Customizing your resume for a specific job

Recruiters are overwhelmed. It’s not uncommon for a recruiter to receive an average of 250 resumes in response to an open role. Because of that, one of two things is going to happen - Either a recruiter will scan your resume for about 6 seconds or your professional baby will pass through an applicant tracking system, or ATS (70% of larger companies and 90% of fortune 500 companies use an ATS to scan resumes.).  

Both the recruiters and the ATS scan for keywords, which include hard and soft skills as well as years of previous experience. This means that, if your resume does not include these things, you’re likely not moving forward in the application process, so tailoring your resume to the job is crucial.

Know thyself

The first step to customizing your resume is to know what should actually be on it, current job prospect aside. The current popular recommendation is to craft and maintain a master resume, or a resume which contains everything. You won’t be sending this resume out to hiring managers - Instead, you’ll use this document as the foundation of your customized, job-specific resumes.

The second step in professional self-knowledge is to create a list of your skills - all your skills, hard and soft. Are you experienced in team leadership? Empathetic? An natural problem-solver? Include them all and rank by strength.

Know the job

Now that you know your own key skills, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the skills necessary to conquer the job.

A job description with the keywords highlighted.
  • Identify the keywords. Recruiters and ATS use keywords to conduct efficient, preliminary screens. Keywords include things like action verbs and industry-specific jargon. This is especially important to note if you’re entering a new field.

To identify keywords, collect five to ten job descriptions for roles similar to your target role, preferably at organizations of similar size and industry, as well as five LinkedIn accounts of individuals who have the job you want. Scan these materials and highlight keywords. Note which keywords occur most frequently.

Now, list the keywords present in the job description of your target role.

A list of keywords from a job description.
  • List the keywords by importance. List all your identified keywords by order of frequent appearance. Embolden the keywords which are present in the job description of your target role. Where on your list do these keywords occur? Pay close attention to the keywords surrounding them.


  • Do a little culture digging. Identifying necessary hard skills is crucial, but awareness of valued soft skills may be what set you apart from the rest. Investigate the organization’s mission statement, as well as their core values through their social media, website, and informational interviews. Which of these soft skills are on your personal skill list? Which of these are crucial?

Compare lists. Now that you’re aware of both the your strengths and the strengths the job requires, compare lists and get ready to edit that resume.

Customizing your standing resume

  • Assess for value. Assess both the sections your resume includes as well as the individual pieces of information within those sections. Resume real-estate is precious! Remember that the purpose of your resume is not to provide an all-encompassing snapshot of you as a person, but a scannable summary of your knowledge, skills, and experiences in a particular field of work.

First begin by eliminating any sections which are not pertinent to the job you’re after. For instance, graphic design experience isn’t necessary if you’re applying for a role as a programmer.

Now revisit your job summaries. Many jobs span farther than the scope of the title. Your standing resume should include all the tasks, skills, managerial experience, training, and competencies involved in a single role so that you needn’t go racking your brain every time you make a new customized resume. Simply journey through your job summaries and eliminate any information which isn’t relevant to your current job application. Consider the themes you identified during your keyword search to guide you.

Finish by revisiting your supplementary sections, such as skills, software, and education.

  • Reorder. A study which tracked the eye movements of recruiters scanning resumes found that almost 80% of time was spent on the following pieces of information:
    1. Name
    2. Current title and company
    3. Previous title and company
    4. Previous position start/end dates
    5. Current position start/end dates
    6. Education

Recruiters largely spent the rest of their precious 6 seconds searching for keywords. So, in order to ensure whoever reviews your resume finds the proper information, consider shuffling your resume around a bit.

Firstly, ensure these six crucial pieces of information are easy to find. Consider including a summative section which includes this information in brief.

In this same study, recruiters were found to spend the most time looking at the top third of a given resume, so ensure that the information you need them to know gets put at the top. A strong resume summary is a good start (more on this in a bit). Choose your most immediately relevant work experience and place it at the top, even if it’s not your most recent role. You aren’t required to organize your resume chronologically, thought many people do. To facilitate this reordering, consider making categorized work experience sections and including dates there.

  • Rephrase. This is perhaps the most crucial step. Now that you have the right information in the right order, you must ensure that your resume is clearly communicating that you’ve got the stuff it takes to do the job.

Begin by revisiting your resume summary. Ensure that it delineates who you are and why you should get the job. Include a few key quantitative pieces to give your claims credibility (Usually years of experience and one to two metrics showing your impact). Pack it with relevant keywords.

If you’re making a career shift, consider re-introducing an objectives statement in place of your resume summary. Use this statement to briefly explain why you’re making the shift and how your skill set aligns with this new career. Here’s a guide to help you out.

Now that your resume summary is relevant and keyword loaded, it’s time to turn to your job summaries. Take note of the soft skills this organization values. Do they value individuals who are creative? Competitive? Persistent? Utilize your bullet points to delineate the relevant soft skills you possess - This is an excellent way of demonstrating that your personality and work ethic are a good match for the role and the company. Here’s a guide on how to do so.

Now that you’ve incorporated both hard and soft skills into your bullet points, be sure to quantify their use. Do you have managerial experience? List how many people you oversaw. Did you lead a project? What were the metrics of its effect? Consider subdividing your bullet points into achievements and responsibilities for each role to ensure you provide appropriate information for both.

Don’t forget to incorporate keywords where appropriate. Ensure that your resume includes all keywords from the job description as well as the most frequently occurring keywords from your meta analysis. Aim to repeat the three most important skills related keywords two to three times throughout your resume (and no more).

  • Review. Now that you’ve customized your resume, review it to ensure it is communicating what you intend. I strongly recommend having it reviewed by a recruiter who covers the role in which you’re interested. If you aren’t able to do that, give your resume to a friend without telling them what role it’s for and ask what stands out. Run your resume through a cloud generator to see which words are most prominent. Do these words reflect the job posting verbiage?

Now you should have a resume tailored perfectly to the role you love. Good luck!

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