A one-size-fits-all resume won't help your job search.
If you've been applying for job after job to no avail, you may be feeling confused. You're superbly qualified and your resume looks alright, so what's the problem? Why aren't you hearing back when you know you could excel at the jobs you're vying for?
It's an unfortunate truth, but when it comes to the job search, having the ideal skills and experience isn't always enough. Sometimes it's not even about having a good resume. Rather, it's about having the right resume.
If you want to impress employers, you have to tailor your resume to fit each individual role you submit for. That is, you must make changes for every application so that your resume directly addresses the needs of the specific employer, not just lists out your own career path. It may sound tedious — even unnecessary — but it's the difference between a hiring manager thinking “That's nice” and “I need them here” after looking at your resume.
Of course, this is all easier said than done. To help, we've broken down why editing your resume to fit each application is important and outlined the key steps to take that will help you do it successfully.
Why it's important to tailor your resume
There are two main reasons for tailoring your resume for each job description. The first is to “please” applicant tracking systems (ATS). The ATS is a type of software used by employers during the hiring process to weed out candidates. It scans submitted resumes, searching for keywords relevant to the job that indicate that a person is qualified for the role.
If those keywords are not present on the resume, the ATS will assume that the applicant is unqualified or a poor match for the job and eliminate them. In other words, if your resume is not written with this software in mind, you could be rejected before a hiring manager even sees your name.
Luckily, the tool that will best help you pass through the ATS is directly in front of you: the job description. That is where you will find all of the essential skills and keywords that are important to a hiring manager. Therefore, when you effectively tailor your resume to target a specific job description, you utilize the language that the ATS is looking for.
The other reason why it's essential to edit your resume for each application is that it will help you speak directly to the specific needs of the employer. After all, every job is different; a sales representative role at one company will require a different combination of skills than the same role at another company.
And when the hiring manager posted the listing, they laid out exactly what they are looking for — in their own language. By bringing these details into your resume, employers will see not only that you are an impressive candidate, but also that you are exactly the person they are seeking to hire.
How to tailor your resume for each job description
Create a “master” resume
When we talk about customizing your resume to fit each job listing, we don't mean that you should write a brand new resume every time you submit an application. Instead, it's about adjusting and choosing which parts of your career story are highlighted and which can take a backseat this time around.
To do this, it's best to create a resume template or “master” resume. This is your full, polished resume that houses every bit of your experience, skill set, and greatest achievements, all written out in a presentable way. Consider it your baseline.
Then, when you're ready to start applying, use the job description to determine what parts of your master document need to change — what details should be added, subtracted, and highlighted, and what language needs to be tweaked. Working this way will help you streamline the application process because it makes the tailoring step quick and painless.
Carefully read the job description
If you want to successfully fit each job description, you'll first need to read it — thoroughly. Hiring managers don't just jot down some notes about a job and press Publish. Instead, job descriptions are carefully crafted to precisely outline what the role will entail and list the unique collection of skills needed.
From your perspective as a job seeker, employers are telling you exactly what they are hoping to see — and you now know exactly what to show them. If you do have those qualities, it's imperative that you make sure they see it. Look for the phrases and keywords core to the role that you can organically incorporate into your resume. When you speak the hiring manager's language, they'll see that you're the right fit.
Alter your professional summary
Your professional summary is the short paragraph at the top of your resume that introduces who you are as a professional and shares some of your key achievements. It's also the most flexible part of your resume. After you've read the job description and have an understanding of the role at hand, choose the parts of your story that best reflect it and bring them into your professional summary.
For instance, you could be a customer service professional who happens to be proficient in both English and Spanish. Your bilingual talent would usually be mentioned in a skills section, but if the role you're applying for calls specifically for this skill, it should be incorporated into your professional summary to ensure the hiring manager sees it right away: “Bilingual customer service representative comfortable speaking and writing in both English and Spanish.”
Narrow down your skills
As you've progressed through your career, you no doubt have built up a respectable, versatile skill set, and it's natural to want to show that off on your resume. However, though it may seem counterintuitive, listing every one of your skills is not doing you any favors.
Remember: The hiring manager told you through the job description what skills they care about most. Tailor your resume by using it to decide what to feature and what to remove.
If you can think of 20 impressive skills from your tool kit and 10 of them overlap with the job description, those 10 are the ones that should be highlighted on your resume. If there's room for more, choose those that are highly relevant, but leave it at that.
Adding every skill you've ever acquired will drown out and hide what the employer really wants to see. Omit the leftover skills and consider them as bonus — they're valuable, but not necessary here. Save them for when they are relevant to the next job you apply for.
Emphasize relevant experience and achievements
Just like your skills, you've likely built up a lengthy brag book's worth of experience and achievements throughout your career. However, also like your skills, listing everything you've ever done will result in your most relevant selling points getting lost. You have to tailor your professional history to focus on the aspects this particular hiring manager cares about most — and the job description is your guide.
Let's say you are a versatile writer who has written for social media, news outlets, advertisements, and blogs. If you are applying for a role within a marketing department, you'll want to emphasize your work in advertisements and social media. If you're looking to do more creative work, highlighting your experience with blog posts and journalistic news articles will best impress.
It's not about making you seem less experienced; it's about making sure that hiring managers see that you are capable of meeting their particular needs.
Tailoring your resume for each job you apply to seems like a lot of work. However, it is absolutely essential if you want to land a new job; it's the best way to ensure that you pass through the ATS and show the employer you have the unique skill set they're looking for.
Plus, if you go about it the right way, tailoring your resume doesn't have to be challenging. Once you craft a master document, use these tips to pick, choose, and edit the content to directly address the particulars of the job description every single time.
Remember: A hiring manager is looking for a new employee because there is a specific job that needs to be done. Show that you can do that job, not just a job in the field.
Does your resume present you as the best person for the job? Find out with a free resume critique.
This article was updated in March 2020. It was originally written by M.A. Smith.