Tweak your resume for every single job you apply for.
You’ve heard that advice before, right? It’s definitely oft-repeated when you’re on the hunt for a new position — but is it actually true? Or is yet another archaic and obsolete piece of job search wisdom?
Here’s the short answer: yes, it’s in your best interest to make some changes for each job. Let’s dig into why this process is important — as well as what exactly it means to “tailor your resume.”
Do You Really Always Need to Tweak Your Resume?
The very idea of making changes to this type of document can seem sort of strange.
After all, it’s really just a summary of your professional history and your qualifications. You can’t rewind time and change your experiences, so how much revamping can really be done here?
Here’s the thing: when people talk about tailoring or tweaking your resume, they aren’t alluding to a complete overhaul. Instead, it’s about making some subtle changes to what you’re emphasizing, so that you can prove that you’re an undeniably relevant fit for whatever job you’re applying for.
For example, when you find a job that interests you and you pull your standard, boilerplate resume out of the dusty corners of your computer files, you’ll want to make some changes and updates if:
- You’re making a total career change and need your document to call attention to totally different skills and qualifications
- You’re applying for a slightly different type of job and certain skills require a little more emphasis or strategic placement
- You’re applying to a company with a specific or unique culture and want to prove you’ll fit in
Remember, your resume is your golden ticket in the door for an interview, and in order to be successful in landing that conversation, you need to prove that you’re a highly-relevant candidate — which will be challenging to do if you’re blanketing the world in the same generic document.
When people talk about tailoring or tweaking your resume, they aren’t alluding to a complete overhaul.
How Do You Get Started Tweaking Your Resume?
So, what now? You know that you should be investing the time in making some changes, but where do you even start?
This process begins by taking a fine-tooth comb to the description of the job you’re applying for. I recommend physically printing it out so that you can highlight certain things and even jot down notes.
Armed with the job description, you should be looking for:
- Technical skills that they emphasize (i.e. proficiency with Photoshop or Salesforce)
- Soft skills that they emphasize (i.e. problem-solving or teamwork)
- Words that you see cropping up again and again (i.e. collaborative or self-motivated)
Those are terms that you should be incorporating into your own resume and/or cover letter (provided those are competencies you honestly possess, of course).
Why does this matter? Yes, it all comes back to relevance, but injecting these terms into your own career documents can also help you get past any Applicant Tracking System (ATS) that the employer has in place.
An ATS is the scary robot that scans your resume before it ever makes it into any human hands. It’s essentially skimming for keywords that the employer has programmed. If your own resume doesn’t have the right terms, you’re headed straight for the recycling bin — without ever having a real person review your document.
See? I told you relevance was important.
What Sorts of Resume Tweaks Should You Be Making?
You’ve pulled that job description apart, and you know what that employer is looking for — as well as what skills and qualifications you bring to the table.
Now it’s time to weave those things into your own resume. This can feel challenging. Your document has limited real estate, and telling your career story in the confines of those bullets and sentence fragments can feel daunting.
Fortunately, it’s not impossible. When tweaking your own resume, there are a few areas that deserve your attention:
Your Professional Summary
This is the brief paragraph at the top of your resume that sets the scene about who you are, what experiences you have, and what value you offer.
Since it has such a prime spot on your document, it’s one of the first places that actually gets reviewed — whether by an ATS or some real, human eyes. So, you need to make this as impactful and relevant as possible.
Let’s assume that I have a history in customer service, but I’m making a slight change and applying for a more sales-oriented role. Here’s the existing professional summary from my customer service-focused resume:
Passionate customer service professional with over five years of experience in customer-facing roles. Skilled communicator with a knack for solving customer problems. Proficient with CRM software and databases. Dedicated team player and enthusiastic collaborator.
After reviewing the job description for the sales role, I see quite a few terms and qualifications have been emphasized — mainly terms like communication, self-motivation, people-oriented, and teamwork.
Here’s what my professional summary would look like after making some changes for that sales role:
Self-motivated aspiring sales professional with over five years of experience working as part of a customer-facing team. Skilled communicator with a people-oriented attitude. Passionate about solving problems and addressing client needs to elevate the reputation and bottom line of an organization that values quality service and client care.
Both summaries are strong, but the second example includes all of those key terms that were identified in the job description, and also ends by emphasizing the value that employer will experience.
Your Key Skills
Somewhere on your resume (typically right underneath your professional summary), you also have a section where you bullet out some of your strongest skills and competencies.
This section essentially serves as a list of key terms, making it a great (and easy) place to make some changes and prove your relevance.
This is as simple as swapping out any less-relevant or pertinent skills that are currently on your document with some of the terms that employer is asking for (again, as long as you’re being honest about your own qualifications).
Any skills that you believe make you the most impressive candidate for that position should be at the top of your bulleted list, as those are the ones that the hiring manager will see first.
Your Work History
I can’t blame you if you took one look at this header and thought, “Huh? How much can I really change about my work history?”
That’s true — your experience is your experience. But, this isn’t about changing your history itself, it’s about changing how you present it.
This isn’t about changing your history itself, it’s about changing how you present it.
It’s possible to make some tweaks to your bullets that talk about your job experience to highlight your more relevant responsibilities and diminish (or even eliminate) things you did that won’t be as impressive or relevant to that employer.
Let’s stick with our example of moving from a customer service role to a sales-focused position. An employer might not care as much about how many customer complaint files you closed, but they will care about the fact that you planned a customer event that generated 30 new leads or that you ended each conversation by up-selling happy customers on new products.
Go through your previous employment and tweak or add bullet points that will stand out to that employer, and eliminate any that are unnecessary or make your document seem unfocused. It’s just another way to elevate your candidacy.
In most cases, your resume isn’t going to require a major overhaul ahead of submission (particularly if you’re sticking with your same industry or type of role). Instead, this process involves making some strategic changes to prove you check the boxes that employer is looking for.
Use this as your guide, and I’m confident that you’ll make it past this first hurdle and land an interview. Good luck!
Do you tweak your resume for each job you apply to? What changes do you think are most important?
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