Right-sizing your candidacy

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Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Resume Writer with a graduate degree in Marketing and Communication, and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service resume writing and interview coaching firm. For more information, call 1-888-9-LADYBUG or visit http://www.ladybug-design.com

Dear Sam: I read your column every week about creating the best resume we can. I would appreciate it very much if you would critique my enclosed resume. I have been trying to get a job for two years. I have tried to downplay my age by not putting in too much experience and not providing a college graduation date, but when I get an interview, my search ends there. I am 63 years old and it seems to be having a negative effect on my ability to secure a job. My resume looks so "blah" to me; do you have any suggestions? – Kim

Dear Kim: Let me first paint a picture of your resume for readers. You are positioning yourself as a Director of Development and open your resume with a qualifications summary and list of core skills. You then flow into a "Professional Accomplishments" section which is organized by employer. This section extends throughout the remainder of page one of your resume and includes highlights from two employers without dates of employment noted. Page two of your resume includes a "Professional Experience" section which provides minimal content on experience from 1983 to present. Education and affiliations round out page two of the resume.

First, you have approached the structure of your resume correctly. You should indeed be using a combination format which, just as you have done, highlights key accomplishments up front and pushes dates of employment to the back burner. My concern, however, is that the accomplishments you highlight on page one stem mostly from experience which occurred 12+ years ago (1983-2000). While I understand this time period amasses the majority of your career, what you have done recently is of key interest to potential employers.

Why not create an accomplishments section on page one which highlights some of your most recent involvement in the development field? After all, you have been consulting in that arena for the past 10+ years. I believe additional exploration of the "value" this experience provided would ensure your development skill set looks recent and relevant. I would also add content to the professional experience section. While you are highlighting accomplishments up front, it is still important to provide some weight to the explanations of your roles on page two of your resume. Lastly, I would recommend only including back through 1989 on your resume. You could easily trim your first six-year position and still look aptly qualified for a development opportunity. Including almost 30 years of experience has the potential to make you look overqualified and potentially too expensive.

You are in a tough situation, Kim. You want to differentiate your candidacy based on experience, yet it is the amount of experience you have that could be harming your candidacy. Right-size what you show on paper, benchmarking your candidacy on the amount of experience sought by potential employers. As a director-level candidate, I would assume a solid 15 years of experience would be prudent; however, 30 may be too much. Perhaps even list your first employer of 17 years without the dates. To do this, you would simply break formatting and create a subsection titled "Foundational Experience." Within that section, you can still present the brief overview you have; but when you remove the context of dates, it may appear more appealing. In deploying this strategy, the hiring manager's assumption would not be that this experience accounted for an additional 17 years of work history.

Whether you include back to 1989 or date back through 2000 with your foundational experience bylined, I believe either would create a more appealing image of your candidacy. In addition, through more thorough exploration of your most recent 10+ years of experience, your skill set will look recent and relevant, a critical factor in the success of your search.

Dear Sam: I have applied for more than 30 jobs in the past six months, none of which have resulted in an interview. I have not had to look for a job in more than 20 years and I'm afraid I really do not know where to look other than the online job boards. What else can I do to augment my search? – Sonja

Dear Sonja: I am so glad you realize that while job boards play a key role in most job searches, there is more you can and should be doing to tap into opportunities that may not appear on the open market. Let me provide you with a step-by-step guide to approach your search.

  1. Build a targeted resume: Before launching your search, be sure you have created a targeted brand on paper. Make sure your resume tells a potential employer who you are and what you can do for them. Do not let your resume serve as a narrative of everything you have ever done; instead, create a selective image of your candidacy that supports what you now want to do.
  2. Explore your network: Networking with employed professionals is key in a job search. Attend job search networking groups but also be sure some of your contacts are currently employed. Leverage virtual networking, on sites like LinkedIn, to easily expand your network, source opportunities, and connect with decision makers.
  3. Create a targeted list of employers: Develop your dream list of employers and reach out to them to open doors to opportunities not yet advertised. Do not be afraid to be proactive and ask for informational interviews to explore potential fits between the value you can offer and what a company may need now or in the near future.
  4. Enlist the support of an agency or recruiter: You may be surprised to find out that recruiters do work with candidates other than those at the executive level. Ask around and source an agency or recruiter who specializes in your field, reaching out to secure representation. You can always benefit from another person helping conduct a search in addition to your own.

There are so many ways to add value to your online distribution strategy. I would encourage you to diversify your approach as it is only going to increase and improve the results of your search.

Would you like ‘Dear Sam' to critique your resume? For a critique, send resume to her.

Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service resume-writing firm. Do you have a resume or job search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at dearsam@ladybug-design.com. For more about Sam's resume writing services, visit www.ladybug-design.com or call 614-570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).