Build a Tailored Resume in 8 Steps

Jun 6, 2019

A recent study shows that recruiters spend just over three minutes reading a candidate’s resume. On average, they’ve made up their mind about the candidate within the first minute.

So how can you stand out from the crowd? You might think it’s best to be eye-catching, with unique fonts or lots of design, but that’s not the case. The most effective way to get placed into the “yes” pile is by tailoring your resume to each position you’re applying for.

Step One: Collect Your Data

Start from the beginning and list every experience from your career and background. Make separate lists for skills, work history (including major responsibilities), education, and awards. List everything you can think of, and don’t worry about length—this is just your starting point.

Step Two: Decide On a Format

There are two distinct ways to organize your resume: chronological format or functional format. Chronological format is the standard way that resumes are organized. Beginning with the most recent work experience at the top, the resume continues in reverse chronological order. This format not only highlights where you are currently, but also tells the story of your growth over time.

Functional format can be a better fit for someone who is just starting in their career or who is changing industries. This format focuses on your skills first and then lists employment history below. The benefit of showing your skills first is drawing attention to your strengths, not where or when you obtained those skills. (Full disclosure: Most recruiters do not like a functional resume.)

Step Three: Dissect the Job Description and Identify Keywords

Read through the exact job description for the position you’re applying to as well as similar postings from other companies. Do you notice some typical keywords or phrases used in the postings? These keywords are likely common in your industry, and would be good to use in your resume wherever possible.

Now, go back through the job posting you’re applying to. Are there specific keywords that are used by this employer that are different than other places? You’ll want to keep track of these for use in your tailored resumes.

Step Four: Insert Keywords Into Your Content

The goal of a tailored resume is to highlight your skills, experience, and achievements as they correspond with each job description. Inserting the keywords or phrases that you identified above, create a resume for each position you’re applying to. Don’t lie—see below—but find overlap between the keywords and your experience, and use those keywords to describe what you’ve learned or accomplished.

Don’t forget to include skills that you learned outside the traditional workplace. If you’re applying for a job as a statistician and you keep stats for a baseball team in your spare time, highlight that experience under “Hobbies.” If you’re applying for a graphic design position and you maintain the newsletter for your community association, share that under “Volunteer Work.”

Remember, this approach will likely give you multiple, slightly different versions of your resume. Make sure you include the employer in the file name so that you don’t accidentally send the wrong resume to each place.

Step Five: Edit For Professionalism

Make sure your contact information is up to date and professional. Since 76% of resumes with unprofessional email addresses are rejected, you should consider making an email address with just your name. Photos are not necessary on a resume, and could even hurt your chances of getting an interview.

Unless you are a graphic designer, stay away from using fancy fonts or colors. Over 40% of recruiters are put off by too much design. Most people should keep to a standard font (like Calibri, Times New Roman, or Arial). Use bullet points and indents to keep information organized, and make sure your formatting is consistent.

If you’re new to the workforce, keep your resume at one page, but even seasoned workers should stay at two pages or less. Remove any skills or experience that relate to the job description.

Steps Six, Seven, and Eight: PROOFREAD!

Almost 60% of hiring managers will reject a candidate because of poor grammar or a typo. Even the smallest error shows that the candidate is not attentive to detail and hasn’t taken the time to proofread. If you don’t take the time to make sure this critical document is error-free, it suggests that you won’t take the time to make sure your future work is, either.

Review your resume at least 3 times to make sure there are no mistakes. Don’t rely on spellcheck! Often a word or phrase may still make sense even if it’s a typo. Get someone else to double check as well. A second opinion can help you evaluate the content for appropriateness, professionalism, and smooth flow.

A Final Note

It should go without saying that you should be truthful on your resume. Yet one study showed that 85% of job applicants lie on resumes! The kicker? In the same study, 75% of HR managers said they have caught a lie on a resume. If you lie, you will likely get caught. Besides, if an employer doesn’t want you for who you are, you wouldn’t be happy working there anyway.

Written by: Sarah Perlman

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