Avoid the Resume Black Hole: Resume Customization Cheat Sheet

WorkCoachCafeCustomizing your resume for each opportunity is not optional these days. Customization will help your resume escape the dreaded “black hole” where resumes disappear. Customization also demonstrates your interest in the opportunity, which will impress the employer.

Customize to Stand Out in the Crowd (and the Resume Database)

The Customization Cheat Sheet helps you focus on your qualifications and accomplishments relevant to the opportunity, enabling you to highlight them on your resume.  Accomplishments (particularly quantified ones, like the example below) make your resume stand out in the crowd of “responsible for…” responses.

And, if your resume doesn’t contain the “right” words, the keywords the recruiter or HR person uses to search the resume database or applicant tracking system, your resume won’t be found, and you won’t be considered for the job.

While you customize your resume, pay close attention to the exact words used in the job description, and do your best to match that language. Read 5 Resume Rules You MUST Ignore for details on why and how.

Customizing your resume, using the techniques described below, will showcase your qualifications for the job and help you ensure that you have included the appropriate keywords.  Both results will increase the probability that your resume avoids the resume black hole.

Customization takes some time and effort, but, done right, it pays off.

Build Your Resume Customization Cheat Sheet

[Use this blank PDF version of the Resume Customization Cheat Sheet. Or create your own spreadsheet or word processing document.]

1.  Put the job title used in the job description at the top of the page.

This is the name that the new employer uses for this position. Use this job title in your cover letter and the resume or application you submit for this opportunity, or risk having your resume disappear.  If a current or former employer used a different job title, ignore it – if the requirements, responsibilities, and duties seem to be describing the same job.

2.  Write the employer’s name (e.g. IBM) on the next line.

Added to the employer’s job title, use this for your “objective” or “summary” on this resume, as in…

Objective: [job title] position with [employer name] 

Or simply add that line to the top center of your resume below your name and contact information.

3.  Find the employer’s identifier for the job, if any, and the location next.

Often there is a requisition number, a posting ID, or some other identifier. Use this identifier in the email subject or your cover letter along with the location and job title, as in…

Subject: [job title] in [location] – [identifier]

4.  List the job description requirements.

Pick out each qualification required and also the “nice to have” specification listed in the job description, and list them on your cheat sheet.

For example, if your target job is assistant branch manager at Bank X and the job description lists the following requirements:

  • Two years of business banking experience
  • At least one year of experience managing people
  • A can-do attitude
  • A customer service orientation.

Write the first of the requirements on the left column of the Cheat Sheet, or in Column A if you are using a spreadsheet.

5.  Next, add your specific experience that meets or exceeds that requirement in the center of the line.

Following the example above (and assuming you meet those requirements), list how you meet that requirement in column B on the spreadsheet or the middle column of the paper, on the same line as the requirement.

So, following the example above, list your experience that matches up with the requirement for two years of business banking experience.  Like this:

2010 to 2013,  Small Business Banker, Bank XYZ.

6.  Describe an accomplishment that demonstrates how you meet the requirement on the right side.

This will probably be the hardest part of the exercise – and the part that will be most useful for you in your cover letter and the job interview.

Finishing the example, these are the quantified accomplishments:

Responsible for closing $100M in commercial mortgages and construction and land development loans. Exceeded quality loan requirement by 18% with fewer than $1M in losses annually while meeting all sales goals. Also assisted in processing of working capital lines of credit and equipment financing loans processing for more than $25.2M in loans in 2012. 

7.  Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 for each requirement listed in the job description.

Now you have the information that describes how you meet the requirements of this job. These are also the keywords you need to include in your resume so that your resume will be included in the search results for any search of the employer’s resume database.

In most cases, if you can’t complete at least the first two columns (the requirement and your qualification), you shouldn’t waste your time applying for the job because you probably won’t be considered for it.

Use Your Cheat Sheet Work for Your Resume

Transfer your cheat sheet work to your resume. Use your responses to the first 2 or 3 requirements in the summary at the top of your resume, like this:


  • Processed $100,000,000 in commercial loans (mortgages and land and construction loans) closed in 2012.
  • Exceeded loan quality requirements by 18% with fewer than $1,000,000 in annual losses in 2012 while meeting all sales goals. 
  • Managed staff of 4 loan processors and customer service representatives.

Also include these qualifications and accomplishments in your chronological work history, as appropriate.

Re-Use Your Cheat Sheet Work for Interviews and Other Opportunities

Save the work you put into creating this cheat sheet because it will also help you prepare for your job interview.

If you are applying for similar positions elsewhere, this work should also help you customize your resume for other similar opportunities.

 More Information About Avoiding the Black Hole

Beating the Resume Black Hole: Finding the Right Keywords for Your Resume (Step 1)

Beating the Resume Black Hole: Using the Right Keywords on Your Resume (Step 2)

Using the Right Keywords in Your Email Message (Step 3)

© Copyright, 2013, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org.  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


  1. Many job hunters find it difficult to praise themselves. A competent career coach or professional resume writer will interview the individual and generate answers to specific questions. We don’t discuss what you “aren’t” – we discuss your achievements and things that make you proud.

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