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How to Customize Your Resume When Job Hunting

These five adjustments will make you a stronger candidate

By Susan P. Joyce | July 24, 2014
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Susan P. Joyce is editor and chief writer at Job-hunt.org and and chief blogger at Workcoachcafe.com, websites devoted to helping job seekers find employment. She is also a visiting scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

(This article previously appeared on Workcoachcafe.com.)

When you’re applying for job openings, you’ll be making a mistake by sending out the same resumé to every one of them.

Customizing your resumé for each opportunity is becoming increasingly important now that most resumés and applications are stored in an employer’s database or applicant tracking system (ATS). In addition, several studies have found that the human reviewer — if there is one — will spend fewer than 10 seconds looking at your resumé before deciding whether you are qualified.

Carefully done, customizing your resumé should do two things for you:

It will help your resumé pass the ATS/keyword test. When you put in appropriately tailored keywords, the ATS will recognize that you are a fit and then make your resumé visible to the people doing the screening.

Your resumé will impress the eventual human reviewer. This may be the biggest challenge in the whole process. Once your resumé passes through the ATS and is seen by a person, it needs to quickly demonstrate that you are qualified for the job and deserve further consideration. 
 
(MORE: 5 Resume Rules You Need to Ignore)

Customize Your Resume in 5 Steps

But don’t worry. Customizing your resumé does not mean doing a complete rewrite every time you apply for a job. It does mean, however, taking a little more time than simply clicking on the “Apply” button.

The goal is to include enough of the appropriate keywords to get your resumé through ATS and then to have content on the first page that will appeal to the person doing a quick visual scan.

Here are five ways to do it:

1. Analyze the job description. You’ll want to carefully read it to look for: the job title; the duties and responsibilities; the specific requirements of the job and the job’s location.

2. Next, customize your resumé’s “Target Job Title” or “Objective” to match the job title in the job description. Resumé expert and author Martin Yate recommends putting in a “Target Job Title” at the top, below your name and contact information. If you want to be more traditional, you could call it “Objective.”

(MORE: 5 Essential Elements Your Resume Needs)

Say the employer has titled its job opening: Medical Administrative Assistant. Then, that is the exact title you need to put at the top of your resumé as the Target Job Title or Objective. This customization makes it clear that you’ve taken the time and effort to match your resume to this specific opportunity.

3. Customize your skills, as appropriate, to match the terms used in the job description. Continuing the previous example, the job requirements in the posting might have included the following language:

Job Description: Advanced knowledge of Microsoft applications (Word, Excel, PPT)

If you have that skill, you would be smart to change your resume to include those precise terms.

Let’s assume that your resumé currently describes your Microsoft Office skills like this: Solid background in Microsoft Office.

Notice that important keywords are missing (applications, Word, Excel and PPT). This could result in your resumé failing to make it through the ATS, never to be seen by a human being.

(MORE: How to Get Your Resume Read by an Employer)

So you’d want to adjust your resumé to something like this: Advanced knowledge of Microsoft Office applicationsWord, Excel, and PowerPoint (PPT)

4. Highlight your matching skills in a special section at the top of the resumé. Yate recommends capturing the human reviewer’s attention by clearly lining up your experience with the requirements in the job description this way — right below your contact information and the Target Job Title or Objective.
He suggests calling this section “Performance Summary.” Other resumé experts prefer “Summary of Qualifications” or simply “Summary.”

In this section (which generally needs to have just three to five bullets), pick your experiences or achievements that best match the most important requirements in the job description or your most impressive achievements.

5. Confirm your location. The top of your resumé should generally indicate your location. Don’t publish your home or work address, but do include a city, county or other regional term that fits with the job’s location. If you are trying to relocate, use your future location.

Employers are usually sensitive to the location of the job candidate, preferring to hire someone who’s local for many good reasons: A local candidate is more likely to stay in the job; be on time and not need an expensive relocation. So, by including a location that fits with the employer’s requirements, you are confirming that you could be a good match.

Good luck!