Careers

How to Adjust Your Resume for Every Job Application

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With the proliferation of resume templates and advice online, it may seem easier than ever to draft a polished and effective document. What’s even more important, however, is to tweak your resume to align with each job application. If your strategy involves sending the same resume to as many positions as possible, stop. An updated 2018 version of an eye-tracking study revealed that on average, recruiters spend 7.4 seconds scanning a resume. That’s it. If your resume fails to attract recruiters’ attention in those seven seconds, it will be tossed.

When I mention the importance of customizing resumes, many job seekers groan in frustration, expressing the challenge of finding enough time to do what needs to be done before sending in applications. I understand that time is limited and you may need an internship or job right away, but refusing to tailor your resume doesn’t save you time; it puts you further behind. Quality over quantity is a good mantra to have. While blasting off the same resume to 50 positions today may feel like an accomplishment, it’s unlikely you’ll hear back from any of them. Even if after sending in hundreds of applications, you hear back from one or two, the chances of getting to an offer are zero to none.


Reviewers look for relevant information when they scan your resume; tweaking it shows them that you are serious about the role, have spent time studying it, and have made an effort to emphasize what you have that they need. That small step reveals you as the kind of person who takes the time to create a quality product when it comes to their professional development. Do you want to be that person? If yes, then please tweak your resume for each application.

Here is how to do it.

Keep A Master Resume 

Tweaking your resume doesn’t mean completely rewriting the draft. Customization encourages you to carefully review your document and align it with the target position. One way to make the process easier is to keep a master resume -- one that includes everything you have ever done: Education, study abroad, certifications, professional affiliations and engagements, internship and job experience, competitions, student clubs, and volunteer stints. A master resume represents a repository of all your experiences. When you prepare to apply for a position, save a separate copy of your resume for that position and remove from it anything that’s not relevant. As I tell my students, it’s much easier to delete information than to come up with new information.

Read the Job Description

This one may seem obvious, but I’ve met enough candidates who admit to not reading anything beyond the title to know that I need to mention it. Many college students or recent graduates are so eager to secure their first employment that they search for a specific title and immediately click on the "apply" button. Not only does this approach prevent you from determining if the position aligns with your background and interests, but it also sets you up for an unpleasant job search process. To avoid unnecessary disappointment, review each position to make sure you understand what the employer is looking for. Next, look at your resume and be honest: Does it represent you as someone who has relevant knowledge and skills for that role? If not, you have work to do before sending in your application.

Identify Themes

Print out a copy of the job description and as you read it, use markers of different colors to highlight different themes you notice: analytical skills, collaboration, personality traits, communication, and so forth. The colors will help you see what’s most valuable for the role. For example, if you used green to highlight references to social media proficiency and that’s the most prominent color when you are done highlighting, you know that social media savvy is key.

Conduct A Gap Analysis

A gap analysis helps you determine what you have and what you don’t. Open a Word document and insert a two-column table. In the left column, jot down the skills, knowledge, abilities and characteristics the employer is seeking -- the ones you’ve highlighted in the job description or found through online research and informational interviews. In the right column, write down examples that show you have what’s asked for on the left. Pull stories from every facet of your life in this initial analysis. You may also want to indicate your proficiency or comfort level when including technical skills. For example, suppose you're applying as a marketing intern:

- If the job description says "Candidate must be interested in event planning," your right-hand column may say "Planned two events for marketing club in college: Kickoff meeting and alumni networking event" as well as "Volunteered to organize fundraising gala for local nonprofit."

- If the description indicates you must have communication skills, you place in the right-hand column, "Draft outreach emails for fundraising gala" and "Team presentation for case competition."

For job descriptions that say "ability to work in a fast-paced environment," your right-hand column might note "Customer service desk: Handled in-store customer inquiries while answering phone calls during the holiday season."

And if the job requires social media-savvy applicants, your right-hand column might say, "Created social media accounts for marketing student club and managed daily engagement."

As you analyze the job description, be sure to identify gaps in your experience or knowledge. If a job description asks for a skill or experience you don’t have, don’t be tempted to lie or embellish. Misrepresenting or lying about your experience and skills is never a good strategy for a successful job search. Instead, focus on closing the gap before the interview. Ideally, if you are conducting the gap analysis as part of your exploration and preparation process, you may work on closing the gap before sending in your application. Consider completing an online course -- there are plenty to choose from -- or volunteering. If you are still in college, find an opportunity to gain skills or knowledge through on-campus engagements.

Use Employer Language to Articulate Relevant Skills

Once you understand what the employer needs and what you have that matches it, you want to articulate that on your resume. Don’t assume that it’s obvious what you did and that anyone will understand what you meant. It’s a risk you are not willing to take. You may want to use a Word Cloud generator to identify the words employers use to communicate their needs. Next, use the same strategy to identify the words you’ve used on your resume. Compare and contrast the two and revise as needed. In your bullets, remember to quantify your accomplishments.

Keep in mind that relying solely on your resume is not an effective strategy. You may have a tailored resume, but if the right people aren’t seeing it, you won’t go far in your job search process. Enlist the support of a trusted mentor or coach to help you navigate the process and ensure your resume is customized. Have a polished professional profile online and engage with other professionals. While your LinkedIn profile can build on your resume as it allows you to include more than what fits on one page, you want to make sure what’s on your online profile matches what’s on your resume. Lastly, remember to build relationships and explore opportunities by following companies and organizations of interest, listening to relevant podcasts and creating original content.