You, like most job seekers, have probably heard that you should tailor your application to the job description. And you nod along every time someone says that and try to do it to the best of your ability.
Most likely, you check out the description, highlight some choice words, and find somewhere to plug them into your resume and cover letter. Then you assume it’s tailored enough and send it off. And that’s not wrong per se—in fact, it’s more than most people bother with—but if you really want to stand out, there’s so much more you can do.
Here are three ideas to get you started.
1. Tailor Your Bullets
Since the bulk of your resume is likely made up of bullet points, this is definitely one area that can use some tailoring. You want each bullet to make an impact—to highlight the bits of your various jobs that the hiring manager has emphasized in the description. (Here’s a quick guide on how to do that.)
One easy way to do this is to look at all your bullets and rearrange them top to bottom according to what best aligns with the position you’re applying for. It’s a simple solution, but it’s very effective.
2. Get Specific in Your Cover Letter
I’ll cut to the chase: A common mistake applicants make on cover letters is spending a bit too much time talking about a particular experience—and too little time talking about how it relates to the position.
To guard yourself against this, find two or three points you want to make based on the job description and plug it into this cover letter template. This way you’re clearly pointing out how each story you bring up relates to a particular skill the company is seeking. Alternatively, you can make a point to start or sum up your stories with a statement like, “I understand you’re looking for...”
3. Conclude With the Big Picture
So far, both of these ideas have not required more than a surface level understanding of the types of skills the job description outlines. This last one does. In fact, it requires reading between the lines a bit to take a stab at what problems the company wants to solve by hiring someone for your (desired) position.
Look carefully. Perhaps the position is in marketing, but all the responsibilities point to a greater goal of audience development. Or maybe a sales position has more of an emphasis on maintaining client relationships than generating new clients. Use this insight in your cover letter in the form of a “pain letter.”
Anyone can parrot the job description in their resume, but it takes some substantial effort to take it a step further, think about what problem the position solves for the company, and offer to solve it.
So yes, the job description is handier than you might think when it comes to applying for a job. And even after you hit submit, you should keep track of it. If you’re invited for an interview, there’s plenty you can do with it to prep for the rest of the process.
Photo of man on computer courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author