How to Quickly and Easily Customize Your Resume for EACH Opportunity

WorkCoachCafeCustomizing your resume for each opportunity is not optional in most situations. Resume/application customization is becoming increasingly important now that most resumes and applications are stored in an employer’s resume database or applicant tracking system (“ATS”).

In addition, several recent studies have indicated that the human reviewer – if/when they do actually see your resume – will spend fewer than 10 seconds looking at your resume before deciding whether or not you are qualified for the opportunity.

Appropriate Customization Pays Off!

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

Your resume will pass the ATS/keyword test.

Do the right customization (appropriate keywords) so that the ATS recognizes that you are a fit. With the right keywords for the opportunity included in your resume, the ATS should make your resume visible to the people doing the resume screening.

Your resume will impress the human reviewer.

This may be the biggest challenge in the whole process, so far. Once your resume passes through the ATS and is seen by a human being, it needs to show the human reviewer – in less than 10 seconds – that you are qualified for the job and deserve further consideration.

Customize Your Resume in 5 Steps

Don’t be discouraged or intimidated! Customizing your resume does NOT mean a complete re-write of your resume for each opportunity. But, it does mean taking a little more time than simply clicking on the “Apply” button.

Since your first goal is to ensure that your resume contains enough of the appropriate keywords that it is seen by a human being, start by focusing on the keywords.

Then, add content to appeal to the person briefly viewing your resume. Focus on the top half of the first page of your resume – “above the fold” as they say in the newspaper and web development worlds, where it is easy to see if someone is doing a quick visual scan.

1. Analyze the job description.

Carefully read the job description. Observe:

  • The job title used in the description
  • The duties and responsibilities
  • The specific requirements of the job
  • The job’s location

For example, let’s assume that you are an experienced administrative assistant looking for a similar job, hopefully a step up in salary and responsibilities.

2. Customize your resume’s “Target Job Title” or “Objective” to match the job title in the job description.

If they use a standard job title, the one already on your resume, you are all set. However, if they use a unique version of the job title, match it.

Resume expert and author Martin Yate recommends using a “Target Job Title” at the top of your resume, below your standard name and contact information. If you want to be more traditional, you could call it “Objective.”

In our example, they have titled the job, “Medical Administrative Assistant.” So, that is the exact title you put at the top of your resume as the Target Job Title or Objective. Thus, it will be seen immediately, making it clear the job you want.

This customization also makes it clear that you have taken the time and effort to customize your resume for this specific opportunity.

3. Customize your skills, as appropriate, to match the terms used in the job description.

Continuing our example, doing a quick scan of the requirements in an administrative assistant job posting, I found the following language used:

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

Ideally, assuming you had all of the skills described, you would be smart to change the reference in your resume to include the terms used in the job description.

Let’s assume that your resume currently describes your Microsoft Office skills like this:

Current Resume: Solid background in Microsoft Office.

Notice important keywords are missing (applications, Word, Excel, PPT) from your current resume. This could result in your resume not escaping the ATS, never to be seen by a human being. So, recognizing this problem, you could adjust your resume to match the description:

Submitted Resume: Advanced knowledge of Microsoft Office applicationsWord, Excel, and PowerPoint (PPT)

This matches the language in your resume with the language used in the description, and should help your resume pass the keyword-matching requirements. It also adds the terms “Office” and “PowerPoint” in case those terms are also needed.

Including additional terms is fine – better to have too many keywords than not enough, as long as the keywords used are appropriate for you.

4. Highlight your matching skills in a special section at the top of the resume.

Resume expert Martin Yate recommends capturing the human reviewer’s attention by clearly lining up your experience with the requirements in the job description in a section at the top of your resume, below your contact information and the Target Job Title or Objective, labelled “Performance Summary.” Other resume experts recommend naming the section, “Summary of Qualifications” or simply “Summary.”

In that section, which needs to have only 3 to 5 bullets for most jobs, pick your experiences or achievements that seem to best match the most important requirements in the job description. Or, the achievements you have that are most impressive.

5. Confirm your location.

The top of your resume should indicate your location, generally. Don’t publish your home or work addresses on your resume (EVER!), but do include a city, county, or other regional term, like “East Bay” or “Metro West” that fit with the job’s location. Use your current location or, if you are trying to relocate, your future location.

Employers are <em>usually</em> sensitive to the location of the job candidate in relation to the location of the job. They prefer to hire someone who is located near the job’s location, for many good reasons: a local candidate is more likely to stay in the job, a local candidate is more likely to be on time, a local candidate will 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.

Customization done!

The rest of your resume probably needs little, if any, customization – a standard work history chronology should be fine otherwise. So, the customization you have done has probably not taken you very much time, but it should have a good payoff.

More on Effective Resumes for Your Job Search

5 Reasons You Should Customize Your Resume

Resume Customization Cheat Sheet

Before You Apply, 4 Questions You Must Ask Yourself

5 Resume Rules You Should Ignore

3 Assumptions You Should Never Make About Your Resume

Climb Out of the Resume Black Hole in 3 Steps

Why You Don’t Hear Back After You Submit Your Resume

Keys to a Good Resume and Cover Letter


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, and Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.

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