Customizing Your Resume Increases Your Chances

Framing the ShotEffectively targeting a job posting is one of the easiest ways to improve your chances of obtaining an interview. While it sounds like an obvious step, many candidates ignore the most vital information they have – the data listed in a job posting – and submit their resumes without making minor tweaks to customize the documents.

Avoiding a cookie-cutter approach doesn’t mean you need to rewrite your resume every time you apply for a job. If you structure your resume properly, you can easily add and remove information that will make customization a snap.

Why customize? Because it demonstrates to an employer that you’re applying for this job, not any job.

First Steps

To begin, make sure that your resume contains a Headline and a Summary of Qualifications. These two sections form the foundation of your customization efforts. By tweaking them, you can keep 95 percent of your resume the same, but still incorporate tailored information where it matters most.

Let’s start by reviewing a sample job ad for a Help Desk opening:

Sample Job Ad

XYZ has an immediate opening for our Help Desk.  Friendly attitude and exceptional communication skills are essential.  Duties include answering incoming calls via telephone or email; providing on-site support to 200 employees; assessing and resolving problems; monitoring network performance; alerting manager of emergency issues; and monitoring internal equipment and servers for trouble. Strong knowledge of Cisco routing and experience with network management platforms such as OpenView and IP protocol are a must.

Let’s say you’re an entry-level IT professional interested in this position. Your resume’s current headline is:

Entry-level IT professional with strong academic background

With one minor tweak, you can effectively target the top requirement in the job ad – good communication skills – without losing your academic achievements:

Entry-level IT professional with excellent communication skills
and strong academic background

Soft skills like “communication” and “multi-tasking” are harder to quantify than technical skills, but if they’re the first request in the ad, don’t underestimate their importance. Soft skills are frequently overlooked on IT resumes, and they might be a hot button: There’s no telling what disaster the company just went through with a former employee.

Real-world experience always trumps academic experience. If you’ve actually worked on a help desk, mention it in the headline:

IT professional with strong Help Desk experience
and excellent communication skills

Customizing Your Summary of Qualifications

Placed directly below the headline, the Summary of Qualifications consists of four to six bullets that specifically target your key skills, experiences, and intangibles.  As you did with the headline, use the job ad’s information to determine what bullets to add, remove, or reorder to demonstrate why you’re the best candidate for the opening.

Keeping with the Entry-Level IT example, let’s look at a sample Summary of Qualifications:

Summary of Qualifications

  • Proven ability to diagnose, troubleshoot, and resolve technical problems.
  • Exemplary academic record. Graduated with 3.36 G.P.A.
  • Quick learner with strong working knowledge of software, hardware, networking, operating systems, and security applications.
  • Outstanding communication skills; demonstrated background working well with students and co-workers in one-on-one and group settings.
  • Superior analytical and problem-solving abilities, with track record of improving operations.

A revised Summary of Qualifications, which targets our job ad, might read something like this:

Summary of Qualifications

  • Proven ability to diagnose, troubleshoot, and resolve technical problems.
  • Quick learner with strong working knowledge of software, hardware, operating systems, security applications, and networking, including Cisco Routers, OpenView, and IP protocol.
  • Superior analytical and problem-solving abilities, with track record of improving operations.
  • Demonstrated background working well with co-workers in one-on-one and group settings.
  • Team player with outgoing personality.
  • Exemplary academic record. Graduated with 3.36 G.P.A.

Again, these are minor tweaks. But they can make a huge difference in showing an employer you’re applying for one job, not 100 jobs.

In an age when you can blast your resume to 1,000 employers or apply for 50 jobs in a night, customization isn’t less important – it’s more important, especially if you’re applying for a position you think you can obtain.  If 20 minutes spent revising your resume can shave months off your job search, it’s an excellent investment.

Originally published August 31, 2009
by Warren Simons is a freelance writer living in New York City.

Comments

  1. BY R. Emmett O'Ryan says:

    Excellent advice. I have long shared the same advice with friends and colleagues who are looking for new opportunities and it does help.

    To add to this article, I also tell folks to start with a master resume or a curriculum vitae (CV) which provides an overview of a person’s work life, qualifications, and experience. From there, tailor a resume down so that it matches the job opportunity you are applying for and provide this tailored resume to the company.

    One important note, never lie on your resume or application.

  2. BY trothaar says:

    ——never lie on your resume or application.—–

    That is why I am unable to tweak my resume to fit IT jobs. I have never had an IT job, and I didn’t learn many programming languages in university, so the only way I could “tweak” my resume to a job would be to lie and claim I have experience and skills that I do not possess. I do not wish to do that, as it would just come back and bite me in the [expletive].

    In the example above, unless the applicant has experience with Cisco Routers, OpenView and IP Protocol, no amount of tweaking in the world (apart from lying) will get them considered for the job. If those keywords aren’t there, the resume is discarded without consideration.

    That said, I can use this advice to modify my resume for marketing and legal secretarial jobs…things I actually have experience in.

    • BY R. Emmett O'Ryan says:

      In you comment your state ” I have never had an IT job, and I didn’t learn many programming languages in university, so the only way I could “tweak” my resume to a job would be to lie and claim I have experience and skills that I do not possess.”

      There is a long term alternative. You can get the knowledge you need through education – either through a community college, trade school, or even self taught. How you get the experience is a bit trickier but it can be done either starting as an intern or entry level person or more creative ways…

      Anyway, if you do not have the skills, knowledge, and experience today, they can be acquired over time. If you want to get into IT, probably the very first step is to find a mentor who is in the business.

      Both the IEEE Computer Society and the ACM have volunteer mentors who can help those wanting to get into the business. Also, another free resource is your local office of the Small Business Administration… I do not know where you live but at the SBA offices in San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco they do have lists of volunteer mentors in many business areas – not just IT.

      • BY trothaar says:

        I can’t AFFORD to take more classes. I spent all of my money, and wrecked my credit, getting a university degree. I have NO MONEY NO MONEY NO MONEY left for more classes. Needless to say, I cannot AFFORD to spend YEARS working for FREE in hopes that I’ll “acquire more skills.”

        I also cannot afford to join the ACM or any other silly little fan clubs. There is NO MONEY NO MONEY NO MONEY left.

        A so-called “mentor” in the IT field would do be no good at all, because they, like you, would just tell me to go spend money I DON’T HAVE taking more classes and working for FREE.

        This is a rich kid’s degree.

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