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Career Makeover

Refining a world of experience

After 25 years traveling the world as an economic and environmental anthropologist, Patricia Vondal is ready to find a job in New England where she can use her skills and experience. After 25 years traveling the world as an economic and environmental anthropologist, Patricia Vondal is ready to find a job in New England where she can use her skills and experience. (Mark Wilson for The Boston Globe)
By Cindy Atoji Keene
Globe Correspondent / September 11, 2011

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On paper, Patricia Vondal’s career looks like a dream. During more than two decades as an economic and environmental anthropologist, she has traveled to more than 40 countries, evaluating international development programs to see whether they meet objectives in reducing poverty, generating jobs, developing democratic practices, and improving health and education. This year alone, she has worked in Egypt, Jordan, Ghana, and Indonesia.

But after 25 years on the road, Vondal, 59, wants to plant roots in New England, where she grew up. “I feel like I’m always packing and unpacking my suitcase, working to get over jet lag and exhaustion, sometimes catching some nasty intestinal disorder because of unclean water and food,’’ said Vondal, who moved back to Massachusetts two years ago and began telecommuting to her Washington firm. “While I consider myself lucky to have such an interesting career and the trust of my company to work from home, I want to apply my skills and experience locally.’’

When Vondal met with Boston career coach Kathy Robinson of TurningPoint for a Boston Globe Career Makeover, she asked, “Can you help me package my skills for a good job located in Eastern Massachusetts?’’ Vondal, who lives in Lowell, said, “I have an eight-page resume that desperately needs to be reduced and translated into something that employers in Massachusetts can relate to.’’ Vondal also wanted tips for acing interviews.

How long should a resume be? Robinson gave general guidelines. For recent graduates under 30, a resume should be one page; a longer, two-page resume is suitable for older, mid-level career job-seekers. Senior level candidates such as Vondal can proffer resumes as long as three pages.

Robinson advised that Vondal highlight experience similar to jobs she might like to land, emphasizing US experiences. “Show how you can apply your knowledge of global issues to a local population,’’ said Robinson.

Robinson suggested that Vondal narrow her search, zeroing in on employers that might be the best fit. Researching too many companies can be counterproductive, because it’s hard to dig deep enough to gain insider knowledge that helps in making connections and landing interviews. Among possible targets for Vondal: foundations, nonprofit organizations, or social services groups.

Since Vondal had not interviewed for a job since 2007, Robinson warned her to be prepared for anything. “You might walk in expecting to meet one person and instead find a conference room of seven people; you may be put in a room with someone on speaker phone; you might be asked to give a presentation,’’ said Robinson. “In an interview process, it’s important to go with the flow.’’

Smart job candidates should try to figure out the language and culture of each place. “Mirror their terminology,’’ said Robinson. And don’t go overboard in explaining your job experience. Older candidates should be careful about bringing up long-ago projects.

“Don’t bring up work from 1973 if the interviewer looks like he wasn’t even born then,’’ said Robinson.

Finally, Robinson reminded Vondal that finding the right job opportunity takes time, especially for senior-level candidates. A general time frame sometimes given by recruiters is to allow one month of searching for every $10,000 in salary. “Don’t settle for just any position,’’ said Robinson. “Take the time to research jobs. Information is an important commodity in job hunting.’’

To be considered for a Career Makeover, send an e-mail to

Goal: Package skills for a social action position located in Eastern Massachusetts.
Problem: Job hunter with decades-long career has trouble translating international experience into local roles.
Recommendations from career coach Kathy Robinson:
■Follow general resume guidelines: One page for recent graduates with little job experience, two pages for mid-level career job-seekers, and three pages for senior candidates.
■Cast a narrow, not wide net in job search, allowing a deeper look into industry opportunities.
■Contact hiring managers directly.
■Be flexible during interviews and prepare for unexpected interviewing scenarios.
■Mirror an interviewer’s style and behavior, showing that you fit into the company culture.
■Emphasize recent experiences and steer clear of outdated ones.
■Expect a job hunt to take time, especially for senior-level roles.