Dear Sam: I am a recent college graduate looking for my first professional job. I have applied for various administrative assistant positions and a few other office-type positions. I have not received very much feedback from my résumé and am desperately seeking some help with it. I was so excited to have completed my degree, but now I feel that I bring nothing but that piece of paper to the table. I have been a waitress for more than a year and I feel that in addition to the various skills I have attained through my job, as well as school, I would make a great asset to any type of office setting. I received my degree in English and, through my courses, I developed great communication skills, both written and oral. All this being said, I was wondering if maybe you could take a look at my résumé and give me some advice on what I could change so I could land a job. - Mandy

Dear Mandy: I understand your frustration as it does seem like a catch-22 that you need the job to get the experience, but then you need the experience to get the job! Let's look at your résumé and see what we can do to improve its effectiveness.

First, let me paint a picture for readers. Your résumé opens with your name, email address (from school), and phone number. Following your contact details is a brief summary, a list of core competencies, education, relevant coursework, waitressing experience, and skills and interests.

While your degree is your key qualifier, you are competing against countless other candidates who possess that same credential; therefore, you need to find something else to use to differentiate your candidacy. Typically the best way to position your candidacy as unique is based on the uniqueness of your experiences and what you have offered of value in that environment. Let's look at your experience...

While the tasks you performed as a server are different from the tasks you would perform as an administrative assistant, your goal on your résumé is to focus on the transferability of those experiences. So, for instance, instead of saying, Responsible for taking guests' orders, keeping them organized, and timing the course of service for customers, you would state, Achieved performance expectations by executing functions with efficiency and a focus on delivering outstanding service and support. The first statement would not be seen as transferable into a business setting whereas the second would be.

Let's look at another example. Instead of Anticipates guests' needs as they may arise and provides them the quick and necessary solutions, you could say, Work proactively to anticipate client and operational needs, managing workflow effectively and leveraging problem-solving skills to provide expeditious issue resolution. Again, the latter statement is highly transferable into a business environment and office setting, whereas the first only relates to the restaurant world. You may also want to bring in some additional points regarding the administrative work you perform such as reconciliation of receipts, sales tracking, and presentation of reports to management. As someone who waitressed throughout college, I know this is part of your job even if it may be in an informal nature.

In addition to content selections, you will also want to take a look at the coursework you are presenting. While you have titled this section Relevant Coursework, I would really take a look at the coursework you have listed as some of it is not that relevant to a business setting. Instead, consider merging your core skills and coursework sections to create a Strengths & Style section of bulleted noun phrases communicating your skills and abilities. In this section, you could focus on items such as Written & Oral Communication Skills, Collaboration & Teamwork, Time & Workflow Management, Document Creation, MS Office Proficiency, Critical Thinking, etc. You will find that merging your skills gained from coursework and experience will better present the transferability of what you learned in class. Presenting such coursework as Survey of English Literature Since 1800 doesn't really translate into the business world, and I fear it will make you lack the relevance of experience and, at times, education.

Lastly, take some time to readdress the format of your résumé. When lacking experience, the format of your résumé can be a very effective tool to further differentiate your candidacy. Take a look at the sample shown (if not shown, or to view full-size image, visit; you will see that this individual had limited related experience and was attempting to leverage her marketing degree to gain entry into the field. To do this successfully, I presented a strong qualifications summary opening with excerpts from her performance reviews, pulled out core skills based on her experience and education, and focused on the transferability of her experiences in the Work History section. For Jenny, the candidate featured in this week's sample, her new résumé gave her a newfound sense of confidence, stating, I love my new résumé! I had to read it a few times to make sure it was really me. The wording is perfect. I now feel very confident about sending my résumé out to companies and posting it on job boards. Think about using these strategies-content development, prioritization, and formatting-to better differentiate your candidacy, and you really will emerge as a stronger candidate able to get your foot in the door to gain the critical experience you need to progress down your career path. Best to you.

View sample entry-level résumé on

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 For more about Sam's résumé writing services, visit or call 614-570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).