I see you over there, bleary-eyed, staring at the same Word document for what feels like hours. Achievements spanning your entire career fit nicely onto the two pages of beautifully formatted text. You have proofread and edited time and again, as have your closest confidants. Finally, finally (!) your resume is ready to make its grand debut into the world of applications, inquiry emails, and networking communications.
In the back of your mind, though, something you read in a blog post (and/or this oh-so-cheeky article from The Onion) when you first started crafting this essential document reminds you that while you would love to cross off “write my resume” from your to-do list for once and for all, one more step remains: tailoring your resume to match individual roles.
After all of that work, you ask, “do I really need to tailor my resume for each of these roles?” In a word, yes! Read on for why tailoring your resume matters, and how you can do so as efficiently as possible.
Before we jump into the nuts and bolts, we wanted to note the importance of having a really strong master resume. The stronger your master version is ahead of applying to roles, the more efficient you will be in tweaking it per opportunity. As you hear from us often, focus on strong branding, a comprehensive proficiencies section, and a reflection of your achievements in the experience section. Pattern of Excellence for life – and efficiency!
Why You Should Tailor Your Resume
Think of your resume as your ticket to a job interview. Presenting a generic piece of paper or barcode at the entrance of your favorite sporting event, concert, or amusement park will not grant you access. Instead, you need to present the right information for that particular event. Similarly, for your resume to effectively land you an interview, you need to showcase the specific information necessary for the role.
Your resume should appeal to two separate audiences: an electronic applicant tracking system (ATS) as well as a human hiring manager. Employers use ATSs to manage the high volume of applicants that they receive for each advertised opportunity. One feature of most ATSs allows them to scan resumes for specific key words and content, then rank those resumes by how closely they match the designated criteria. Often, only the top ranked resumes ever reach a hiring manager for further review.
With that in mind, take the time to review job descriptions and change some verbiage on your resume to match the language used in that particular posting. Take note of the key skills, attributes, and experiences emphasized before comparing that list to the content of your resume. Are each of those items reflected? If not, add them. Furthermore, use language similar to what you read in the job description. For instance, perhaps in one version of your resume you use the term “customer experience” but in another version you use “customer service.” Including these key words and phrases will help your resume to pass through the initial, ATS-driven phase of the hiring process.
Your resume should also appeal to the hiring manager, who will often make the final determination of whether or not to invite you for an interview. Often, this person will still only spend a few seconds reviewing your resume, even if it has already been screened by an ATS. In those few seconds, your resume needs to convey that you meet the qualifications of the role and that interviewing you would be time well spent. By customizing your resume to each individual role, you will also communicate that you approach your job search with intention. Instead of applying to hundreds of opportunities, you took the time to craft your resume especially for this role, which demonstrates interest. This will actually prepare you for a key aspect of strategic job searches – focusing on a qualitative one and not a quantitative one!
Speaking of a qualitative job search, we find that our clients ultimately enjoy better results when they employ a deliberate job search strategy. Take the time to reflect on your interests, your skills, and the value you bring to an employer. Research industries, sectors, companies, and organizations to develop a targeted list of firms. Tap into your network: do you know anyone who works for these organizations? Could you get an introduction to the hiring manager? By following this strategic approach, you purposefully reduce the number of applications that you complete, which makes the idea of tailoring your resume to each role a bit more palatable. It bears repeating: target fewer jobs you really want as opposed to applying to every potential role you could be interested in. It’s like your friend group as you get older – quality, not quantity!
How to Tailor Your Resume
Now that you understand the importance of tailoring your resume, let’s discuss the most effective ways to do so. As a reminder, you’ll want to focus on three main areas of your resume: the header / branding statement, the professional profile / core competencies, and the experience sections. The top third of the first page of your resume will likely be where you’ll spend the most time tailoring – but this should still take only a few minutes.
First, consider your header and branding statement. Remember that these provide context for the reader as they peruse the rest of your resume; this section also serves as a visual framework for understanding the content. Note that the header does not need to reflect a specific role that you have already held, just a role that you are reasonably qualified to do based upon your background. For example, take a look at two potential options for a candidate with a background in sales and account management.
Equipped with experience and skills to excel in sales, marketing, and account management capacities
Key Account Manager
Superior capabilities to build productive client relationships, increase sales, and penetrate new markets
Professional Profile / Core Competencies Sections
Next, review your professional profile and core competencies sections, and compare them with the job description. What are the 3-4 main qualifications of the role that align closely to your skill set? Make sure that those qualifications shine through in the profile section. You may even format key words using bold text to attract your reader’s attention. For example, if your targeted role emphasizes digital sales experience, public speaking skills, and collaboration, you could include content like this: Demonstrated knowledge of digital sales environment; possess strong communication and public speaking skills as well as ability to create a clear vision. Known for partnering at all levels and effecting change as a true business strategist.
After you have tweaked your profile paragraph, review your list of core competencies. Reorder them so that the most important skills are listed in the first row and the first column. Remove any unnecessary skills, like less pertinent technologies or areas of expertise. Be sure to use language that mimics what you noted in the job description. For instance, using “Client Relations” instead of “Customer Relations.”
Experience Section – All the Wins!
Finally, review your Experience section. Try using a chrono-functional hybrid format in your experience description. This format splits your experience description for each role into functional categories. For instance, Account Expansion, Sales Training Excellence, Operational Improvements, and Territory Management & Revenue Generation. Each category should contain a few bullet-pointed statements describing your key achievements, ideally with quantifiable metrics (or qualitative ones, if applicable).
If the targeted role emphasizes training new sales staff, list the Sales Training Excellence category first. Conversely, if the role focuses on growing existing accounts, Account Expansion gets the prime location. You may find that you also tweak some content within the description here and there, but this format allows for optimal flexibility and efficient tailoring.