The NRWA Watercooler - The monthly newsletter for the National Resume Writers Association - Quenching your thirst for information and connection

January 2021

by Anne Anderson - NRWA Written Communications Committee Member

Welcome to 2021! Congratulations! We made it! Like many of you, I am especially pleased to flip the calendar into January this year and make a welcome fresh start.

In this space almost a year ago, Norine Dagliano invited us to choose a “word of the year” to start off 2020. She chose three, “Explore, Embrace, Cultivate.” These turned out to be especially meaningful, don’t you think, as we explored a creative alternative for a successful conference, embraced new ways to conduct our businesses, and cultivated our relationships and life activities in entirely new ways. Here is an opportunity, on behalf of all of us, to thank our NRWA leaders for their exceptional work this year in continuing to guide the organization, to stretch and grow, and maintain its high standards, despite unpredictable curveballs. It’s been a difficult year on so many fronts; be sure to take a moment to recognize your own role in facing and surmounting your personal challenges.

In this issue, we discuss industry trends and contributors and resources for professional development to keep us all on top of our game and engaged. We’re off to a great start!

Committee Updates 
NCRW Commission: Twelve NRWA members were awarded the prestigious NCRW in 2020; five of them graduates of the Writing Excellence program! Congratulations again to Teri Bickmore, Keith Miller, Rachel Sirca, Sara Timm, Jeremy Johnson, Kathi Fuller, Phil Hurd, Jonathan Nugent, Rebecca McCarthy, Chelsea Wiltse, Anne Barnwell, Caitlin Gonzalez, and Deirdre Rock. With four Writing Excellence classes scheduled in 2021 and plans to update the NCRW Study Guide and certification process, we anticipate more members becoming NCRWs.

Public Image Committee (PIC): Under the leadership of Brandi Munoz, Director of Member Support for College/University Career Services, the PIC is planning to launch a new training initiative specifically targeting college career center staff. The training will be designed to provide staff with tools, resources, and strategies for advising students on resume and cover letter standards and best practices and helping them write their documents. Stay tuned for more information in early spring!

Written Communications Committee: Amanda Brandon, “Pro Writer & Editor for Hire” with Pro Polish Resume Services, has accepted the position of editor/coordinator for The NRWA Watercooler, our monthly newsletter. Welcome Amanda! The newsletter production team is actively recruiting “reporters” to join the team. If you enjoy gathering and sharing information with colleagues and would like to write for the newsletter, email Amanda at or Norine Dagliano, Director of Written Communications, at

Guest Article: Transform Your Writing Skills in 2021 
by Caitlin Gonzalez, Career Over Coffee LLC

Book and laptop

As 2020 draws to a close and 2021 begins, we reflect on past achievements and create resolutions for the months ahead. What are your goals for this new year? Perhaps you want to improve your writing skills to better serve your clients. Or maybe you are looking to get the prestigious NCRW certification. If you nodded “yes” while reading either of those two, I write to you with excitement as I recommend the Writing Excellence program—in my humble opinion, your gateway to achieving both better writing and the credential.

Over this past summer, I took the plunge and signed up for the 9-week course. To be truthful, I was wary, as I am before making any sort of monetary investment. However, after the first interactive, instructor-led webinar with an industry leader, Norine Dagliano, I knew I had made the right decision in enrolling. Over the weeks, I felt my writing transform with her one-on-one mentorship, bountiful resources, and thoughtfully critiqued assignments. Every class opened with a personalized Q&A discussion, allowing us to connect on tricky situations and best practices. My favorite part is the final NCRW-esque capstone project that gets graded with constructive feedback. This is a practice run to shake off the nerves and grow before you apply for the real deal certification. Such a great opportunity!

My friends, after completing the course, I went on to receive the NCRW certification. Hands down, this would not have happened for me without Writing Excellence. While certification is not a guarantee, you will graduate with heightened confidence and a full toolbox; both are equally invaluable. There are other perks, as well, like subcontracting assignment leads, various NRWA discounts, and a personal DISC assessment.

2021 has only just begun—doesn't time fly? Soon it will be January 21st, the first day of the next class*. I urge you to consider signing up as one of your first achievements on the resolution list. From one member to another, I promise you will not regret it. Cheers to this new year filled with potential writing opportunities and happy clients aplenty.

Caitlin Gonzales, NCRW, is a full-time Agile coach in healthcare and part-time resume writer for Randstad RiseSmart. She is in the process of launching her full-time resume-writing business under the name Career Over Coffee, LLC.

*Editorial Note: At time of delivery, the January class has reached capacity. Dates and registration are available for the remainder of 2021 sessions at this link.

Member Spotlight: Michelle Dumas 
by Amber Fernandez – NRWA Assistant Newsletter Editor


I [Amber] spent approximately six hours writing this Member Spotlight and loving every minute of it. That’s because Michelle Dumas is one of the most accomplished people I have ever met, and there’s simply too much material to include in a short article. I’ll do my best, and hope you come away inspired to follow her example of passion and discipline in the field of career services.

Industry Pioneer

Michelle took a unique path to this field. While pursuing a degree in psychology, a professor took her aside and said, “I know you want to focus on psychology, but I think you should pursue a career in writing.

Michelle Dumas photo

Michelle never forgot this advice. After graduating summa cum laude, she worked in social services and found a way to combine her training and experience with her love for writing: teaching older teenage foster children to conduct job searches and write resumes.

Inspired by the impact she had with foster kids and intrigued by the opportunity to build a business on the internet, a pioneering idea at the time, in 1996, Michelle created her first website and started offering resume-writing services to the public under the business name Distinctive Documents. At first this was a sideline business. But after attending a conference for resume-writing professionals in 1997, and meeting members of the newly formed NRWA, she became convinced: career services would be her future.

Distinctive Career Services

In 2007, Michelle rebranded her writing business as Distinctive Career Services (, which continues to thrive. Her love for helping people extends beyond business: the site is full of free tips and advice for job seekers.

Distinctive Career Services has become so popular that Michelle has built and manages a team of resume writers and career coaches. There’s a good reason she outsources to other professionals: she juggles one of the longest lists of activities and accomplishments I’ve seen in any field.

In addition to running her business, she’s authored multiple self-published books and programs on career services, contributed to over twelve other books, and has written numerous articles. She’s been featured in the media and in professional publications, won multiple awards, and volunteered countless hours to the NRWA. Check out her 30-Day Jumpstart Job Search Challenge and her Reinvent Yourself: Make a Fresh Start program. Look for an updated edition of her popular book, “101 Before-and-After Resumes” in 2021. It will be available on her recently launched resume-template site, “Distinctive Resume Templates."

NRWA Activity

Since joining the NRWA, she has:

  • Served as president and in other board and executive board positions.
  • Been an NCRW grader and later a member of the NCRW Advisory Committee.
  • Presented at the annual conference.
  • Developed and led webinars.
  • Launched and led committees.
  • Redesigned and developed the NRWA website (yes, she can code!).
  • Managed the ROAR competition and coordinated judges, plus served as a judge herself.

I asked for the secret for her impressive level of involvement in the industry. As it turns out, it’s just part of her personality. “That’s how I am, to a fault. I get involved in way too many things. But if something needs to be done, I’ll just jump in and do it.”

I have a word for people like Michelle: she’s a “finisher.” This was confirmed when I asked what her clients love about her. “I follow through on absolutely everything I say I will do. If I promise something, it means I am going to deliver… If I have a deadline, I’m not ever going to miss it.”

A Passion

This is more than a job for Michelle: it’s a passion. “The thing I love most about [career services] is the stories; talking to a diverse range of people,” she shares when I ask her about this. “A lot of times it will get really personal, beyond the career—and I can bring their personality into their resume and LinkedIn profile. When a client says, ‘I didn’t realize that about myself until I read it—you’re so right!’ that really makes me happy.”

As one board member put it, “Michelle is a powerhouse of innovative ideas and relentless efforts to advance the career services industry….She has never said she is too busy to pitch in when asked, never shows a sign of impatience or frustration, and never voices a complaint about anyone or anything.”

Do you see why this Member Spotlight deserves hours of effort? I feel I didn’t even cover half of her qualities, even though I just met her. When you have a chance, be sure to do an internet search for “Michelle Dumas” for a better appreciation of her accomplishments. Check out her past NRWA webinars, including “Mastering MS Word Design Tools to Tell Your Clients’ Stories Visually” and “Formatting Secrets to Eye-Appealing Resumes—Graphs, Charts, Graphics, Tables, and More Using Microsoft Office Tools.”

Please join me in recognizing Michelle for her outstanding contributions to the NRWA and the industry in general. She is truly an example of excellence!

The NCRW Corner: Who, Which, That 
by Norine Dagliano, NCRW – Director of Written Communications

preparing resumes

The use of who, which and that should be easy – just three little common words. But we seem to get a bit confused when to use which (and who or that!)

Who and that refer to people; which and that refer to objects, places, animals, and groups. Notice that the word that can be used for anything, so that seems a universally safe choice. But it’s not.

As the Grammar Girl in her Quick and Dirty Tips™ says: “… you use who when you are talking about a person and that when you are talking about an object [or group]. Stick with that rule and you’ll be safe.” This makes sense although it is acceptable, as the Gregg Reference Manual says, to use that with people.

Select who when the individual person or the individuality of a group is meant and that when a class or type is meant.

She is the only one of my managers who can speak Spanish fluently.

He is the kind of student that should take advanced math.

And then there is the use of that and which to introduce clauses. That introduces essential clauses, but which introduces nonessential clauses. Remember them?

The writer’s premise, which is a hot topic these days, required little research.(nonessential to the sentence; should be set off by commas)

All the new homes in Arizona that have tile roofs are more resistant to the hot summer sun.
(essential to the sentence to know which homes we are discussing; should not be set off by commas)

Jewels & Tools: Infographic Resumes 
by Paul Bennett - Director of Member Support, New Business Owners

“We’d like to interview you…”

Hooray! Your client is one step closer to the job of their dreams.

“…because what really intrigued us was the creativity of your resume”.

And now you know your client’s IGR (infographic resume) scored a home run.

Light bulb network of ideas

The main difference between the two is that regular resumes are word-focused and have relatively few images, whereas IGRs are image-focused and have relatively few words (traditional resumes can incorporate graphs, charts, and design elements, but they do so to a much lesser extent than IGRs). Because humans are so visually oriented – looking at pictures is less work than reading – IGRs can be very persuasive.

Advantages include potential attractiveness (beautiful examples abound; just Google “infographic samples”), the ability to present huge amounts of information on a single page, and the way they can, at first glance, make your clients appear more imaginative and creative than their competitors who present visually boring documents.

Disadvantages are that becoming proficient with them involves yet another learning curve, and ATS systems often find IGRs indigestible (so to run the ATS gauntlet and impress “old school” readers, your clients must have a non-IGR alternative available). Moreover, just as typos can deep-six a resume, badly designed IGRs can backfire; it’s better to master simplicity than to struggle with complexity). If you want to offer IGR services to your clients, you have to be honest with yourself about whether you’re able to do a good job or whether you need to partner with someone else, such as a graphic designer, who can.

IGRs work better for some job sectors (graphic design, publishing, education, the visual arts in general) and with certain demographics (millennials, Gen-Z, and eventually Gen Alpha) than others. Because they’ve been trending in recent years, some excellent articles have been written on the subject. A good starting point would be Naomi Chibana’s How to Create an Infographic Resume That Will Land You a Job and Jacques Buffett’s 15+ Infographic Resume Templates, Examples & Builder.

When creating an IGR, it’s important to not get sidetracked by the creative process. It can be fun to come up with interesting designs but choose your graphics carefully so that they, in conjunction with the words on the page, clearly articulate each client’s value proposition.

To learn more about IGRs and how to improve the appeal of your clients’ job search materials in general, check out Hannah Morgan’s book The Infographic Resume: How to Create a Visual Portfolio that Showcases Your Skills and Lands the Job. There are several online tools, such as Visme and Venngage, to assist you. You can also use Canva, which has a large section of IGR templates to get you started (just log into your Canva account and enter “infographic resume” in the search box).

New & Renewing Members 

Welcome to our new and renewing members for the month of December 2020!
Click here to view the full list.

By the numbers for the month of December:

  • 6 new members.
  • 4 renewing members from California.
  • 2 renewing past presidents of the NRWA Board of Directors.

Feel free to introduce (or reintroduce) yourself via our members-only networking forums:

You can find colleagues in your area by searching here
Not yet a member of the NRWA? Click here to join!

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The NRWA offers live and on-demand webinars, a self-paced Resume Writing 101 course, teleseminars, and more opportunities for learning throughout the year.


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