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Written by Anna MuckermanAnna Muckerman

Why you should customize your resume for each application

19 min read
Why you should customize your resume for each application
A custom resume can mean the difference between getting out your suit for that final interview, and never even getting a phone call. Here's why you should customize your resume for each job application.

We all know the feeling – you send out application after application only to find your inbox empty and your spirits dashed. If you find yourself in the endless cycle of few callbacks, the first question to ask yourself is "have I customized my resume for the exact position?"

Many jobseekers make the mistake of thinking an application is all about them, what they've accomplished and what they hope to gain from a new employment opportunity. While your resume is a powerful tool to explain your career story, it should always be written through the lens of what you can bring to a potential employer – and for that you'll need to customize your resume to each specific job posting you apply to.

While a custom resume might seem daunting, with a little practice, you'll find that the resume writing gets easier when using specific cues from the job description and the extra effort will pay off when a hiring manager takes notice of your interest in their position.

In this article we’ll answer some of the commonly asked resume customization questions like:

  • Should you customize your resume for each job application?
  • Can you use the same resume for all job applications?
  • Why do you need different resumes for different job applications?
  • How do I align my resume for the job description?
  • Should a cover letter be personalized?

Why tailor your resume?

If you ask any recruiter “Should I really customize my resume for every single job application?,"  9 times out of 10, you’ll get an emphatic “yes” as the answer. In other words, you should absolutely customize your resume for each job application — to demonstrate that you are the right candidate for THAT employer, not for some other employer. Do NOT treat your resume as a formality, instead treat it as your career tool and personal marketing instrument. Take this approach and it will pay dividends in the form of great jobs and professional advancements.  

Customizing your resume makes sure the potential employer sees a valuable, well-suited employee and receives the information that’s relevant to their company… instead of reading a bland document that looks completely out of place for the job opening.

The logic is simple: different employers require different resumes, because (just like people) each has their own needs, objectives and values that you need to emphasize and highlight if you want to win them over and get the job. If you’re already applying for the position, why do it half-heartedly? You’re establishing a long-term relationship with a business, start it off on the right foot.

Impress the hiring manager with extra effort

The questions “How do I impress the hiring manager?” and “Can I use one resume for multiple job applications?” are intimately connected.

The short answer is: you should NEVER use the same resume for all job applications. The reason for this is rooted in recruiter psychology and the simple reality of hiring practices: hundreds of resumes pass through the hiring manager’s inbox and most have a keen eye for copy-pasted and cliched documents. Hiring managers ought to be looking for the person who is the best fit for a particular job. But you can bet that a key quality in the “ideal” person is extremely enthusiastic about joining their company. So, anyone who’s been to a few job interviews knows to pump a little extra exuberance into the conversation.

A custom resume is a great way to communicate excitement about joining a particular company and convincing the hiring decision-maker you’re a winning choice. Fill it with plenty of references that tell the reader it was crafted specifically for their eyes, and they’re sure to pass you on to the next round. You’re not driving off to the print shop to order a batch of 50 resumes or typing cover letters on a manual typewriter  — the ease of updating your resume makes it an imperative. Otherwise, hiring managers will see you as lazy.

Statistical insight

You should know that for every position you apply for, the company is likely to receive at least 250 other applications. Somewhere around 4-6 will be granted an interview. So standing out is always critical..

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That’s important to know because ATS software automatically looks for keywords and phrases in your resume that recruiters find important. Tools like Jobscan will rate your resume for relevance to the job post before human eyes ever land on it. These systems overwhelmingly reward custom resumes with terminology that echoes the job description. Be careful, though. Hiring managers are savvy to job seekers who stuff their resumes with keywords.

But what does “custom resume” mean? How can you communicate that the one-pager any given human resources department is seeing was tailor-made for them?

So glad you asked...

You need to focus on adding references and keywords relevant to the particular company and role you’re applying to into the text of your resume.

Statistical insight

Does ATS really matter? 

It's a question you'll likely wonder as you try to place keywords through your resume. How common are these tricky little resume scanners really? It turns out the ATS may be more important that you think: 75% of recruiters and hiring managers across all industries and business types reported using them, according to Capterra.

How to customize resume to each position

You align, personalize or customize your resume to the job application by making it match the qualifications and requirements in the listing. This can (and often should) be done by emphasizing the most relevant achievements, skills and milestones cherry-picked from your professional history.  For an extra-obvious example, consider adding a heading to the top of your resume that says something like “Seeking [Job Title X] at [Company Y]”. This will attract the eye of a human reader. Plus it will tick some of the boxes that those ATSs are looking for.

But you can go more subtle too. Under your work experience bullet points, for example, emphasize the ways that a particular project taught you skills that will be useful in the new position you’re targeting.

For example, “Managed a team of seven accountants, which taught me the time-management skills I’ll need to meet and exceed your expectations for a project manager at Acme Corporation.”

Expert tip

The job description is your best friend when it comes to creating a custom resume. Make sure to look for pesky keywords which might be favored by the ATS and add them to the appropriate sections of your resume.

Advantages of creating a custom resume

Like a new puppy, a resume demands love and attention — sending it out, unchanged, with an endless stream of applications is the best way to make sure that you’re passing around out-of-date information to all potential employers.

One major benefit of customizing your resume for each application is that it gives you a great excuse to give it a once-over at least once a month.

There are three great reasons to do this.

1. Continual resume review

First, I think you’ll find very quickly that you’ll have the chance to add items to your resume far more frequently than you might think. Every new class, certificate, volunteer role, freelance project, and personal learning exercise is an opportunity to strengthen your resume and add a new skill. Or, bump some of the less impressive elements off the bottom.

And don’t neglect your social media presence. Update your LinkedIn profile whenever you add or subtract from your resume.

2. Remove outdated information

“Downward resume creep” is the process whereby you DO keep adding new stuff to the top — which is good — but you DON’T delete old, unnecessary information at the bottom. 

If you review your resume frequently, you be quick to notice portions that just don’t fit anymore. Far from having some monolithic set of rules, hiring manager’s preferences for resumes change over time.

3. Mistakes, I’ve made a few

Unless you’re a top-tier copywriter, there is probably at least one typo in your resume right now. Maybe it’s something big like a misspelling, or small like a strange grammar tense, but reading and rereading your resume will help you spot these.

Even if you are among the lucky few with a perfectly-spelled resume, by looking over your document more often, you can also find ways to save space and tighten the writing – such as by using action verbs .

Statistical insight

Here are some of the top mistakes that hiring managers say will cause them to reject a resume, according to a study by Talent Inc.

  • Spelling and/or grammatical errors (79%)
  • Incorrect or missing contact information (52%)
  • Unprofessional email address (46%)
  • Outdated or irrelevant information (hobbies, age, marital status, etc.) (45%)
  • Failure to demonstrate and quantify results (33%)
  • Annoying buzzwords and/or obvious keyword stuffing (32%)
  • Too generalized/not customized to match job listing (32%)
  • Repetitive words or phrases used in multiple job descriptions (28%)
  • Including a headshot (28%)
  • Format and/or design is too elaborate (28%)
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The start of great organization

Marie Kondo has made a one-person industry out of telling us how to declutter, get organized and stay organized. We really love reading about organizing and watching other people get organized! We’re really going to get organized! 

It seems strange, then, that so few professionals organize their job search in a serious way. Sure, it’s a pain to set up a spreadsheet, but you’ll be missing some serious opportunities if you’re firing off resumes left and right without any sort of record-keeping.

For example, many hiring manager love follow up emails after applications and interviews. But, if you’re applying for a lot of jobs, it’s difficult to remember when you applied to each, what the name of the hiring manager was, and many more of the little details that could make the difference in your application.

That’s another reason that I strongly advocate building a custom resume for each job application — it’s the starting point to a good organization system.

Before, you could have been sending out barrages of applications with a couple clicks and it’s temptingly easy to do so if you don’t personalize your resume. Now, you’re already sitting down to take the time to review your resume and create a separate file.

So why not take the extra five seconds to write down some of the details on the application into a spreadsheet?

Customizing your resume with a template

OK, you’re probably thinking, this all sounds great. But how do I customize my resume without spending all my time hunched over a keyboard?

If I apply to literally hundreds of jobs a month, are you saying that I need to be building a resume from scratch for every single one?

Of course the answer is no, although it's worth underlining that famous maxim, “Looking for a job is a full-time job.”

The good news is that there’s no need to commit three hours to each and every resume you build — at least not if you spend some time setting up a template to start. Your objective should be to have a few standard resumes that you can customize for a particular role in five minutes or so.

I’ve seen two great ways to do this.

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The mergetag route

Some job seekers prefer the mergetag route. By that, I mean that they build themselves a resume template with a few well-chosen spots to insert a company name or the title of the position they’re applying for. Something like:

I’m extremely interested in the [POSITION] at [COMPANY] because I hear that your coffee machine never breaks.

Notice that I bolded the places where custom data needs to be entered. That’s to avoid the embarrassing faux pax of sending a resume with the name of a different company on your next application.

You must go to extreme lengths to make sure this doesn’t happen. Check it five times if you have to. A resume that’s customized incorrectly is a death sentence for your application.

Expert tip

A personalized resume isn't just about the writing. Your formatting says a lot about who you are and the job you hope to land. If you're a receptionist for example, the resume you'd submit to a law firm likely won't have the same look and feel as one you'd create for a marketing agency. By using a resume template , you can easily switch resume styles without having to worry about pesky formatting mistakes.

Building blocks

Another common tactic used by job-seekers who apply for many different kinds of jobs is to split a resume into building blocks that they can mix and match in different ways.

Rather than keeping a unified template resume, they have a page with the right heading, and then they paste in pre-written job experiences and certifications as they see fit. Think of it as a good way to avoid filling your resume with references to your time as an underwater welder when you’re applying for a job as a customer service agent.

One subcategory of the building blocks method is simply to match the skill sets listed in the job posting when you build your skills section. This down-and-dirty fix is great in a pinch and should always be a part of your tailoring, but I recommend more extensive personalization.

How do I tailor my resume for a career change?

A career change is one of the moments where it's clear to most job seekers that the same old resume just won't cut it. When it's time to make a pivot, a tailored resume shows an employer that you are invested in their business and ready to learn any skills you lack. Here are some simple tips to help you stand out when it's time to try something new.

Focus on transferrable skills

Transferrable skills are ones that applied both to your previous positions and to the one you're applying to. For example, you may not ever have worked as a dental receptionist before, but your time as a server taught you how to multitask, answer questions and keep organized. By pointing out the similarities – even between two contrasting fields – you can show a hiring manager that you have the foundation needed to succeed in their role.

Expert tip

Add weight to your skills and accomplishments in previous positions by quantifying them with numbers and data. Concrete information is more likely to stand out to a hiring manager and makes it more likely that they'll remember your resume.

Highlight your strengths

Sure, there may be other candidates who have more relevant experience, but you've got the innate qualities that are hard to teach in others. Think about your soft skills like customer service, attention to detail, patience or organization. These strengths show that you have the right character for the job, even if you've never done it before. For a career change, it can also be a good idea to highlight times when you thought on your feet or learned a new skill quickly.

Add certifications

Let's say you've mentioned every possible personality trait and transferrable skill you can, but you're still lacking in some piece of technical knowledge that will set you behind other candidates. One approach to take in this situation is to obtain a certificate or enroll in a program that can help you show a hiring manager just how committed to the field you are. Check out this blog for more ideas on how to incorporate certifications on your resume .

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