Dear Sam: In this time of deep unemployment and many folks like myself out of a job for 12 months now, how is it even possible to think we can afford to find hundreds of dollars to cover a résumé service? Those of us who have been unemployed for some time do not have money for next month's rent, let alone money for a résumé. Has America lost its core values to help their own, especially for those who have been unemployed for a year or more? I have attached my résumé for an honest look and a little help. - Sal

Dear Sal: Thank you for your letter. I feel your frustration and I am so sorry you have been unable to find work. I'm happy to help you, and will address your concerns.

First, there are many résumé writing services-all with different price points-so if you feel that using a résumé service is the right solution for you, you should explore your options and see if the investment is worth the potential return. I do understand, though, that with limited resources, enlisting the help of a professional would be seen as something you need but something you cannot afford. Allow me to offer an alternate solution...

Many résumé writers like I volunteer their time to local organizations, facilitating both train-the-trainer type workshops and seminars for those looking for work. For example, just in the past few weeks, I have given several presentations and facilitated comprehensive résumé development workshops for 200+ job seekers, and I know many of my colleagues in the industry do the same thing. In addition, I have been invited to several Job and Family Services One Stop Centers to train their résumé counselors, and I have done that same thing with local nonprofits that focus their efforts on helping mature (over 50) candidates. I know of several writers who attend job fairs, just like I do, and spend entire days facilitating free workshops and meeting with clients to assess their résumés. I encourage you to look around for events, seek assistance from job search networking groups, and reach out to your local Job and Family Services office to see what assistance is out there that is completely free of charge.

As for the real reason for your email -to receive an honest critique of your résumé-at first glance, I think the mechanics of your résumé are sound. You have followed protocol in the qualifications summary and I think the content is actually quite good. I have, however, identified four key reasons behind perhaps a lack of success in the job market:

1.    You need to remove focus on your most recent custodian role of 2 years as it does not support your objective of gaining entry back into district/regional sales management.
2.    You need to pull out accomplishments and not blend them-albeit you have tried to attract attention to them by bolding them-with responsibility statements, as they are difficult to read.
3.    You are dating yourself by including experience from 1976.
4.    You have no college degree, which I imagine is a preferred requirement for the management positions you are seeking.

So how do we fix these issues? Well, the good news is there is a fix for almost everything on a résumé. Let's review what you can do to improve the effectiveness of your résumé by minimizing the impact of these four potential disqualifiers:

1.    To remove focus from your most recent and unrelated tenure as a school custodian, deploy the use of a combination format. In this format, you would include a Career Highlights section, which would allow you to pull from your strong related experiences and achievements. Organize this section -which will appear after the Qualifications Summary and before the Professional Experience section -by employer or key action area (turnaround management, talent acquisition, business development, etc.). If you choose to organize this section with functional subheadings as suggested, I would make sure you list the employer at the end of each statement so the reader doesn't have to wonder when and with which employer that particular achievement occurred. The goal of using this strategy and format would be to push the custodian experience to page two so it plays a lesser role during the screening process.

2.    Differentiate your responsibilities from accomplishments by using a paragraph/bullet combination. Highlight additional accomplishments (you'll have remaining accomplishments that were either not the strongest or somewhat redundant, therefore were not placed in the Career Highlights section) in the Professional Experience section, but do so with bullet points. Bullet points are easier to read and subconsciously our eyes go to the bullet points when we read a résumé. Still communicate your overall scope of responsibility in a paragraph style, but augment this with the bulleted achievements for each role.

3.    Figure out a way to break your experience from your first employer, which spans 1976 to 1996. You can do this in a number of ways.

(1) You could present the following statement: Additional foundational experience with ABC Employer, serving in DM, (list other titles here) roles. By using this byline strategy, you can use all of the great accomplishments from this timeframe in your Career Highlights section, but avoid aging your candidacy by going back 34 years.

(2) You could include the entire Early Experience section, but without dates, by simply breaking formatting and adding a subheading entitled Additional Experience. Underneath the subheading, present the experience in all its glory, never mentioning dates. This strategy is accepted as you have added a subheading and therefore are allowed to be inconsistent with your inclusion of dates.

(3) Include only some of your experience with your first employer of 20 years with dates following titles and not the employer. By doing this, you could explore your DM role and possibly one other position with the company. As I don't imagine you joined the company as a DM, you could trim several years of experience off of your résumé by only including the most recent one or two roles you held during your 20-year tenure. If you do this, be sure you are presenting dates of employment after titles and not employers throughout your résumé.

4.    I don't know how much not having a degree is hurting you, but if you didn't attend college, or didn't complete very much, then there is really nothing we can do other than make sure you are presenting all of the professional development you have in your field of interest. If you did attend some college (2+ years) and you find the degree is a preferred and not a required qualification, then feel free to include that you pursued a degree and completed 2+ years.

I hope this candid critique helps you identify the potential challenges in your résumé despite a fairly solid-looking document. I am certain if you work on these items, a stronger and more helpful rather than harmful résumé will emerge. I truly wish you the best of luck. Perhaps I'll see you at an upcoming job fair or event.