Dear Sam: My son recently graduated from art college and is struggling with his job search. As I have not conducted a job search, or written a résumé, in 25+ years, I am finding I can only give him what I imagine is antiquated advice. He has created a general résumé and has used it to try to get his foot in the door for anything and everything-graphic designer, customer service rep, administrative assistant, business analyst, researcher, retail manager, childcare provider, etc. He has had virtually no interviews and I am beginning to think his strategy may be flawed. Given he has little related experience for any of these jobs, should he continue down this general path or become more focused? - Sally

Dear Sally: You are absolutely correct to question his approach. I would guess that the lack of response he has received in his search is primarily due to his one-size-fits-all résumé that clearly is not able to highlight applicable transferable skills for all of the opportunities he has pursued.

Instead, he should develop a targeted résumé that sells his most related qualifications (skills, experiences, education, coursework, class projects, affiliations, technical skill, etc.) for each type of opportunity he is seriously interested in pursuing. I imagine that his approach became so broad as he was not getting a response from his initial résumé, therefore instead of retargeting, he broadened. Unfortunately this is what most candidates do and it is exactly the opposite of what they should be doing.

Let me explain this in very simple terms. If you are applying for three different types of opportunities, your résumé will likely focus equally on the skills required for each of those roles. So, if there are 30 skills you can highlight, 10 will be marketing the candidate to each objective. If that résumé is sitting next to a competitor's résumé who has targeted only one of those objectives, all 30 skills on his/her résumé will be marketing him/her toward the job of interest. So, even if you are the stronger candidate, the competitor will actually look stronger on paper, especially if undergoing a computerized keyword screening process.

You always have to remember, résumés are not always screened by a human who can figure out how the other 20 skills, not particularly related to the job in question, may be beneficial. And, even if the résumé is screened by a person, the screening process is estimated to be as little as 4 seconds, so there is not much time to analyze how a skill set may work for the potential employer. It is for these reasons that résumés have to be much more targeted, especially in a saturated job market like the one we are experiencing today. If your son takes a little time to identify his primary purpose, and develops a résumé marketing the appropriate skills and experiences for that objective, I can guarantee he will be more successful in his search. To do this well, he needs to understand what types of positions he is pursuing and what language consistently appears in those job postings, and then tailor his résumé toward that goal.

Lastly, as he graduated from art school I imagine his primary objective is going to be somewhat creative. For fields where it makes sense-you mentioned he was applying for graphic design jobs-résumés can, and should, be infused with personality, something that can help differentiate him from other candidates. He should consider using his own portfolio samples on his résumé to display his talents, incorporate symbolic imagery, or even just add color and a unique design to better engage the reader. Of course the content has to be strong too, but a marriage of targeted content and a great design is the key to today's most effective résumés. If not shown, check out my 'Dear Sam' blog at for examples of a before and after résumé illustrating this point. Best of luck to both of you.

Image taglines:

For image 1 (smaller before version): Creating a general résumé does nothing to highlight the candidacy of this music industry newbie.

For image 2 (larger after version): Crafting a focused résumé makes this candidate's experience sing on paper.