Resumes and Cover Letters

Do You Really Need to Tailor Your Resume for Every Application?


Most companies today use some form of applicant tracking system (ATS) to find the applicants who match their ideal candidate profile. Some estimates put this number as high as 98%. In general, you should assume that if you’re applying to a job online, the employer will scan your resume through ATS software—which is problematic on a few levels.

While ATS software can be a useful tool for employers, it poses obstacles for jobseekers. The biggest concern is keyword optimization. If the language in your resume doesn’t match the job description, the ATS software will assume you’re not a qualified candidate. Even something as simple as using “supervise” instead of “manage” can hurt your chances of landing an interview.

Because ATS software relies on keyword matching, it’s more important now than ever to tailor your resume for every position you apply to—which, of course, can take a lot of time. With the right strategies, however, the process doesn’t have to be daunting. The following workarounds are faster and more efficient than the “spray and pray” method of sending the same resume out over and over again.

Yes, You Need to Tailor Your Resume—But These 5 Tips Will Make It Easy

1. Create a new resume template for every position.

If you’re applying to different types of roles (i.e. both sales and marketing directorships) or you’re targeting different types of organizations (i.e. small nonprofits and large public companies), you need to create separate drafts that align with those goals. Once you have standard version for each type of role you’re applying to, you can start fine-tuning your approach to individual employers and job listings. By taking a methodical and organized approach from the ground up, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel every time a posting catches your attention.

2. Research job descriptions to find relevant keywords.

Create a list of the core skills and competencies that are included across job descriptions within the same level and industry. For example, if you see multiple postings for a Project Manager that include the phrase “communication skills,” you should add that item to your list. If you’re applying to different types of positions, you’ll need to generate separate lists to address keywords in each vertical.

Once you have a list (or lists) of relevant keywords, look for ways to incorporate those phrases into your resume. Many people create a “word bank” with the most important skills they want to highlight. This approach can make it easier for you to add keywords, but you need to provide examples that demonstrate those skills throughout the resume. If you just list keywords without supporting those claims with evidence from your work history, you might get past the ATS software, but a recruiter or hiring manager won’t be impressed.

Tip: Start researching keywords by looking at the open positions at Fortune 500 companies. These businesses usually have a streamlined hiring process and know what qualities to prioritize.

There’s more to ATS software than keyword optimization. Here’s what you need to know to get past the bots.

3. Don’t worry about creating an exact match to the job posting. 

You can use a website like JobScan or RezRunner to compare your resume to a job description, and these programs will identify keywords that are missing from your application. Using this insight, you can quickly revise your resume to align more closely with a description (which, in turn, will boost your visibility if an employer uses ATS software). This process can also highlight the keywords you have in common with the description, so you know which of your skills the employer prioritizes—and therefore what you should leverage during an interview.

Typically, these websites will assign a score based on how your resume “ranks” against the job description. Aim for about 60%-70% to get through most tracking systems without sounding robotic or copying the posting word for word. 

4. Use shortcuts. 

ResumeSometimes you’ll need to replace phrases in your resume because an employer uses slightly different wording. For example, even though “coaching” and “training” are essentially synonymous, you should match the terminology in your resume to the employer’s job description—that’s the keyword the ATS software will most likely use to evaluate your application.

Save yourself the time of manually making these changes one by one and let the computer do the work for you. Microsoft Word has a “Find and Replace” tool that you can use to apply changes throughout your document in just one step. Most other composition software (Google Docs, for example) offer similar features. 

5. Put your career summary to work.

Your career summary is the first paragraph that appears on your resume and should give a “big picture” snapshot of your professional brand. It’s a great place to cover soft skills that might not fit into your work history, like being client-focused or an accomplished negotiator. It’s also where you should focus most of your efforts when you tailor a resume to a specific role.

In one paragraph, you need to demonstrate what makes you the perfect fit for the employer. If you’re changing industries or moving into a new market, this is also where you need to connect the dots for the reader and make it clear why you’re applying specifically to this position with this company. If you can communicate those points in the first paragraph, you won’t have to spend as much time revising the rest of your resume.

Job searching can feel like a full-time job all by itself—throwing anything else into the mix can make it seem nearly impossible to find the next step in your career. If you tailor your resume to the positions that interest you, getting to the interviewing stage will be easier—and significantly faster. 

Want to learn more about fast-tracking your job search? Schedule a free career consultation with Amber!


About the Author

Amber Crow is a Career Advisor for Ivy Exec with three years of experience. She is focused on promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace through her website