When you match your resume to the job (description), you are giving yourself the best chance of being seen as a great fit. Competition is stiff and you want to make it as easy as possible for the resume screener. And I say this having been a screener for many years as part of my hiring manager responsibilities.
So let me say this loud and clear: PLEASE customize your resume to the job you’re applying for, as best you can. Despite claims that the resume is dead, resumes are still one of your strongest marketing tools. Even in this ill-designed, ridiculously frustrating hiring process. And its job continues long AFTER an initial screener sees it.
Tips for matching your resume to the job
Now for those steps I promised to help you match your resume to the job description:
- Get the job description and put it in front of you.
- Circle the key skills & experience the company is looking for.
- Make a list of all the things you’ve actually done in your career that make you a good fit. (Remember to think about your transferable skills, too.)
- Now go get your resume and put that in front of you also.
- Look to see where your already-listed experiences might match with elements in the job description.
- Circle those matching experiences, so you can go back to them later. And decide which ones you’ll give more emphasis and/or a higher position in your bullet lists.
- Now think about things you’ve done in other jobs or elsewhere (volunteer, special projects, freelance). Things that are NOT yet on your resume. Add the strongest ones that show why you would be an asset (match) to the new job.
- Next go through your resume, editing and adding where needed to give more weight to your strongest matching items (including keywords and key phrases). But also mentioning something even from years back if it might help. (This is a good time to get rid of items that don’t help and may lead you back to things you don’t ever want to do again.)
An example of reviving an old skill: If you used Microsoft Access in 2000, but haven’t touched it since then, and IF the job description specifically mentions it, clearly let them know you have the skill both in your resume and cover letter. Just don’t lie about how good you are.
Bonus points: Go ahead and brush up your skills ahead of time just in case. This shows initiative and the ability to easily pick up the skill again. Also makes great talking points in an interview or phone screen.
- If you use a Summary of Qualifications or similar section to lead off your resume (these are very useful), this is a great place to emphasize your strongest skills that match the job’s key requirements. (Also useful for your cover letter.)
- Read the job description again. Now look at your entire resume. Have you made it easy for the screener to see the match? If not, give it another shot and make sure to focus in on the strongest matching points, giving them extra emphasis.
Once you’re happy with what you have, of course now go back and check for typos, grammar, overall appearance, etc. And voila! You now have a customized resume that has a better chance of getting you that all-important first interview.
Match your resume, but keep it real!
While I strongly suggest you take the time to tailor each resume to the job you’re applying for, the customization has to be REAL. And it needs to be reasonably IN PROPORTION to the rest of your resume — or it will look like you’re trying to snow them.
So by all means keep it real. But make sure they get the strongest picture of how well you do fit THIS job and the company. That’s the whole point.
Of course, if you don’t really fit, you can customize your resume until the cows come home, and you won’t get the job. You just need to make sure you maximize their understanding of what a great match for them you could be. (Helps to believe it!)
Plus, all this effort will help you create a good cover letter and — added benefit — help you focus your interview answers and stories. If you clearly know all the ways you match, not only will you be able to create a stronger resume and cover letter, you’ll have an easier time telling your story to your future employer!
[Post updated in 2020]
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe and Work To the Wise, bases her real-world advice on many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker and career blogger.
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