At a recent career fair, I sat and reviewed resumes from several job seekers. I was really shocked to see old practices rearing their heads again in the form of objective statements, a focus on responsibilities versus achievements, lackluster formats, and a misunderstanding of developing keyword-rich content. Hence, this week I wanted to go back to basics and answer some of the questions I receive via email in the ‘Dear Sam’ mailbox and during career fair events! I hope they help steer your personal brand in the right direction.

Q: How much experience should I present on my resume?
A: Typically, hiring managers expect to see about 10-15 years of experience presented on a resume. Omitting earlier experience will not be seen as misleading as recent, relevant experience is most important. Having said that, this does not mean you can’t include earlier positions. You may, however, want to consider bylining foundational roles without dates to avoid potentially aging and/or over-qualifying your candidacy. This simply means breaking format—and therefore justifying a change in the way information will be presented—and placing a note at the end of your professional experience with a mention that you possess that foundational experience, yet not dating the role(s). This could be as simple as, “Foundational experience with National Enterprise as a Sales Specialist” or you can go into greater detail, even presenting some highlights.

Q: How do I write a resume that opens the most doors possible?
A: Not easily! Defining your target is critically important in creating an effective resume. Without a clearly defined audience, how will you know what message—and all-important keywords—will resonate with that reader? It is one thing to perhaps develop one resume for two purposes when they are closely related, but quite another to try to develop a resume for anything and everything. Avoid the latter, realizing that just because you write a resume with an open-ended target certainly does not—and likely will not—mean you open more doors. In fact, the more targeted your resume, the more return on investment you will earn.

Q: I don’t know what I want to do ‘when I grow up’; how do I develop a resume?
A: It may not be time to write a resume just yet. Start perusing postings online by searching by functional keywords instead of titles. From your search results, start to track and trend the types of jobs you are interested in and qualified for. Realize that it is not usually a good strategy to apply for jobs in which you are overqualified as hiring managers may assume your compensation requirements will be too high or your interest level will wane over time. Find positions where you meet most of the requirements—you do not have to meet all of the desired qualifications to be a competitive candidate—ensuring you can speak in the ‘language’ of the job postings, presenting your background in a way that emulates the actual functions of the role and not just the requirements for the position.

Q: Where can I find good resume templates?
A: The word template, to me, is synonymous with sameness which is not a good presentation of a brand. Take the time to look at great resume samples on professional websites like mine, recently published resume books, and graphic design websites like Canva, and use the elements you like to build a unique presentation. If you must use a predesigned template, avoid overused designs from Word as that will ensure your resume looks like many others in the market. Be unique!

Q: What should I include in my education section if I do not have a degree?
A: If you did not attend college, or completed very little—perhaps less than two years—then I would likely recommend omitting the education section entirely. If you were to include it, solely with your high school diploma, realize you would not be telling an employer that you have a high school diploma, you would actually be saying that you do not have a college degree. You can present a partially completed degree; just list the degree you pursued or the coursework you completed. You may also include professional development, training, certifications, and other credentials in an education section to create a more robust section.

I am hopeful these tips will ensure you are presenting the market with a best practices-based resume and optimizing your personal brand.