As the ‘Dear Sam’ mailbox receives so many questions from candidates finding it challenging to define and differentiate their skills, I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight ways you can make a better first impression. With screening processes estimated to be as little as four seconds, here are some ways to maximize your time in front of the hiring manager.

“Jack-of-all-trades” job seeker: I am always hesitant when I hear a candidate tell me that they can do “anything.” Unfortunately, while this may seem like a great positioning strategy is one of the worst things you can do when marketing yourself on a resume. In today’s very employer-centric and candidate-saturated market, hiring managers have the “pick of the litter” when it comes to finding a perfectly qualified candidate, meaning candidates have to be fairly specific in their job search (and resume) and position themselves for something, not everything. If you find yourself thinking that you want to pursue different career targets, consider having more than one version of your resume so you are presenting a very targeted picture to each audience. While you may think that broadening your search with an “open” resume might yield more responses, it is likely to do the opposite.

Creative candidates: One of the most concerning things creative candidates do is create a resume that does not reflect their personality or talent. Suppose you are a creative individual (marketing professional, PR pro, artistic director, graphic designer, artist, musician, art teacher, etc.), you must take the time to brand yourself and showcase what you can do creatively. Think about it; your ability to market yourself is a direct reflection of your ability to market a product or service. About 18 years ago, before I was in the resume writing field, I was in marketing and communications and conducting a job search of my own. While understanding little about resume writing at the time, I did know that I needed to prove that I could market myself. I created a simple theme throughout my resume and cover letter, created personal business cards showcasing some of my key qualifications, and packaged my collateral in an inexpensive paper pocket folder. To make the presentation more unique, I printed a self-designed logo and some core competencies on a sheet of vellum paper and slipped it into the front of the folder in a swoosh-shaped die cut I made with an X-Acto knife. Sure, it took longer than hitting “apply now” online, but it reinforced my creativity and willingness to do more than the average candidate. The results spoke for themselves: I received a 100% response rate for the five packages I sent out during the first week of my search. I had four interviews lined up for the week of July 22nd. The fifth package I sent out yielded a call from the hiring manager to tell me he had filled the position but had to speak to someone who presented herself in such a unique and engaging manner. So, a 100% response rate and four interviews in week one, all based on packaging and decent content (not stellar as I knew nothing about resume writing at the time!). On July 21st, I went into premature labor with my first child, and my daughter was born on July 22nd, so my friend canceled all my interviews and my life took a different path! I tell you this personal story to illustrate the power you can have in your job search when you take the time—whether a creative person or not—to make your presentation targeted, engaging, and unique.

Human Resources Manager: Funnily enough, I work with more HR professionals than probably any other field. Why? Because those in HR understand the competitiveness of the market and know they need an edge. The most common concern I hear from my HR clients is that they are puzzled about why they can’t write their resume when they have reviewed thousands of resumes throughout their careers. Like most clients I work with, the candidate often struggles when speaking openly about the value they have contributed, not knowing how to use, and not abuse, self-promotion. When writing an HR resume, be sure you are giving enough information to differentiate yourself from the other HR pros, knowing that the reviewer will likely understand your field very well, so is looking a little deeper into what you did that was different than the norm.

50+ job seeker: While at this juncture in your career, you probably have 25+ years of experience, it is vital to present a strategic picture of what you have done to avoid being disqualified for fear of being overqualified or too expensive. With your objective in mind, review your experience and prioritize engagements, being sure to showcase achievements more so than responsibilities to reinforce the value of your experience. Think about presenting about 10-15 years of experience, leaving earlier positions to fall into an additional experience subsection or omitting from your resume entirely. Hiring managers do not expect to see every position you have ever held on a resume, so be sure you are not writing an autobiography and, instead, are developing a strong marketing document that strategically positions your candidacy based on your current career goals.