It may be the wrong holiday for scary stories, but it worked for Scrooge, so here goes: Always tailor your resume to fit each job!!
Several years ago, a colleague was looking for a new job. It seemed like they were doing everything right—they reached out to their network, did a rigorous job search, and applied to dozens of places. They even had AN INTERNAL REFERRAL (the holy grail of job hunting), and a well-respected member of the team they wanted to join spoke to the hiring manager, who then reached out to HR to fast-track their resume to the next stage. That's the dream!
And a week went by. And another week. And another. And my colleague never got the call. Finally, they reached out to their contact on the team to see what was up. The hiring process was moving forward and the committee had conducted several interviews already, so some candidates were getting through. What happened?
Well, as it turns out, my colleague had been sending out the same standard resume to everywhere they applied. At this one company, that had meant their resume NEVER EVEN MADE IT through ATS into the hands of the recruiter—even though they were completely qualified for the job, they’d left out 3 of the key skills in the job posting, so their resume got filtered out. Just 3 phrases added to their resume, and they could have already interviewed for the role!
How Tailoring Works
In a competitive job search, you can’t count on an internal referral to pluck you out of a huge pool of applicants. Your resume needs to look as much like their “perfect candidate” as possible.
To make it through ATS and grab recruiter attention, you need to tailor the resume title, summary, and skills sections to align with each specific job posting.
Title: This part’s easy. If you’re applying for a Junior Software Developer job, put “Junior Software Developer” at the top of your resume and use that as your title. If using the exact title feels like a stretch based on your previous experience, use a title as close to the one in the job ad as you can. If you are applying to be a Marketing Manager but don’t feel comfortable calling yourself “manager” yet, use something close like “Marketing Specialist” or “Marketing Professional.” More seasoned professionals might use titles adjacent to the one their applying for, too, to show a strong professional brand (like “Global Operations Executive” or “Financial Industry Leader”).
Summary: Yes, your resume needs a summary. Recruiters and hiring managers need to form quick impressions when they’re seeing lots of candidates, so don’t count on them reading every line of your resume and contemplating for 20 minutes to assess your full professional abilities. Don’t be coy, don’t be slick, just come right out and tell them why they should hire you.
After 20 minutes, they’re 100 applicants past you, so tell them you’re The One right away in the first 3 or 4 lines of your resume! Pinpoint the key phrases in the job posting and make sure your summary matches. (Does the job ad mention collaboration and working across teams several times? Does the word “communication” show up more than once? Well, you’d better address those in your summary, huh.)
Skills: This one is the easiest of all, so DON’T SKIP IT. Having a list of competencies and expertise is not just for the humans looking at your resume, it’s also for the ATS to match you against the keywords in the job description. See which key skills they’re looking for and make sure they’re somewhere in your document, either listed out or woven into your professional experience.
Applying to multiple places can make tailoring seem like a thankless chore, but the payoff is unbelievable. Follow this simple checklist each time you send your resume out, and you’ll be getting calls in no time!
Change the title on your resume to match or nearly match the title in the job posting.
Review the job posting, the company, and some of their competitors in the industry—determine what they’re really looking for in a candidate.
List out a handful of the most important qualities employers want in this role—how you can sell yourself as the answer to their prayers?
Include the most important qualities somewhere in the summary paragraph (don’t make this too long!).
Read over the specific job posting and highlight key words and skills—make sure your resume includes all the ones that apply to you.
Look over your professional achievements and see which ones apply most directly to the job you’re applying for—make sure these stand out, either listing them first under each experience or creating a “highlights” section toward the top of your resume.
Luckily, my colleague did end up getting an interview, after they followed up and their resume found its way to the right hands. They could have saved weeks of waiting, though, if they’d taken 5 minutes to tailor their resume before sending it off. Other applicants aren’t always so lucky, so leave nothing to chance. A few minutes tailoring your materials can get you through ATS and into a recruiter’s “to call” pile before you can say Happy New Year.