Hunting for a job is hard work. In between researching companies you want to apply to, drafting your application materials, and networking, it can be a huge time suck. So it’s not a surprise that many people try to shave off time and effort where they can — it’s all about working smarter, not harder. But unfortunately, some of the corners people cut don’t just reduce the amount of time they spend searching for a job — they also reduce their chances of actually getting a call back from a recruiter.
Case in point: drafting a one-size-fits-all resume. Once you’ve created a resume that you’re really proud of, it’s tempting to blast it out to all of the jobs you apply to. But doing so is a missed opportunity, says Michele Moore, certified career coach at Ama La Vida.
“Employers are not interested in ‘vanilla’ candidates and genuinely appreciate when applicants take the time to highlight the reasons they are a perfect fit for the position so they can more easily spot these individuals and move them to the next stage of screening,” Moore says. Because of that, “you should absolutely tailor your resume to suit the company, industry, location, and other parameters of the role.”
The good news? You don’t need to completely start from scratch. The most recent final version of your resume can serve as a template — things like your contact info won’t change, but there are a few specific fields you want to customize. Here’s what Moore recommends.
When customizing your resume to a particular opportunity, “this is probably the best place to spend your time, reflecting on the vacancy description and pulling out of it key words and phrases that align with your talents. Then make sure your resume includes these words and phrases,” Moore says.
Not only is this critical in making sure that recruiters and hiring managers know you’re the right person for the role — it’s critical for the computer scanning your resume as well.
“This is particularly important when today's Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs) use these items to auto-screen applications in the early rounds,” Moore says. “Without including some of these crucial skills, your resume may never even make it to a recruiter or hiring manager.”
Work History / Experience
Experience comes in at a close second for the most important area to update with each company you apply to.
“Similar to [skills], the precious real estate on your resume should be used to hit on only those things that are pertinent to the job description,” Moore says.
Depending on how many different positions you’ve had over the years, you may be able to omit certain jobs entirely if they’re not applicable to the role you’ve got your eyes on. But if you do have to pull from just a handful of prior work experiences, make sure that you highlight how those past positions have prepared you for the one at hand.
“You may be very proud of your banking background, but if you are applying for a position in the hospitality industry, this may not be as relevant as some other areas of your resume. Speak to your strengths and try to link transferable skills when attempting to move from one field or industry to another,” Moore recommends. “For example, in the above instance, speak about how you served clients at the bank in a way that ties into the priorities of a hospitality-based employer.”
When it comes down to it, skills and work experience are what matter most — but it’s nice if you can give recruiters and hiring managers a glimpse of who you are outside of those areas as well. For that reason, adding an Additional Experience section that highlights volunteer work, hobbies, and interests is often a good idea.
“Personal sections of one's resume (like outside hobbies or interests) have fallen out of vogue in the last few years, but this is one area where you can really differentiate yourself, particularly if you have done things outside of work that speak to the company's core values,” Moore says. “For instance, if a company has an active corporate responsibility program, your work with that local literacy program or homeless shelter may show them that giving back is also important to you and you will endorse and espouse these values on the job.”
Okay, you’ve got me — this isn’t a part of your resume, but it’s worth bringing up that cover letters, just like resumes, should be tailored as well.
“Outside of your resume, use your cover letter to demonstrate your understanding of the company, its mission, and its vision. Do your homework and explain why you are interested in working for the firm and why you believe you would be a great fit in specific terms,” Moore shares. “Overused or trite phrases that may be found in any cover letter will simply be overlooked and not give you those extra points you may need to get a call.”
Will tailoring your materials to each position you apply to be a little bit more work? Yes. But will it pay off in the end? Absolutely.
“Personalizing your resume… is not only a good idea, but also becoming more necessary in today's job market where there is keen competition for great entry-level roles,” Moore shares. “Even if you don't see the opportunity to tailor your skills or experience (or don't have much experience yet), there is always something that can help you stand out from the rest. Even things like your location, availability, interests, educational aspirations, or personal attributes can help you land a great job!”