Customize your resume for each job you apply to. You won’t regret it.

John stayed up all night working on his resume, proofreading and editing until his eyes turned red with tears. Finally, he hit the upload button and sent his resume to the cloud and to his dream employer. After waiting three weeks for a reply, John called the human resources department and inquired about the job listing. They weren't interested. Why? They thought he was qualified — just not for this job.

John made the most common mistake job seekers make. He didn't send a customized, job-specific resume for the opportunity. While he had more than 15 years experience in the same role, the hiring manager couldn't see it. The resume was too general and not a targeted resume.

Most job seekers understand the importance of a resume and cover letter. Some even know how to write action sentences and show achievements rather than job duties. However, creating a separate, tailored resume for each job post rarely registers. They, like John, submit their general resume to job boards and HR departments, never realizing they killed their chances before the game even started.

Customizing your resume for each opportunity is not optional. Each position has separate needs and requirements. It's the candidate's responsibility to convince each company that they meet those criteria.

“What? Write more than one resume, you say. I didn't even like writing the first one.”

Resume writing may be difficult, but a tailored resume pays off. Follow these simple steps to customize your resume to fit each job.

Carefully read the job description

Hiring managers and recruiters spend endless hours optimizing job posts and descriptions. They want to convey a message. Don't neglect this free advice. Before you craft your job specific resume, carefully read the job description and make note of the job title, duties and responsibilities, specific requirements, and location.

Now compare the requirements to your past experiences and skills. Do you meet at least 50 percent of the criteria? If not, move on and forget about this position. Choose options that meet your credentials. Sure, it's possible to learn new skills, and many candidates successfully transfer one ability for another, but just make sure this is possible.

Rewrite your professional summary and title to match the job post

Professional resume writers and career coaches recommend including the target job title at the top of each resume. Don't use your desired title, the name of your last position, or any other general naming conventions. Use the title the company lists, instead. This helps your tailored resume pass the ATS (applicant tracking system) and prevents human eyes from discarding a resume they believe made the wrong pile.

Include a detailed professional summary directly below your targeted position. It's important to note the traditional career objective no longer applies; it is outdated and serves as a filler. The targeted position combined with a career summary has replaced objectives. In your summary, carefully list the most important elements of your career experience, skills, and achievements. While this isn't the place to include quantifiable data, keep the summary as descriptive as possible. Use keywords and descriptions from the job post to aid this process. Here's an example:

Dedicated Senior Marketing Manager with more than 20 years' experience creating social media strategy, designing advertising campaigns, and launching new brands and products for Fortune 500 companies. Experienced leader with the acumen to lead cross-functional departments large and small while retaining the ability to work independently. Collaborative communicator focused on building trust and confidence among clients.  

Narrow your skills

One of the most crucial aspects often left out of a resume is key skills and areas of competence. This bulleted list directs the reader to understand your underlying abilities. After computers sift through resumes and discard those not matching the job criteria, hiring managers scan the documents to see who is the best fit. If your resume doesn't tell them your skills and abilities within six to ten seconds, forget about the interview.

Most companies list specific skills they want to see from candidates. Use these as a guideline for editing your areas of expertise and fine tune your skills to match. For example, your original areas of expertise may look like this:

  • Marketing Research

  • Google Analytics

  • Social Media Management

  • Brand Promotion

  • Advertising Campaigns

  • Product Launches

  • Customer Relations

  • Team Management

  • Leadership & Training

Let's assume you are applying for a job with XYZ Company as a Marketing Director. Some of these areas of expertise are great. What if the company lists capture planning, Hootsuite and Canva proficiency, Google AdWords, and paid search as part of the description? Either add them to the above list or replace some of the areas. However, don't include them if you don't have experience using them.

  • Marketing Research

  • Google Analytics & AdWords

  • Hootsuite & Canva

  • Brand Promotion

  • Advertising Campaigns

  • Product Launches

  • Capture Planning

  • Paid Search Results

  • Leadership & Training

Update your experience and notable contributions

The easiest part of rewriting your resume to match your potential employer's listing is rewriting the job descriptions of your past employers. Look through the job description the potential employer listed and choose the elements that match your past experience. Reword – DON'T Copy-paste – the listing. For example, your past history may include “spearheading advertising campaigns.” The potential employer may want someone who can “create eye-catching Facebook and Google Ads.” Did your campaigns include creating advertisements on these platforms? Remember, even with a targeted resume, it's all about keywords.

On the other hand, save your best contributions for the special display. Your first three past experiences should list notable achievements and contributions. Don't be misguided here; contributions and achievements aren't your company awards or designations. This is a bulleted list of quantifiable results and achievements you made for the company. Tailor the wording the same way you optimized the job description by using keywords the new company included in their job description.

Your professional development should reflect your potential job

It's human to want to list every single achievement and development on your resume. Don't do it. This extra, unnecessary information is cumbersome to hiring managers. They may throw it away rather than sift through several pages of meaningless information, so keep your resume to two pages or less. One way to limit unnecessary information is by editing the professional development section.

Most candidates with several years of experience have a list of professional training a mile long. As you move up the ladder, you train for advanced jobs, learn new skills, and replace old, outdated information. Remove all old training from your resume. General rule: Anything over five years is considered outdated. The exception, of course, would be for training that is directly related to your job and target job. Travel nurses who took advanced Spanish immersion courses 10 years ago should keep this information, but marketing managers can delete MySpace and Facebook training they received seven years ago.

On the other hand, some recent training may not be relevant. Anything not directly relating to the job should be removed. For example, lawyers who took interpersonal communications classes may want to keep this information. Doctors who took a workforce safety course should consider removing it. Ask these questions to determine if the information fits or if it is too old: “How long has it been since I actually used this training?", "Will I need it for the next job?", and "Does the company list this knowledge on the job description?” 

Using this information, you can customize your resume for each job you apply to, and prevent the hiring manager from throwing it away.

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