Tailor your Resume for Impact

To many people, tailoring a resume for each application sounds like a tedious, unnecessary step. I guess we're hoping it's not required, since it makes a long process even longer. And while it might be tempting to go for that easier, quicker solution, small details can make a big difference when only 2%-5% of candidates get an interview (yes, that's about average). In other words, it's part of the few things you actually control which can improve your chances. Other such elements are including a cover letter, and sending thank you notes throughout your job search.

3 steps to tailoring your resume

While I often repeat that accomplishments are the most critical aspect of your resume, some smaller details will also make an impact when comparing candidates. After all, they do look awfully similar sometimes. And in my view, the competition is so fierce that it's better to send 15 applications that are tailored, instead of 30 with a "spray-and-pray" approach.

3 steps to tailor your resume

1. Keyword matching

If you're applying through a job ad, the first thing you should do is carefully read the job application. What are the keywords they're looking for? What are the criteria? If you don't meet at least 75% of the criteria, don't even bother. You'll be wasting everyone's time.

Include a couple of keywords from the job ad on your resume. Also, make sure that everything they're looking for is clearly spelled out. If they're looking for Word and Excel skills, saying you're amazing with the MS Office Suite doesn't work. A software that crunches your resume might not make the connection! Yes, it's silly. But we have to deal with the job application process and adapt to its weird logic. That's how your resume will work its way through the funnel, while others will be discarded.

That is especially true if you're applying to a larger organization where they most likely have an applicant tracking system (ATS) which will scan your resume for keywords and basic criteria before anyone takes a look. 

If your resume will be handed directly through a connection of yours, you should still try to tailor it. If there's no job ad, your contact might give you a few pointers.

2. Speak their language

The next step is to adapt your resume and "translate" it, by using examples and a language that makes sense to your readers. For example, if you have a less common title, such as change management director, proposal writer or clinical ethicist, most people won't have a clear picture of your daily tasks or the value you could bring to their company. Some of the things which are obvious to you will be quite obscure for a potential employer. But they're already sifting through hundreds of resumes. They don't have the time to guess if you might succeed in the job they're trying to fill! You have to make sure that they get it. That's why you do some "translation". 

A good way to do that is to explain it with words that a smart 12 year old would understand. For example, I recently helped someone who wanted to leave the pharmaceutical sector for a job with a non-profit. We replaced words like "business" and "operations" by "organization" and "activities," which are part of the language of the non-profit world. Additionally, a lot of the technical stuff was simply removed, because it just made her look out of place. So we left it out.

On the other hand, what remained was that she solved problems, she saved money here and there, and she helped her organization do things that had never been done before. Everyone gets that! (These elements are called "benefits", and they're a critical component of resume accomplishments.)

3. Adapt your summary (the intro/bio)

Our final idea is to tailor the first part of your resume, the summary. Your resume summary has the specific purpose of highlighting your best punches in 10 seconds. Because that's the amount of time most HR pros give a resume on a first pass. Hopefully, you already have a strong summary to work from. Once you've got that as a foundation, it's very easy to customize it. One very effective tactic is to make sure that one or two bullets of your summary present your very best accomplishments for this job opportunity.

Practice makes perfect

So that's it! It might seem like a lot of work at first, but once you get the hang of it, it won't take too long. And after a few times, you'll realize you can save time by using a previously tailored resume, instead of starting from the original file all the time.

The tricks you've learned here will help your resume make its way down the job application funnel. It does take a lot of discipline to do all the steps well without cutting corners. And that's precisely what you should do. (You can do this.)

It's hard to blindly send resumes and never know where you end up. Are you getting close to an interview or were you dead last? Having no feedback can get very discouraging. But a common complaint of recruitment pros is that they often receive generic resumes. And those get discarded very quickly. Learn to dance the dance and you will get more interviews. Tailoring your resume is a great step to include in your routine.