I spend the majority of my time assisting people with their resumes for job applications. My main advice is to always target (or tailor) your resume to the job you’re applying for. No doubt you’ve heard and seen this written by many people in the career coaching and recruiting business but what does it mean exactly?
Essentially it is as straightforward as it sounds. You write your resume for the specific job you are applying for. Your resume is your promotional material for a particular position. You are advertising yourself to the employer and showcasing why hiring you will benefit the company more than hiring one of the other candidates.
Here is my approach to tailoring your resume to a particular job:
- Have a “master” resume that includes all of your experience, education and skills details. This is a useful catalogue to draw the relevant information from (but do not submit this). Your LinkedIn profile can be a useful resource for this because you can include much more in your LinkedIn profile than you would ever submit in a job application.
- Write your resume for the employer. The employer is reading your resume with a “what is in it for me?” approach. Therefore your resume should be written with this in mind. Remember, this is your sales pitch to the employer; you are the product.
- The use of keywords in your resume is essential. Why? Because keywords are used by an employer to find the candidates with the skills, experience and qualifications they are looking for. Whether it’s a recruiter skimming a resume or an applicant tracking system your resume will be scanned for these words. Go through the job description and highlight the keywords and phrases. Pay attention to which words are mentioned first, mentioned more than once and qualifications that are marked “essential”. A great tip I read recently is to use online tools such as wordle.net . If you copy all the job description text into the text box the most used words will be the largest when the graphic is generated. Look at the company website (and social media sites) for the language used there (some key areas are “about us”, company missions, objectives, culture etc). Use online resources such as ONet Online to research occupation profiles. Read job descriptions for similar positions at different companies. These are all tools you can use to make sure you are addressing the employer’s requirements and speaking the same “language”.
- Once you’ve identified the keywords and phrases incorporate them in to your resume. This is obviously the critical piece. Don’t simply populate your resume with all the words and phrases you’ve identified. It will be obvious to the employer that this is what you’ve done. Instead, use them to guide which of your skills, experience and education are most relevant to this job and incorporate the company’s language when you are describing these aspects.
- Keep your professional experience section results-focused. Don’t just describe what you were expected to do in your job! Instead, describe what you did, how well you did it and what value this brought the company. The more you can quantify your results the better. If you’re worried about how to do this when you don’t work with numbers here’s a link to a great article by The Muse. Remember, this is your business proposal to the employer. By showcasing your previous achievements to this potential employer you are demonstrating what value you can bring to their company.
- When researching the company online look out for other indications of what may be relevant to the employer. For example, do they run an employee volunteer program or participate in other community engagement activities? If so, do you have some kind of connection you can include such as your volunteer efforts?
- Use a resume layout that makes it easy for the employer to find the information they are looking for. I prefer a combination-style resume which begins with a professional summary paragraph and a bullet-listed qualifications summary (that addresses the skills and experience etc deemed essential or desired in the job description) before listing each of your professional experiences. With this layout the employer can hopefully capture the employer’s attention right at the start. You will use the professional experience and education sections to provide more detail and back up the claims you’ve made.
- Leave out the stuff that isn’t relevant. You don’t have a lot of space to show the employer why you are right for the job so every word on that page needs to count; every word needs to be relevant.
Remember, an employer doesn’t spend a lot of time (perhaps only 30 sec) looking at a resume. If it’s not obvious that the person has the skills and experience they need it is unlikely that the resume will make the cut.