4 Ways 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?

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.

Why is it important to tailor your resume?

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.

What is an applicant tracking system?

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. 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 careful 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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4 ways to match your resume to the job description (and beat the ATS)

Each resume that's entered through an ATS is ranked. The ranking is compared to the job description, so employers look at your ranking when considering whether they should review your actual resume. But don’t feel defeated just yet! If you follow the steps below, you’ll stand a much better chance of ranking high on an ATS and getting through to the next round of decision making.

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. Select the right keywords

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. Many of the keywords you’ll want to include in your resume show up in the job description's responsibilities/duties and qualification section.

3. 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 summary 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.

4. 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.

Use Prepped’s free resume templates to apply for your dream job

Prepped can help with that. We provide the tools and training you need to succeed in your job search. Use our free resume templates to structure your resume and then use the guiding principles we shared to tailor them to the job you're applying for. Sign up for Prepped today to gain access to these free resources and more.