Everyone says you should tailor your resume. But what does that really mean and how do you do it effectively?
The best way to create a tailored resume is to make sure you have a master version to start from.
Your master version is where you keep and store everything that’s professionally meaningful to you. It can include jobs, volunteering, education, leadership experience, awards, affiliations and hard skills (like software platforms and languages).
Your master version might have 8-10 bullet points for each position that describe what you did in that role (this is a lot more than what you’ll use in a version you send in an application). This means your master version can be as long as you want.
Every time you start a new job, or get new projects or skills, you want to add them to your master version. Trust me, you’ll be glad you kept a master version in a few years when you need to refer back to applicable experience from past positions.
With your master version ready to go, you’ll be able to select the most applicable material and paste it into a new, customized version, which you’ll use to apply with.
These four steps will help you create a polished, tailored resume from the master version. (And pssst… this Job Search Materials Workshop on Saturday, June 22 in NYC will have you walking out with a polished and strategic master resume that will get you noticed and hired.)
1. Pre-Tailoring Exercise
In order to start customizing your resume, you first have to know what you want to focus on and maximize on the one page (or two at most!).
Start by reading the job description thoroughly. Focus on what the job entails, main responsibilities, key experiences and skills they’re looking for. It’s also important to notice what words and themes are coming up multiple times.
From there, summarize the responsibilities. Pretend you’re having a drink with a friend and telling them about the job. If you’ve really read the description thoroughly and internalized what it says, this shouldn’t take very long and you shouldn’t be repeating the bullet points you just read. Think of explaining to your friend what the job does and the key skills they’re looking for.
Next, think about how those responsibilities and skills connect to your career history. Identify the top examples from your work that tie directly to those responsibilities, skills, and experiences – these might be overall jobs, or specific projects you did while in a job.
This exercise should give you clarity on the most important elements of the job so that you can create a more effective resume for your candidacy.
Now you’re ready to open a blank document, pull up your master resume and start to copy over the most important experiences and examples.
2. First Level Tailoring: Select the Positions
Start with the big picture by copying over the positions, educational degrees, volunteer, or leadership experiences that tie the most directly to the responsibilities and topics that you outlined in the exercise above.
Try to think of your whole career and not just what you’re currently doing. If you’ve spent a lot of time in a position, and it’s more recent, it may feel like it’s the most applicable - but in reality it’s possible that something you did a few years ago might be more applicable. So try and take a step back and look at your experience more objectively.
For example, if you volunteered five years ago with Big Sisters Big Brothers, and are now applying for a position at a youth development organization, it’s probably going to be important to list that volunteer experience even though it was five years ago because it shows an authentic narrative about your interest in youth development.
First Level Tailoring Checklist:
Have you selected positions and examples that gave you the skills and experiences they’re looking for?
Have you included any outside of work activities that tie to the issues/products/ mission that the organization also has?
Have you included the hard skills (like specific software platforms or languages) they’re looking for?
3. Second Level Tailoring: Choose and Place your Bullet Points Strategically
The next level of tailoring involves deciding which bullet points (skills, experiences, projects, tasks) it makes sense to highlight, and ordering them to match the importance level that’s indicated in the job posting.
You should still have one or two points that explain the overall tasks and responsibilities of the position. But after that you probably have a lot of options for which bullet points to include.
For example, if the position involves overseeing a large budget, you want to make sure you specify that you have managed budget(s) before. If the position is so far removed from that kind of work then you’ll likely pick other tasks to highlight and focus on.
You should aim to have between 3 and 6 bullet points for major positions that tie directly to the job, and at least one bullet point for any experience you list.
Second Level Tailoring Checklist:
Have you included a bullet point that summarizes your responsibilities so they can make sense of your day-to-day work and major tasks?
Have you made sure to include bullet points for the most applicable tasks and responsibilities that they name in the job description?
Have you ordered your bullet points to correspond with the importance of the tasks that are outlined in the position description?
4. Third Level Tailoring: Reword your Bullet Points to Match the Job Description Language
This third level only takes a few minutes to do, but when done effectively it shows the reader that you speak their language and can fit right into the organization’s culture.
Let’s say one of your bullet points in your master version currently reads:
Assist with the planning logistics for a two-day conference with over 700 participants.
Now, let’s say the job you’re applying for has similar responsibilities and a few of the bullet points in the description say:
Coordinate with internal departments to facilitate logistics of conferences and programs.
Familiarity with CRM software platforms like Salesforce.
You might re-word your bullet point to read:
Coordinate with internal departments on logistics, utilizing Salesforce to track registrations for a two-day conference with over 700 participants.
See how that speaks their language more directly?
Scout for key buzzwords or terms they use. Pay attention to the action verbs they use in the description and make sure you’re using some of those same words.
Third Level Tailoring Checklist:
Have you included specific words and action verbs that they use often in the job description?
Have you included or swapped out buzzwords or phrases they use in the job description to show you speak their language?
Going through these four steps might seem like a lot of work.
But when it comes to job applications, I cannot stress that quality over quantity is the best approach.
This customization makes all the difference and it’s one of the steps you’d take in preparing for an interview anyway, so it’s a great way to get a head start on preparing for a potential conversation.