How to Tailor Your Resume to a Job Description

The Prepped Team

November 13, 2020

6 minutes

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What does it mean to tailor your resume?

Tailoring your resume means adjusting your resume to make it relevant for the job posting you are applying for.

Think of your resume as an outfit. You need to change up your clothing depending on where you’re going and the image you’re trying to project. You’re still the same person; you’re just using that outfit to cater to the room. That’s the same attitude you should take with your resume. You’re the same person with the same experiences, but you need to put on the right “outfit” depending on who you’re sharing those experiences with. 

Does tailoring your resume work?

The reality is that your resume will be one of many that an employer will receive. And if it’s a job that is in high demand and desirable, you could be stacked against hundreds of other resumes. If your resume isn’t speaking directly to the job description, featuring parts of your experiences that are relevant and using other tactical approaches like keywords to make sure you stand out, then you’ll be relegated to the pile. And that’s never a good place to be.

There are many reasons why you should be customizing your resume to the job description, not the least of which is to beat the applicant tracking system (ATS). According to Jobscan, 99 per cent of Fortune 500 companies use an applicant tracking system. Not only that, there’s a number of small and mid-sized businesses that are using these tracking systems, also. 

Simply put, tailoring your resume will help you get more interviews. If you apply for a job and the hiring manager thinks that you’re not the right fit, they won’t invite you for an interview. But if your resume is tailored to suit the requirements of the job description, they’ll be more likely to invite you for an interview.

What is an applicant tracking system? 

An applicant tracking system is software used to sort resumes or applications for any given position. For many companies, and pretty much all Fortune 500 companies, this is the first hurdle your resume will have to overcome before a human ever sees it. 

Why do companies use applicant tracking software? 

It’s a fair question. You put a lot of time into your resume and job applications, and it almost feels unfair that whether or not your application will ever be seen depends on AI software. But the fact is that businesses need to be efficient, and spending time sorting through resumes, many of which don’t even match, isn't an effective use of time. Applicant tracking software helps these companies weed out the applications from people who are simply submitting without much thought or sending through their applications, knowing that they don’t meet any of the qualifications. If you’re not using an ATS friendly resume template and if you don’t tailor your resume correctly, there’s a chance you might be lumped in with that particular crowd. The applicant tracking system is designed to scan for specific variables, and knowing those variables will help improve your chances of having an actual person review your resume.

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How to tailor your resume to a specific job posting

1. Read the job description carefully

Nothing we say before or after this will work if you’re not taking the time to thoroughly read through the job description. You have to understand what the company is looking for and what the position demands. Most companies include a summary of who they are and what they do. Read that, too. You’ll want to have as much information as possible before moving on to the next steps. Take note of the qualifications of the role and the experience you have, and begin considering how you can connect the dots in your resume and application.

2. Highlight keywords in the job description

Keywords are one major way that ATS filters a resume. If you’re a growth marketer, but neglect to include that term in your resume, you’re not getting past the ATS software. That’s why reading the job description is so important. 

3. Skills, tasks, and qualifications

Many of the keywords you’ll want to include in your resume show up in the job description's skills, tasks, and qualifications sections. Look for phrases that describe specific skills, personality traits, role responsibilities, and company culture. For example, if an employer states they’re looking for someone who’s a self-starter and detail-oriented, you should include those terms somewhere in your cover letter or resume. If they make specific mention of software skills, like being proficient with Microsoft Excel or Adobe Photoshop, be sure to include mention of that in your application as well. 

4. Update your summary

Remember, your summary is the first thing employers and recruiters read on your resume. It’s important to get it right, and tailor it to the specific job you seek.

a) If you have a summary, make sure to include the most relevant experience and skills to the role

Don’t just use a cookie-cutter summary for every job application. Include skills, traits, and experience that specifically relate to the job and company you’re applying for. This is also a good place to include keywords, if they’re a natural fit. The summary is also useful for highlighting any major achievements so they’re not overlooked if someone quickly scans your resume. 

5.  Customize your work and volunteer experience with keywords

To keep things feeling authentic, don’t stuff too many keywords together. Intersperse them throughout your cover letter, resume, or portfolio where they make sense. Ultimately, while you want to get past the ATS software, you also want to sound like a person, not a robot. A good way to do this is by sprinkling keywords throughout your work and volunteer experience. Another way to avoid sounding too repetitive is to include synonyms, acronyms, and similar terms for keywords. This will increase your chances of humans and software alike picking your resume out of the pile. 

Your work experience section is a perfect place to include keywords related to specific skills and experiences. For example, if a job listing says the ideal candidate should have experience with “SaaS and subscription based business models,” this is where you work those keywords in. If it says the candidate should have experience in a “startup environment or fast-paced organization,” you’ll want to mention any exposure you’ve had to those types of workplaces. 

Your volunteer experience section is another opportunity to include keywords related to specific skills and experiences. Perhaps you haven’t worked at a startup, but you have taken on a leadership role at a small charity with bold aspirations. That’s absolutely relevant, and should be highlighted. If a job listing asks for candidates with “strong time management skills,” emphasize how you balanced volunteer roles with work or studies. 

6. Format your resume correctly  

Like all technology, applicant tracking systems are not perfect. It’s possible that you’ve included a keyword they’ve missed or didn’t properly export to the employer. To avoid this from happening, make sure your headlines are simple and descriptive and that your resume summary statement is included at the top of your resume. You should also avoid including tables in your resume, as those may not be exported properly through the ATS. Lastly, you should follow the employer's suggested file type, which is typically .docx or .pdf. 

7. Proofread, then proofread again 

There is absolutely no room in your resume for spelling or grammatical mistakes. There’s far too much competition out there, and hiring managers are looking for any number of ways to filter through candidates. You need to make sure your resume is clear of any errors and that it includes all of the variables that we’ve spoken about, including keywords, headers and a summary of your experiences. Once you’ve read it through a few times, have someone else read it. A fresh set of eyes can make all the difference, so consider sharing your resume with friends or family to get a second opinion.

Should I tailor my resume for each job?

Here’s a rule to keep in mind: you should never send the same resume/cover letter combination to more than one company. There has to be something that each employer is asking for that is slightly or considerably different, and your resume should reflect those differences. You’re trying to get noticed, and that means putting your best foot forward. You can’t do that if you aren’t customizing your resume to fit with what’s written in the job proposal. Understand that your first battle is with the applicant tracking system. You’ll have to follow the points we listed above just to get past the software, but regardless of if a company uses ATS or not, your resume should be unique every time you apply for a job. 

Looking for more job application tips? Read more about how to write a cover letter that will get attention.

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