Career experts agree: In order to make sure your resume stands out from the crowd, it is critical to customize it for each job that you apply for. But what exactly does that mean? This guide will give you an overview of where to focus your energy to efficiently adapt your resume for that next job application.
The ultimate goal of any changes you make to your resume should be to emphasize your fit for the exact job you are applying for. Your objective is to let the hiring manager know, within a few seconds of reviewing your resume, that you are the perfect candidate for the position.
This may mean adapting the vocabulary that you use, placing emphasis on one particular set of skills over another, or changing the order of the information on your resume. In rare cases, it may even mean using an entirely different resume format to make sure you can get your most relevant qualifications near the top third of your resume.
However, to be clear, it is critical that you don’t “fudge” information on your resume just to look like the right candidate. It is important to remain completely honest about your skills and qualifications. Remember, there are infinite ways to frame your work history that can still be an accurate portrayal of your qualifications. The key is to make sure your most important selling points get top billing on this important document in the job search.
Carefully Review the Job Description
Take your time reviewing the job description before you start working on customizing your resume. This is where you will find the required and preferred qualifications, giving you the most important lead on the skills that the employer is most concerned with. You may also find hints as to the company culture and what the employer values most.
If you hold the required qualifications, then that information should appear first in each of the sections of your resume. For example, if you are using bullet points for your work history section, you will want to be sure the first few bullets in each emphasize the required skills for the job, followed by a few that emphasize preferred qualifications if you have them.
In addition, pay attention to the vocabulary used in the job description and mirror it in your resume where possible. Say the job description includes the following under “Required Qualifications”:
Candidate must have experience in hospitality management. Knowledge of best practices for customer service, quality control, and restaurant operations required.
You can phrase your experience as an assistant manager at a restaurant in your Professional Summary in the following way:
Over 5 years of experience in hospitality management with an emphasis on motivating a staff of 30 employees to provide outstanding customer service, quality control, and efficient restaurant operations.
Additional Company Research
Spend some time on the employer’s website as well as doing some basic internet research to find press releases or other news about the company you will be applying to. In many cases, you may get some important hints about the company’s mission and core values that can help you showcase your fit for their needs.
For example, you may read a recent news article that emphasizes a change in leadership and a reorganization of the company to build a more adaptable workforce. This may lead you to include one or two examples of your ability to change and adapt to stay current in previous roles to showcase that you will be able to hit the ground running in a dynamic workplace.
Put Yourself in the Employer’s Shoes
Although the job description is a great place to start, sometimes characteristics that the employer is looking for may not have made the job ad. Take some time to put yourself in your potential employer’s shoes and imagine their ideal employee.
What special skills or experiences do you have that go above and beyond the job description that are likely to make you stand out as the ideal candidate? These items, particularly if you can include them in the form of specific and quantifiable achievements, are excellent additions to your resume.
Many employers these days use automated Applicant Tracking Systems in order to make quick work of screening the initial pool of resumes. Although your resume must read naturally to the people who will be making the final hiring decision, it also makes sense to do a little research to make sure you have the right keywords which these computer reviews are designed to look for.
The first place to look is in the job description. For example, as mentioned above, try to use similar verbs and industry specific terms that are used in the job ad for each position you apply for. However, you can also go above and beyond by doing some basic internet research on keywords that are commonly used for the job title you are applying for.
Use the most critical keywords near the top of your resume, and in the first few bullet points of each section, where possible.
Craft a Professional Summary
Many career advisors recommend using a Professional Summary at the top of your resume. This section may be a few sentences long, or in some cases, may be a bullet list of a few of your key qualifications, accomplishments, or skills that speak to the employer’s top needs in the position you are applying for.
Because it appears at the top of your resume, it is the first impression you will make to a recruiter, and as such, it is the perfect place to strongly emphasize your fit for the exact position they are hiring for.
It is critical that you rework your Professional Summary to emphasize the skills and qualifications that are central to the job you are applying for, as well as including any specific evidence that you excel at those aspects of the work.
You should plan on rewriting a new professional summary for every job you apply for.
Choose the Best Skills, Examples, and Accomplishments
Think of your resume as “prime real estate.” Each word on the page takes up valuable space. You want to make the most of each and every word so that all of the information on your resume points to one conclusion: You are the perfect candidate for the job.
As you review your work history sections, look for fit to the position you are applying for. For example, you probably did work in the past that may be relevant for another job but isn’t relevant to the current job. Those items can be cut.
On the other hand, even if you worked in another sector in the past, chances are some of the work demonstrated transferable skills to the job you are currently applying for. Make the most of these sections on your resume by emphasizing those qualifications that will matter most to your new employer.
Apply this principle to every section of your resume and you will soon find that the overall impression of your resume tells a story that you are a very strong candidate for the job, achieving your ultimate goal with this important document.
Develop a Master Resume
Some people find it helpful to develop what is known as a “Master Resume.” The idea here is to compile an exhaustive list of your qualifications in each section, allowing you to cut and paste what you need in order to create a custom resume for each job.
This technique can work very well, particularly if you plan on using the same resume template for each job you apply for. In addition, you can build it over time as you apply to different jobs. This eventually means you will be doing the real creative work once, making resume customization a much more efficient process.
Save Old Resume Copies
Another trick to making resume customization a bit more efficient is to carefully save your old resume files in a way that allows you to use a previous resume from a job that was very similar to the one you are applying for now as a starting point. This technique can save a great deal of time. However, plan on spending at least a half hour or more to adjust it for the perfect fit using the techniques outlined above.
When to Change Your Resume Format
In most cases, you probably won’t need to use different formats to apply for different jobs. However, there are some cases where it might be helpful to use different sections, again, with the aim of emphasizing your fit for the job you are applying for.
For example, if you are applying for jobs that more or less represent a direct extension to your current career trajectory, then the combination or reverse chronological resume format will probably suit most, if not all, of the jobs you are applying for.
However, if you are reaching out of your wheelhouse into a new career field for a job in a different sector, then you may want to consider trying a functional resume format which will allow you to put more emphasis on transferable skills, while de-emphasizing irrelevant work experiences from past jobs.