Dear Sam: I am in my early 40s. I worked for one company for 18 years in various positions until I was laid off in 2018. After having an unsuccessful job search in which nothing felt right, I made the leap to become a full-time student, finally finishing my studies with an Associate in Business Office Technology and a Bachelor of Arts Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Business Management Information Systems. I completed a three-year study on the value of Administrative Assistants and the need for continuing education in the workplace to allow for older workers to stay relevant.

I want to find roles in either Human Resources or a position that would allow me to fix processes. Because I got my degrees after having work experience, I feel as if I am being overlooked. I am also wondering if I am simply just applying for the wrong jobs. I would love to do some networking, but we are still in a pandemic, so events are few and far between.

I’m attaching the base resume that I wrote with the assistance of the career counselors at school, but I’m not sure if it is effective. I have applied recently for 40+ jobs with no callbacks. It’s a tight labor market, so I feel like I should at least get my foot In the door. Help – Erin

Dear Erin: Thank you for sharing your résumé so I could look into why your search isn’t being more successful. Within a few seconds of opening your résumé, I was immediately struck by several deficiencies and opportunities for improvement.

1) Where is your qualifications summary?
Your qualifications summary is the primary way you tell a potential employer the value you offer. Without that, an employer has no way to understand and evaluate your candidacy. Think about your qualifications summary as a way to introduce your candidacy; similar to your elevator pitch, it should prioritize the presentation of your experience, qualifications, skills, and credentials. With screening processes as limited as 4-to-7 seconds, this may be the only section of your résumé that is reviewed before a decision is made on your candidacy.

2) Why do you lead with your education?
It despite being a recent graduate, you possess 20 years of professional experience. Hence, your education is not your key qualifier at this juncture in your journey, even though you graduated with both of your degrees in the past two years. Many candidates make this mistake, thinking their degrees are why someone will bring them in for an interview. Quite the contrary, a degree is typically what I call a “check the box” requirement, meaning you remain even with your competitors when each of you possesses that qualification. It is your experience that truly differentiates your candidacy.

3) Ah, the dreaded functional format!
Unfortunately, functional resumes—where your experience is presented by functional area and not by the employer—are disliked in the hiring community. Most candidates resort to a functional résumé when they want to present select aspects of their past that are more relevant than perhaps recent. In your case, the diversity of the functional areas you have highlighted is far too broad. You cannot possibly position yourself as a facility manager, sales and marketing associate, event planner, public relations professional, resources associate, and office manager in one résumé. If the reader is looking through this section, they will be struck by the lack of focus and not attracted by the fact that you have worn so many hats in your career.

So, instead of presenting your experiences in this functional format, I would present the scope of each of your positions under your employers and the titles you held. You can still be very strategic in the development of your continent, being sure to focus on the most relevant aspects of your position that relate to what you want to do now.

Within your qualification summary, you can highlight that you are a recent graduate and returned to school to deepen your knowledge base, presenting the focus of your three-year study if it relates to what you want to do now. I would guess that you were trying to keep too many doors open and perhaps have not fully identified where you want to take your career next. I know you mentioned human resources, but the functional area that pertains to that area doesn’t appear until page two of your resume. The most important thing you need to do next is defining what you are positioning yourself for to inform the decisions on your content. Feel free to review samples of resumes on my website or other reputable sources to get an idea of what a best practices presentation looks like because, unfortunately, the career counselor has not provided the best counsel. It appears you could have a very rich and robust career ahead of you, and I am sure doors will open once your brand is further defined and developed. All the best.