Dear Sam: I would like to change careers and was curious how I could have my volunteer experience be seen as actual work experience. For the past 9 years, I have been a financial counselor at a local hospital, but I have also done a lot of volunteer community work for such organizations as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Susan G. Komen, American Heart Association, YWCA, and others. I have also served as the activity planner for my current employer within my department. I would just love to transition into the nonprofit fundraising, event planning, and/or outreach field. I have completed some sociology courses, but graduated with a degree in English. Can you provide me with some suggestions on how I could put my volunteer experience to work for me? Thanks! - Cindy

Dear Cindy: This is such a great question, and one I am asked frequently when I attend job fairs. It seems that, in this day and age, more people want to make a difference in their lives through service to others. One of the key ways you can make volunteer experience look more like professional experience is to treat it in the same manner you would your paid positions. By that, I mean include your volunteer experience with the same vigor you would your professional experience. Let me walk you through how you would organize your résumé to better position yourself for a career change.

First, open your résumé with a Qualifications Summary which focuses on your related experience from your professional and volunteer career. In the summary, include highlights of your outreach efforts, committee coordination, event planning, fundraising, and other related experience and skills.

Second, I would present a Selected Highlights section which would focus on your most related experience. In this section, include highlights from your experience  planning events, coordinating fundraising campaigns, serving as a mentor, training volunteers, chairing outreach committees, etc. This section would serve to answer the question of how you are qualified for what you are positioning yourself as. I would expect this section would include 5-7 bullet points going into greater detail-the Qualifications Summary introduces, and this section explores-about the most related aspects of your qualifications.

Third, present your Professional Experience section going back through about 8-10 years of your experience. This would mean omitting one or both of your earliest experiences, the first of which was very short-term and the second which probably doesn't relate at all to your current career interests unless the organization you are pursuing working with deals with a younger (i.e., pediatric) population.

Fourth, present a fully developed Community Involvement section that mimics the style of the previous Professional Experience section. I would advise you to reorder these sections if you have enough to highlight from your volunteer roles. If so, you could lead with this section (followed by your Professional Experience section) and instead call it Nonprofit Experience or something akin to the field you want to pursue most (i.e., event planning, outreach, fundraising, etc.).

Taking charge of the positioning on and prioritization of your résumé can sometimes be all that is needed to make your audience see what you want them to see first. There really are very few rules in résumé writing, so don't be afraid to create a marketing tool that positions you in the most beneficial manner based on your career target. Best of luck to you!

Dear Sam: I am returning to the workforce after 6 years as a stay-at-home mom for my two daughters. My résumé is severely outdated, and I am not sure how to grab the attention of employers as they will first see the huge gap in employment. I have listed only the last 10 years of experience on my résumé. Also, I have done some work for my husband's company including answering phones, janitorial work, and scheduling. Help! - Ruth

Dear Ruth: Let me paint a picture for readers. You open with your objective statement, followed by work experience including three positions held between 2000 and 2004. You close your résumé with an education section, noting your diploma.

If I were a hiring manager reviewing your résumé, I would ask three questions: (1) What does she want to do? (2) What can she do? (3) What has she been doing since 2004? Unfortunately, with this number of questions, the hiring manager would likely look no further. There are, however, strategies you can employ to create a much more effective and attractive résumé.

First, do you know what positions you are interested in? You need to figure this out before you can even begin to craft your résumé. If you are seeking administrative roles, then you would have a perfect background to highlight based on your past experience.

Second, can you define your key strengths? You need to reflect on your background and determine what you like to do and what you can do well. Are your administrative and computer skills up to date? Can you validate those skills and statements through your work experience? Take some time to uncover your value, albeit packaged in a small amount of experience.

Three, why not explore what you have been doing professional with your family business since 2004? While I know you have been a busy stay-at-home mom you have also been working with your husband's company. There is no reason you can't list this within your professional experience to fill the gap. If you worked for him part-time, you can still list the experience, presenting what you did accurately but in a manner which reinforces how you are positioning yourself now.

Lastly, take some time to revamp your format. You can still maintain a reverse chronological résumé as you have your family business to fill the gap in your employment, but the format of your résumé is going to be vital to its success. Making something pleasing to look at is a great way to sometimes hide a lack of content, and, in your case, recent experience. I know you can have a great résumé that facilitates your reentry into the workforce; just take some time to further develop your strategy before you put pen to paper.

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).