this section. There are numerous ways to format this section, the simplest being to list items in bullet points, but be sure these notations are nice complete sentences conveying what you have done that differentiates your candidacy from other recent dental program grads. This approach will not only focus hiring managers' attention on the most relevant aspects of your background, but also remove focus on dates of employment. Dates of employment will appear in your Professional Experience section. You should not mention retiring anywhere on your résumé as you do not need to give away your age at this stage in the review process. When structuring your résumé this way dates become secondary to relevant experience and will help overcome the amount of experience you have, the gaps in employment, and the potential of being seen as overqualified. See the example of a combination format I placed on my blog at www.ladybug-design.com/blog.
Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Do you have a résumé or job search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about Sam's résumé writing services, visit www.ladybug-design.com or call 614-570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).