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How to Customize Your Resume

customize resume

If you’ve been looking for a job for a while and not getting many interviews, you might want to take a more personal approach.

That is, you need to customize your resume.

Even those job seekers who have gotten the message about the importance of tailoring their cover letters to each job they apply for often overlook doing the same with their resumes. Some do have a few versions of their resumes for different types of jobs, say, one for positions at public relations firms and another for similar jobs in corporate communications departments. That’s a start, but it is not enough.

We all want to believe that our experience speaks for itself. It is particularly frustrating not to get called for interviews when the job seems an ideal match for you. Many factors are in play during the hiring process, of course, from the number of other qualified applicants to timing to internal politics to luck. You can’t control those. But you can try to make your resume grab a hiring manager’s attention.

Customize Your Resume

If you don’t have access to a job description, or are trying to get hired when there is not a current opening, then most of these steps aren’t going to apply. In those cases, you have to rely on your research about the company, department, and managers to try to assess what their needs are—and how you can fill them.

But if you are applying online, the job description is your guide to tweaking your resume. Start with a really careful read. Identify key phrases and skills–you may want to list them or highlight them. Also notice the order in which those skills appear. The higher up they are in the job description, the more important they are to the manager.

The top of your resume is the most important—by far. Managers will quickly scan the first few elements—the top one-third—and move on quickly if they don’t see exactly what they are looking for. All that great experience you’ve written about below will most likely never get read.

Capture their attention by customizing the elements at the top of your resume–your headline, your executive summary, and your core competencies. Some guidelines:

Headline.  Most people use their job titles as headlines on their executive profiles. But companies use a wide range of titles for similar jobs, depending on their size, the team, and even the culture. A Marketing Director at a small firm might be a Marketing Coordinator at a large one, or a Communications Director. If you are qualified for the position—at least most of it—adjust your title to match the one on the job description, advises Johanna Baum, an executive coach and resume writer. Looking for a bump up the ladder? “If going for the next level and using the title is not appropriate, it is better to say something more general,” says Baum.

Executive Summary. Your summary is the three to five lines at the top of your resume that describes who you are and what you want to do. It highlights your skills and talents—not just your experience—and communicates your personal brand. You can edit your summary for each job. Again, refer to the job description and keep your language and tone similar to those of the company. “Identify the synergies between the employer needs and your skills and emphasize the ones that matter to them,” says Baum. “In every job you do many things, but you want to highlight those being asked for in the job section.”

Skills and Competencies. Your resume should include–generally just below the summary–a short list of your core skills. See how closely your list matches the skills mentioned in the job description. I am not, of course, suggesting you add skills you don’t have. But you may want to reorganize your list so the skills most important to the job are at the top of your list. If you have a lot of skills, consider cutting those that are not closely aligned to the position to eliminate clutter.

You may be proud of those skills, but if the hiring manager isn’t looking for them outright, let them go. The manager’s job is to find a candidate that fits that description—so make that job easier, and you might just land a job of your own.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.