April 2016

Navigating Resumes: An Interview with Michelle Aitala of Red Poppy Resumes

Resume Cartoon Clip

Are you looking to update your resume? I recently had an opportunity to talk with Michelle Aitala of Red Poppy Resumes. Michelle served as a university career counselor, providing career consulting to various student groups. As a counselor she has coached numerous job seekers on effective resume writing, job searching, portfolios, networking, and salary negotiation. In addition, she has served as a contributor for several career-focused articles featured in Mademoiselle Magazine, Black Issues in Higher Education, The Journal of Career Planning and Placement (NACE), CareerBuilder, Quintessential Careers, and

If you are interested in updating your resume, seeking career coaching or are simply looking for tips to stay ahead in today’s competitive job market – this interview is for you!

9toFlyGirl: Please tell me about the services you provide.

Michelle: I provide professional and affordable resume and cover letter design services. In addition, I provide career coaching to keep clients on track during their job search. I help them with job search strategies and give them homework to set weekly goals. I consider myself a teacher because I teach client’s job search and resume skills so they can manage future searches.

9TFG: What is the traditional purpose of a resume?

Michelle: A resume is a very brief, short hand version of a candidate’s experience. It lists specific skill sets and abilities that match what employers are trying to fill. The purpose of a resume is to get an interview and get your foot in the door.

9TFG: What is the most important thing to know about resumes?

Michelle: There are actually two things:

1) There’s no right way to write a resume. It is up to the job seeker to have a document they feel comfortable using and that they know intimately, backwards and forward.

2) A resume isn’t you, the job seeker. You can’t convey who you are as a person or potential employee through the resume alone. That is why the interview process is important.

9TFG: How can someone create an effective resume if they have little experience? Say for instance a student coming right out of college?

Michelle: Whatever the career goal is, base the resume on that. Remember that the experience doesn’t have to be paid. Anything that gives you experience toward the goal of the job you want works. For instance: an internship, senior thesis, volunteer work or class project. It should be relatable experience in an environment where you used the same skills.

9TFG: How does one create an effective resume as a career-changer?

Michelle: Look at your past experiences and connect the transferable skills an employer would value. Consider the skills you learned in the past year that can be applied to a new career.

9TFG: What is the #1 common mistake made on resumes?

Michelle: I think there are two. The first is that candidates often include information employer’s cannot ask such as age, gender, marital status or a social security number. Some people even include a photograph which isn’t needed.

9TFG: Yeah I remember back in the day I used to put my social on resumes. Like as a teen looking for jobs.

Michelle: Exactly. And the second [mistake] would be not using a variety of strong action verbs to describe their experience. For example they may use a verb such as “assisted” or phrase like “responsible for”. Instead ask “What did I do to that project?” or “How did I effect it?”. Replace the passive verbs with strong verbs like “managed”, “facilitated”, “directed” or “collaborated [with]”.

9TFG: How significant is a resume today in the age of networking? (For example: Linked In; Gaining employment through personal connections)

Michelle: I think a traditional resume is still very significant. Those other methods are still rooted in the traditional resume. It is a starting point for networking. The individuals you’re networking with will eventually ask for your resume. For the interview the employer will need to see it as well. The resume is the starting point for everything else.

Though showing your resume in other formats is important as well. For example, some candidates have a website that shows their work [depending on the type of work they do]. Or a candidate may have something they bring with them on a tablet to an interview. It allows the candidate to have an extra edge or receive more attention than another candidate.

9TFG: It shows you made the extra effort.

Michelle: Yes.

9TFG: Should you keep a resume on you, business cards or both? How significant are paper formats today?

Michelle: Yes, you should keep both. Paper formats are still significant. You should keep a resume on you particularly if you’re going to an event like a job fair. If it’s a networking event, a business card is more appropriate. Make sure your business card includes your email address, phone number and a job title specific to what you want to do.

As far as digital formats, there are a few options out there. Some candidates use a personal website as a digital portfolio. I believe Google+ may have digital options to serve as a business card (see here). Also, the website Moo has a scan code system that allows someone to scan your business card to pop up on a mobile device. (Click here for more details) The technology allows an imbedded chip in the business card to be programmed to perform different functions. The person receiving it can scan it and automatically receive your business contact information, a link to your LinkedIn profile or website or online portfolio, connect to your social network, and so on. The amazing part is the business card owner can track activity online as well as change the action of the chip at any time.

9TFG: Wow. These are some great options. I personally struggle with whether or not to stay paper with the business cards or go digital. It’s a catch 22. Those that I want to give a paper card to might be strictly digital on one hand. On the other hand, I may try to go digital with another networker who still lives by the old school paper method.

Michelle: Right…it’s like are you talking to the person from a start-up that’s digital only or the 60 year old CEO who is more than likely used to the paper based form.

9TFG: Exactly!


Michelle: That’s why I’d recommend trying both. This way you’ll have something either way.

9TFG: Great point!

9TFG: How can readers contact you directly if they’d like to ask you a question or access your services?

Michelle: My website is: I can be contacted by email at:

Red Poppy_Michelle A Pic  Red Poppy Logo

10 Creative Ways to Network for Professional Opportunities


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Looking to move up in your field or searching for new career opportunities? Have you tried the more common networking methods and had no luck? Read below for a few “out of the box” tips.

1) Informational Interviews

Informational interviews help you to learn more about a position or career you may be interested. They also help introduce you to key players who may be able to help you land that opportunity. The result may be gaining a mentor or coming in contact with your future boss. It allows you the chance to explore the field as an outsider while gaining an insider’s perspective.

2) Through common interest groups

This could range from fellow church members, individuals in your workout classes, a hobby group to even an interest course (i.e. cooking class). Talking with people in these groups may uncover other similar interests, hopefully in professional areas.

3) Through parent groups

Do your kids play sports, participate in clubs or have friends they like to hang out with outside of school? Perhaps through connecting with other parents you will find a resource for your professional endeavors. Even if these parents are in different career fields, they may be able to connect you to someone in their network that can help. As the saying goes “everybody knows somebody”.

4) Volunteer opportunities

Recently, I have met a number of professionally like-minded individuals through my volunteer participation. I do recommend doing at least one activity completely different than your professional occupation that’s just for fun. Though participating in volunteer activities related to your desired profession can serve as helpful. Connecting with individuals in similar areas can help boost your chances of finding more professional opportunities in your desired area.

5) At the coffee shop (or out and about)

There are always people to meet when you’re out and about. And more than likely in that bunch you’ll find a few folks that don’t mind talking; especially about themselves or their career endeavors. The key is to chat with people who you anticipate (say through what you see them working on) have the same interests as you. I admit this can be a bit awkward and initiating a conversation with complete strangers may not be your thing. It typically isn’t mine either. Though being open to holding these types of conversations does help – meaningful conversations that is. (There are occasionally those “friendly” people looking for a latte and a date in the same place. Sorry, not that type of party.)

For example, I was in the coffee shop a few months back and I could feel someone looking at me so I looked up. As I made eye contact with a woman she asked “Are you a writer?”. I wasn’t typing, I wasn’t writing intensely. In fact I was just writing a generic to-do list. But perhaps her intuition prompted her to ask. We ended up having a lengthy conversation about my blogging and other writing interests. She shared that she was developing a website which would involve fiction writers.

Ordinarily when I go to the coffee shop I like to be left alone to work. But that situation taught me that you never know who you may end up connecting with and how that connection may influence your career.

6) Personal contacts (friends and family)

Sometimes our untapped resources are those right at our finger tips. When I talk to friends and family who are looking to explore a professional opportunity, location or even hobby I always try to think of who I know that can help. Even if I just connect them for the purpose of receiving further information. It always helps to explore who may know who.

Of course it is more helpful when you reach out to them for the contacts so that you are specific about connecting with someone you can benefit from. Connecting with someone who can give you a job is helpful but ideally you want to network with your long term interests and goals in mind.

7) Create a social media page for your hobby or area of interest

When I first started my blog I created a connected Instagram account to help share my content on another platform. I kept the account on private mode for a while, wishing only to have followers be friends and family. One day I was talking to a friend that shared some great advice. She told me “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If you have a message to share, people aren’t going to be able to see it if you’re account is private”. I took her advice and made my account public. Once I did so, I noticed that the people liking and following my Instagram photos were those who covered similar subjects on their own pages – like minded individuals. Not to mention others who I was able to help empower and inspire through the content.

Even if you’re not looking for a business venture or to share content, put yourself out there. Perhaps your hobby is creating floral arrangements just for relaxation. Putting yourself out there on social media may end up connecting you with others also interested in this hobby and knowledgeable about where you can find new materials or classes.

8) Get together with old co-workers and host a networking party

I’m a fan of the old TV show Girlfriends. There was an episode where the main character, Joan (played by Tracee Ellis Ross), threw an “ex’s” party. The premise of the party was that each person initially invited was to invite one of their ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends. This would create a pool of available individuals that could potentially find a new partner. The party ended up being a flop in the episode but the principle could apply in real life.

If you host an event (i.e. a networking party or small dinner) with old co-workers and invite them to extend the invitation to their professional friends, there is now a larger group of individuals to network with. Ideally, individuals at the event would represent a range of industries and/or companies to create a variety of opportunities.

9) Share resources with an influencer you’re looking to connect with

By the term “influencer” I am referring to someone in a vital role that you wish to make a connection with. Influencers are typically well established in the profession/area you are looking to get into. It is common for people to reach out to an influencer to ask for help. Perhaps the request is to speak to them about how they arrived at their current position or if they can assist with job placement. While this is common and (usually) done with good intentions, it doesn’t represent a reciprocal relationship. You are asking them to do a service for you without offering something in return. To take it a step further, suppose that 5 other individuals each send them a similar request for the same purpose. What makes this person want to help you, in particular, if they have 5 other people wanting the same of their time? So how do you solve this?

Try reaching out for help but also offering something in return. Perhaps you send them a professional article you think they would be interested in. Another idea would be to offer them feedback that would help them in their specific role. For example, suppose you were trying to connect with an entrepreneur who owns a coffee shop. You may suggest something like the following: “I noticed that you have coffee cups with a really cool logo. But have you ever thought about advertising to customers to bring in their own cups for a small discount? This could help you save money and have more cups in stock while offering the customer an incentive”. Not only would this show the influencer your genuine interest in their company or role (not that you’re just trying to get a job) but also that you have something to offer them in return for their help.

10) Ask for a “hook-up” (a friend that will connect you with an influencer)

Many people have entertained the idea of a friend “hooking them up” with another friend in hopes of establishing a romantic partnership. Why not use the same principle when it comes to a professional relationship? True, your friend can’t hook you up with their boss in order to guarantee you a job. But this could make for a meaningful professional connection. For instance, I have a friend who is looking to be a Nurse Practitioner. At the time she shared her career goal with me, I was working for a boss whose professional background involved years of experience as a Nurse Practitioner. I connected them so that my friend could set up a meeting with my former boss in order to get more insight into the field. So while I did not hook her up with a job, the knowledge that leader was able to offer my friend helped in her professional journey.


I hope that you have found these ideas to be helpful. If you have any creative networking ideas that I did not mention above, please feel free to share in the comments below! 🙂

Dress For the Job You Want

Black Dress Full Body

[Photo Credit: Shot by Kelley]

There is a common phrase “dress for the job you want”. Someone may argue the point “Look, I’ll be presentable for work but I’m not going out of my way. If my ideal job is meant to be, it will be.” Understandable. But how you present yourself has a significant impact on your possibilities for advancement. Looks aren’t everything but effort and pride in appearance go a long way. Picture your company is looking for a new manager and has to pick from a group of 2 current employees. Suppose these employees have similar experience, education and current job performance. One employee comes to work daily “as is” and the other may not dress super fancy or spend a lot of money on work clothes but always appears put together with what they do have. Would you agree that this information plays a key factor in the decision process? This is especially important when it comes to pursuing a position of leadership. Now obviously there would be other factors involved but professional appearance is something employers look at in both future and current employees.

Consider this real life example…

I was looking to hire a graduate assistant back when I was a manager in Student Services. It was an office position and the staff dressed in business casual attire. We allowed the students to wear jeans (since they were often coming from or going to class around their shifts) yet they were still expected to be presentable. So when it came to the interview, I thought it’d be a good time to evaluate what “presentable” looked like to each candidate. Most candidates wore business casual attire, one wore a suit and a couple dressed in attire I’ll label as “comfortable”. Take my token example for instance who entered with green hair, sweatpants and a t-shirt. I got the impression that she had something more suitable to wear (even if it was just jeans and a nice top) but she chose not to. Immediately this was a red flag waving that she wasn’t serious about the job. Turns out through the interview she confirmed her disinterest but sharing conflicts she had with items stated in the job description.

It should go without saying that she didn’t get the position. Also, I shared this information with my colleagues in case she continued to apply around the office for “just any job”. So if you still don’t think dressing for the job you want is important, try showing up to an interview in sweats and let me know the results.

Realize that it does not take a lot of money to look your best. However, it does take effort. So may sure you put that in. Investing in yourself now will open more doors in the future.

[Outfit details: Dress (Sears); Heels (Forever 21); Purse (old- Irene’s Story); Pearls (vintage); Cuff (Francesca’s); Watch (New York & Co.)]

My Volunteer Experience With Habitat for Humanity

imageSince college I’ve always wanted to participate in a Habitat for Humanity project. Particularly assisting with the home building activities they’re well known for. I don’t know if it was just curiosity or watching too much HGTV. 🙂 But I knew that volunteering for such a project was way up there on my bucket list. Well I finally got a chance to do it – yay!

I was thrilled going into the experience so my vibes were positive to begin with. But walking out at the end of the day, I realized that I gained more than expected.

Upon arrival I anticipated there to be a huge group of other volunteers outside. It was actually the opposite. (Typically you hear of groups signing up for these types of projects together but individual volunteers are just as welcome.) There were 2 Habitat staff construction workers. One who was in charge of the volunteer sign in came over to greet me with a warm welcome and explained the next steps. Turns out the site I volunteered at preferred individual volunteers over groups due to some logistics with that particular home. But better for me – more questions I could ask!

The staff was very friendly. Our volunteer group was pretty small (about 3 of us) so we were able to talk a great deal about Habitat’s home building projects and that specific house.

My tasks for the day were covering the floors to protect the new wood (actually harder than it sounds) and painting. I was so eager to help that they could have told me to install the plumbing and I would have done it! (Or at least attempted. 🙂 )

I didn’t realize until the day was over just how rigorous the labor was. It actually was an intense workout that I felt the effects of for about 3 days following. (Ouch!) But it was well-worth the post workout pain.

What was most rewarding was knowing this project would help give someone not just a house, but a home. The doors I painted may likely be slammed over and over again for years to come by children who will actively run about the house. The stairs I covered will one day be beautiful flooring that the family will slowly climb as they take their extended family and friends on home tours. Maybe they’ll point out their family milestone photos along the staircase. The backyard I saw full of dirt will one day be a completed outdoor space to host birthday parties or house make shift water slides (plastic tarps and a water hose included) during the summer months.

I’ve had the privilege of participating in a variety of different volunteer activities in the last few months though this has been the most rewarding by far. I’m eager to go back for the next project soon!

If you are in the least bit interested in participating in this type of project, definitely sign up and try it. Questions for me about my experience? Want to share your own experience with Habitat or a similar project? Feel free to comment below.

When You’re Not Sure What To Do: Waiting On A Catalyst

Waiting On A Catalyst

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Catalyst: A substance that causes a chemical reaction to happen more quickly; A person or event that quickly causes change or action; Example: She was proud to be a catalyst for reform in the government. (Definition as provided by Merriam-Webster online)

Life will be filled with moments of uncertainty. These can be very frustrating moments because while we may have an idea or desire that we are sure of, perhaps we’re not so sure of where to take it. Or there are some pending decisions that we are absolutely stumped about how to act upon. I’ve often heard one of my favorite podcasters, Jess Lively (of The Lively Show), give advice on this subject. One of the solutions she recommends is the idea of waiting on a catalyst. This could be in the form of a person, message or some other type of confirmation that pushes you to move forward in a particular direction.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that you should just sit around doing nothing but simply wait for a sign. It is equally important that you put in work in the meantime. As a Christian I subscribe to the biblical principle “faith without works is dead”. But I think people from various faith walks, spiritual beliefs and other ideologies could agree to believe in a similar idea. This concept that you can’t believe in something to happen without working toward that goal. Simply put this could also translate to “nothing happens overnight”. So put in the work. But if you’re in doubt feel assured that at some point some type of confirmation will come along to navigate you down a certain path.

I’ve also found that multiple “mini” catalysts may appear to add up to the bigger picture. I had begun working on my blog a few months prior to launching. Once I launched, I was eager to find ways to further grow my blog and develop a brand. One of the ideas I had was hosting speaking engagements and other teaching opportunities. Originally I had looked at this idea from a more formal approach. I entertained options in the form of lecturing in a traditional classroom or creating a formal workshop of my own. About a month later I was approached about doing a speaking engagement for a smaller group. The way the opportunity came about was very organic.

The event organizer was having a conversation with me about her stresses behind planning and organizing. Specifically, she was stressing because she was short one speaker and looking to fill the gap with a similar presentation. As we continued talking, her face suddenly lit up like she had the greatest epiphany ever. She said “You should speak about professional dress! You can talk about your blog and the attendees need the information!”.

I was a bit nervous because this conversation occurred about a week before the event. So I had to get something together quickly! It ended up working out just fine. (As things like that always seem to do.) That situation served as proof of what a catalyst will do. It was a small step but from that presentation I booked a second speaking engagement. It was definitely a domino effect. That example is a constant reminder for me to keep working even through periods of uncertainty. At some point a catalyst will lead to bigger steps and leaps of faith in the right direction.

What pending decisions are you not sure of? What catalysts might be appearing to help steer you on the ideal path that is best for your future? If you’re currently seeing a blank slate, what can you do in the meantime to play your part during the waiting period?

Tickled Pink With Bargains

Pink Floral Print Dress Full Body 1

Photo: Shot by Kelley

My last couple posts have focused on budget friendly purchases. I think many working folks have the idea of “If I want it, I’ll get it!”. And I can understand that because if you work hard by putting in 40 hours for an employer or countless hours for yourself, you indeed deserve a reward. Working to pay the bills only isn’t a fun way to live. So something should be just for you, right? Well if you do decide to treat yourself to some fun extras, why not save a little money while doing so?

When it comes to shopping I’ve always been one to treat myself. (Should I be proud or guilty? 🙂 ) I generally stick to stores where I can get a bargain but lately I’ve been looking for some new places for fab finds. I received a gift card to Burlington Coat Factory so it was only right that I went to my nearest store to check out the inventory. To my surprise I found myself with a basket full of items to try on! Totally unexpected!

I snagged this dress and heel combo for only $60! The floral dress was right on time for spring. I love the options that the dress provides. It can be paired with a blazer for work wear or strappy sandals for a spring wedding or fancy brunch outing. And the heels – what girl can’t use a pair of pretty in pink neutral pumps?!

I hope this post inspires your own bargain hunt and helps you stash a little more of your paycheck away.

Happy [Fab Finds] Friday!

Pink Floral Print Dress Legs