As the 'Dear Sam' mailbox receives so many questions from candidates finding it difficult to differentiate their skills from their competitors', I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight actionable tactics you can use to make a better first impression. The résumé screening process is estimated to be as little as 4-7 seconds, so it is imperative you take steps to focus the hiring manager's attention on the right aspects of your career, adding elements to get you noticed and maximize the impact of your experience through content and selective formatting. Here are just some of the issues that arise time and time again, and some strategies to make the most of your time in front of the hiring manager.

Multi-talented job seeker: I work with a lot of clients who tell me that they are open to many different opportunities and can do anything. While this is wonderful for expanding the client's prospects, it does make writing an effective résumé more difficult. For clients in this situation, I showcase their background in the professional experience section, which will essentially stay the same regardless of the job opportunity. I then incorporate a list of competencies to allow for a very easy and quick way for the client to tailor their résumé to each opportunity. I like to place this list down the left side of a résumé in its own column or, if I don't need to be quite as extensive, at the end of the qualifications summary. This competency list can include any type of experiences or skills that represent notable strengths. It is best if the job seeker develops a general set of these brief noun phrases, and simply tailors them to each opportunity, based on the keywords in the job description that are aligned with their experience and education. This is a very simple task anyone can perform to create the tailored feel hiring managers are looking for.

50+ job seeker: While at this juncture in your career you probably have 25+ years of experience, it is important to present a strategic picture of what you have done in order to avoid being disqualified for fear of being overqualified, inflexible, or too expensive. With your objective in mind, review your experiences and prioritize engagements, being sure to showcase achievements more so than responsibilities to reinforce the value of your experience. Think about presenting about 10-15 years of experience, leaving earlier positions to fall into an additional experience subsection or omitting from your résumé entirely. Hiring managers do not expect to see every position you have ever held on a résumé, so be sure you are not writing an autobiography and instead developing a strong marketing document that strategically positions your candidacy based on your current career goals. Be careful dating your education section as you could undo what you might gain by presenting only more recent experiences. For example, if you are presenting experience from 1990, then date your degree completed in 1975, you have just inadvertently added 15 years of experience to your candidacy. When this is the case, simply omit years of graduation from your education section.

Salesperson: An effective sales résumé must contain quantifiers. Numbers jump off a page, and when significant, can be the determining factor in differentiating you from your competition. If your quotas and therefore quantifiers are somewhat unimpressive, or if you had trouble meeting your objectives, then quantifiers have to be used sparingly, but there are almost always ways to incorporate numbers into a sales résumé. If you worked with a smaller company, try to quantify your successes in percentages as opposed to dollars. Doing so will keep you in the running for those opportunities in which you would handle much higher volumes. I also find that some in the sales arena have never had solid goals or objectives, and therefore think they don't have anything to measure their performance against. If this is the case, try to compare the results you achieved with those of your peers, your competitors, or industry benchmarks. Lastly, if you just can't use quantifiers, maybe you have some sales-related awards you can showcase at the beginning of your résumé, comments from clients, or even pull excerpts from your annual reviews.

Administrative Assistant: The most common complaint I hear from administrative assistants is that they do not have any accomplishments to highlight on their résumé. Most feel that they have played a supportive role their entire career, and therefore cannot attribute any achievements solely to their efforts. But 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 their job despite limited articulation of responsibilities, or even helping others better perform their jobs by seeking out and taking on additional accountabilities. By showcasing where you have driven value for an organization, you will really position yourself ahead of the competition.

Teacher: One of the fields I enjoy writing most about is teaching, partly because 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 Mrs. Simon. This unique approach immediately positions you as a teacher and engages the reader. I also find myself using imagery a lot on teaching résumés. Often this will be something as simple as ABC 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 them in a handwritten-style font to add a personal touch to your résumé. These testimonials, particularly if they are from your students, reinforce the claims on your résumé and present the third-party validation hiring managers are seeking.

For inspiration and visual reinforcement of all of the above categories, simply visit the Results section of my web site at