Having a Targeted Resume and Cover Letter: How Important is it?

by Leslie Toth, MBA, CPRW, PHR, SHRM-CP

Targeted Resume

Gone are the days of the one size fits all resume. I am asked daily, do I really need to customize each resume and cover letter to each job I am applying for?  My answer is always yes! A targeted resume and cover letter speaks directly to the job you are interested in, using words and phrases that match the job description. Thus, no two targeted resumes and cover letters should ever be exactly the same.

I understand it’s a pain to customize each resume and cover letter for every new job application, but it is the best way to show you are willing to put in the extra effort to do it right. Each job posting today receives an average of 150 responses. Out of those 150 responses approximately 1-2% are viable candidates. Most people don’t read the job posting and just send off a resume. They spend no time thinking about whether they have included all essential materials and information, or even if they are qualified for the position.

Customizing Your Cover Letter

So how do you actually write a targeted cover letter? Take your cue from the job posting. See what keywords are included, which qualifications are emphasized, and in what order they list the desired skills. Then replicate those in your letter. By using the same terminology and explicitly pointing out the parallels between your qualifications and the business needs, the reader can easily see the similarities and how you qualify for the position. This will lead them to your well-written resume, where your skills and accomplishments convince them you are a candidate worth further consideration.

Customizing Your Resume

After you have crafted your targeted cover letter, it’s time to tackle the resume. The easiest way to target your resume (without rewriting the whole thing) is to include a professional summary and career highlights section at the top of your resume. You will also want to write a job target title at the top of your resume that defines who you are as a professional. Create a branding statement in your summary that is customized to each specific job. A branding statement is a one or two line statement that sums up the value you bring based upon their needs and your previous experience. In your career highlights make sure to list the accomplishments most pertinent to the position.

It is essential to use specific keywords in your resume. Keywords should be used in your job title, branding statement, career summary, and most other sections of your resume. Due to the high volume of applicants for most job postings, employers and recruiters often utilize ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) to screen resumes. If your resume doesn’t contain the keywords used in the job description, it may not turn up in the recruiter’s search of the ATS. Customizing your resume to include relevant keywords will greatly increase the probability that it will be found. Being found in the ATS search means that your resume will be seen and receive consideration.

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I’m not saying you have to completely rewrite each document every time. Instead, just rearrange and restructure it to fit the specific details of the position.  This will separate your application from the rest of the pack. Remember, when applying for a job, you really do only have one chance to make a good impression. Judgment on whether you are a good fit for the position happens so quickly that if you don’t have everything how they want it you will be waiting a very long time for that phone call.

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