Dear Sam: I recently saw your column in my local newspaper and thought I would check out your blog. I am a stay-at-home mom and now a stay-at-home grandma which has contributed to a considerable length of time in completing my college degree. I have been unemployed for 16 years now. I have taken insignificant jobs just to make it through the holidays most years, but nothing permanent. I have filled some of my off time volunteering and doing internships. I am about to finish my MJA and would like a job that comes with a paycheck. Of the three jobs I have held in my field, none were longer than 8 months due to violations of integrity on the part of the employer, or being fired for not compromising my integrity. How can I start over? I'm tired of working for free; the whole process has ruined my credit and made it almost impossible to pass the standard background checks. I feel as though I'm a hamster stuck in a wheel. - Hamster 101

Dear Hamster 101: I'm sorry to hear that you have had such a difficult time finding employment that is right for you. From looking at your résumé, given there is a consistent theme throughout the majority of your experience, I feel you can have a great résumé. I'd actually recommend the functional résumé format for you as I believe the dates of your employment are going to disqualify you from many screening processes. A functional résumé will minimize the appearance of dates while maximizing the presentation of your related career highlights. Here's how to follow this format...

Open your résumé with a qualifications summary, not an objective statement. Use this summary to highlight the experience, skills, and education you possess that qualify you for your positions of interest. It's fine to present your education second given you are an upcoming graduate, but streamline this section-placing coursework highlights in your qualifications summary and a core skills list-so it does not consume half a page. Next, and the key to the functional format, is to present a select highlights section. In this section, present key experience you have had during your career that positions you for what you now want to do. The great thing is that you have had wonderful experience that is aligned with your current career objective. Use this section to really convey that you are the right person for the job, never mentioning when you worked for each employer. When you worked for each employer will not be presented until the end of your résumé in a work history section. Avoid placing months of employment and simply present the years you worked with each employer, helping overcome the appearance of shorter stays. Using the functional format will also make sure the appearance of your recent five-year gap in employment will be diminished. Just make sure your work history section hits page two of your résumé, something that is absolutely vital in ensuring the functional format works well for you.

I really believe that this format will be the best way for you to present your qualifications to potential hiring managers. It will do two key things for you: (1) It will allow the reader to gain information on your qualifications, without the context of when each experience occurred, and (2) it will minimize the appearance of your lack of recent experience and frequent job hops. I truly wish you the best of luck in overcoming your situation and securing long-term employment in your field of interest.

Dear Sam: I feel like I have a good résumé, but when I show it to people, they say they don't like the way it looks but think the content is fine. Why should the way it looks make a difference? Isn't it just going to be scanned anyway? - Confused

Dear Confused: No, not necessarily. While you should always have an unformatted plain text résumé available during your job search, you should also have a nicely formatted version for use when you are able to submit a Word or PDF version or, at the very least, when going to a personal interview. One of the major downfalls I see when reviewing résumés, is that the majority lack any visual appeal, are typically created using very common templates, and are inconsistent in the use of formatting selections. While content is obviously very important in creating a résumé that grabs the attention of a hiring manager, the aesthetics of that document can compel or repel someone's interest. For that reason, it is imperative to be consistent in your formatting choices, create a theme for how your information is going to be presented, and engage the reader through the use of a professional and visually appealing layout.