But, you might not know exactly how to put it in action. What does tailoring your resume actually involve? How many changes do you need to make? What content should you be focusing on?
It might sound like a lot of work, but it’s really quite manageable. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Actually Read and Try to Understand the Job You’re Applying For
First things first: Sit down with a highlighter and really read the job description. Go through and highlight the points that seem important (think the ones that are mentioned repeatedly or anything that’s slightly out of the ordinary) and the points that you could speak to with your experience and skills.
This is always step one—after all, you can’t tailor your resume for a position if you don’t really know what the gig entails.
2. Make Your First Point Immediately Relevant
Next, with your newfound knowledge of what the hiring manager is looking for, take your resume, find the experience that would make him or her most excited about your application, and rework the document so that’s what’s at the top. Maybe it’s your current position, or maybe it’s some specialized certifications or the freelance work you do on the side. Whatever it is, make it the first section of your resume.
And yes, even if it’s not the most recent. There’s no rule that says your first section must be “Work Experience.” Tailoring your resume means finding what is most relevant, creating a section for it, and filling it up with experience or qualifications that will catch a hiring manager’s eye. If that means nixing “Work Experience,” creating a “Marketing and Social Media Experience” section, then throwing everything else in an “Additional Experience” section, then so be it.
3. Revamp Your Bullets Even for Less Relevant Experiences
Now that your relevant experiences are at the top of your resume, that doesn’t mean you should ignore everything else. Nope, it just means you need to pull out the relevant bits of those experiences in your bullets.
From the job description, you’ll likely find more than just the technical qualifications needed to complete the job. Strong communication skills, ability to work in a team, and other soft skills are probably listed as well. So, while your tutoring experience might not be directly related to the sales position you’re interested in, you can definitely still highlight some of the soft skills that both positions require. For some ideas on how to spin your bullets to emphasize certain soft skills, see this article.
4. Check to See if It’s Clear Why You Are Applying
Finally, your last quick assessment to make sure you’ve successfully tailored your resume is to see if someone else—like a friend or mentor—can explain why you’re interested in the position just based on reading your resume. If your friend can’t suss out why you’re applying or how you’re a good fit, then more tailoring is likely needed.
Of course, sometimes there’s only so much you can do. If you’re making a big career change and you just don’t have the relevant experience, then no amount of tweaking bullets can spell that out. In this case—and only in this case, I might add—you may actually want to use an objective statement to properly explain your interest in the position. Here’s how to do it.
Tailoring your resume isn’t the most exciting part of applying for a job, but it’s definitely one of the more important. After all, this is the document that decides what first impression you make. It might take a little extra work, but it’s worth it to be that much more memorable.
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