Dear Sam: I am a recent college graduate and am actively looking for a job for the first time ever. I am 34 years old and have a decent job history, but a lot of it is in the service industry. While writing my résumé, I had a hard time explaining the responsibilities for my bartending/serving jobs. Working in restaurants is hard work, there is extensive customer interaction, and I want to express how this had prepared me for anything. How do I make these jobs sound good to potential employers? - Kristen

Dear Kristen: As someone who waitressed throughout college, I know how hard a restaurant job can be! You are correct; the job trains you well to interact with a diverse customer base, multitask with grace, and handle time-sensitive situations with professionalism. With that being said, employers may discount the experience given it did not take place in a corporate environment.

From a review of your résumé, I can see that your serving/bartending experience runs throughout your career. Just so readers understand the chronology, your career starts in 1999 and includes one year in a corporate customer service setting followed by 6 years as a bartender, another year back in corporate customer service, 3 years in advertising, and then the past 2 years in bartending/serving. With your corporate positions being bracketed by your bartending/serving roles, you really need to be careful in the presentation of your background so that your corporate experience-despite being only 4 of your 11+ years of experience-holds top priority when looking at your résumé.

To present your experience effectively, first define your career target. You currently open your résumé with an objective statement and an education section, both of which create a very outdated and ineffective launch to your candidacy on paper. You need to develop a qualifications summary that tells employers why you are qualified for your target positions. If you are seeking employment in the customer service arena, then tell them you have 10+ years of experience working with a diverse client base, anticipating the needs of clients, and delivering unmatched service and support. Do not, however, let readers try to figure out how your experience fits in with their needs as hiring managers just do not have the time to do that in today's market.

While updating the format and strategy of your résumé is of paramount importance, creating compelling content that markets the transferability of your experiences is critical. I rarely recommend the functional format; but in your case, it may actually work quite well as it would reduce focus on your recent bartending experience and allow you to highlight the more relevant corporate experiences more prominently. If not wanting to resort to this format, however, you can still use a reverse chronological résumé; but be sure you are pulling out some selected highlights before the reader gets to the professional experience section, creating a combination format résumé. Following this approach would allow you to highlight the work you did in advertising between 2006 and 2009, along with your customer service experience that took place in a corporate setting. I would limit the highlights to your three corporate positions and leave the serving/bartending experiences to fall to the professional experience section. This will ensure you look more corporate for your current job search, providing your audience with an easy-to-understand chronology, and reducing focus on the experience that may be discounted a little by hiring managers.

In terms of explaining your functions in your serving/bartending roles, you have done a good job of not just stating your basic functions but ensuring the transferability is noted. While the content is sound, the strategy (or lack thereof) it is presented within is hurting the effectiveness of your résumé. Try implementing the combination format spoken about above, and I think you will see a more effective and competitive picture of your candidacy emerge. Best of luck to you.

Dear Sam: As a seasoned candidate, I have been reading letters and taking notes from your website regarding résumés for the older worker. Aligning my experience with job targets, highlighting accomplishments, and changing the format (previously I used the old chronological-type format featuring past employers and wordy job descriptions) makes sense. I am 59 years old with a small retirement income; I worked last in 2007. I have been trying to return to a position-social services or case management-in which I have the most experience. I maintain a licensure as a social worker. I have had no luck for two years. I am concerned about the age factor.

Should I indicate that I retired using the word retired next to my last employer on my résumé? I realize there is a time gap between my last employer and now. I have 25 years of experience, almost exclusively with the same employer. Finally, what is your professional opinion regarding the mentioning of being honorably discharged from military service 35 years ago?  Does it matter in this high-tech link-and-click 21st century? - Paul

Dear Paul: That is a difficult situation when you have held one position for such a length of time that it makes cutting your experience to present the normal 10-15 years almost impossible. I wonder if you had title changes that would allow you to selectively present certain positions to avoid presenting so much experience that may be unnecessarily aging your candidacy. As suggested in the 'Dear Sam' letter above, using the combination format would be the way to go for you. Using this approach would allow you to present highlights of your social service background up front, without dates, pushing harmful dates and length of experience to the bottom of page one or hopefully page two. Perhaps even more important, it would hide the two-year gap you are now trying to overcome.

As to your other questions, no, you would never include the word retired on your résumé, as this immediately would date you and would undo any strategy deployed to avoid aging your candidacy. And regarding your military experience, I would hesitate including that if you have to present 25 years with one employer, as doing so would only tell a hiring manager that you have even more experience. Perhaps consider bylining your military experience if you feel compelled to include it, stating something like, Honorably discharged after serving as a (insert type of role) in the United States (insert branch). I work with clients every day with 25+ years of experience and they are never less successful than my less seasoned clients so there is a way to overcome these potential disqualifiers if you handle your résumé (and its strategy!) with care. Best to you.

Check out a combination-style résumé on Sam's website 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 dearsam@ladybug-design.com. For more information about Sam's résumé writing services, visit www.ladybug-design.com or call either 614-570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).