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If you want the job, tailor your résumé like this

Focus on these parts of your background to catch the recruiter’s eye.

If you want the job, tailor your résumé like this
[Images: coffeebeanworks/Pixabay; Rawpixel]

When you’ve sent out application after application to companies without hearing back, it might not be a reflection of you. More likely, it’s that your credentials are not appropriately customized for a particular role.

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I often say a job posting is like a request for a proposal, and your résumé is the sales pitch. No good salesperson would send the same pitch to different clients, so why would you submit the same document to different jobs?

The truth is, that to put your best foot forward, you need to tailor your résumé for each job—or at least the jobs you’re most interested in. You might be thinking, “I don’t have the time for that!” To clarify, this is not a full rewrite of your résumé, rather a few strategic modifications to align it to specific details in the job description.

First, know that the job of the résumé is not to land you a job—it’s to land you an interview. Your résumé should quickly make the case of how qualified you are for a very specific position. Studies show that recruiters spend about 7.4 seconds looking at each résumé, so the more tailored yours is to a role, the better.

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I see a lot of people thrown off by this because they focus on their qualifications for the general job title but not for the position the company is hiring for. What your résumé must include is an argument of how you are a perfect match for the job, based on various concrete qualifications you can discern from the job description and some basic research.

For example, if you are a digital marketer and have the generally accepted skills and qualification for the title, yet your résumé is missing specific skills like “digital ads” and “website analytics” that are listed in the job description, a recruiter searching their applicant tracking system for those exact skills is less likely to find you.

The way you present your qualifications can make or break your chances of getting to the interview stage. Here are four main categories to consider when thinking about your qualifications for a job:

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Skills: You should look to the job description to see how the company is writing about skills, both in terms of hard skills and soft skills. They can be primarily written in tool form (like Excel, PowerPoint, or HubSpot), or they can be written in tactic or verb form (financial analysis, presentation design, or marketing automation).

Industry: I like to think about industry as domain knowledge, which often can be only attained through direct work experience. For example, if you’re working in health tech, other companies in health tech would value that highly. But if you’ve worked in travel and applied to a job at Peloton, you’d probably be seen as less qualified than someone who worked at SoulCycle. If this industry experience gap exists, be sure to spell out exactly how your skills are transferable to the new role and company.

Product: Think about how the company makes money and how they package what they sell. Does the company sell software or hardware? Are they business-to-consumer or business-to-business? Do they sell long-term contracts to enterprise companies or monthly subscriptions to consumers? Ask yourself these questions despite how in-depth they sound because companies will prioritize candidates who have familiarity with their product and their target audience.

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Stage: This refers to experience with companies in the same stage as the hiring company. For example, if you have experience with early-stage startups, that may be an asset to another early-stage startup. Companies will often try to hire people that have experience in the stage they intend to be next, so if a company is planning to go public in the next 12 months, they may try to hire people who have experience working at public companies, and even more so if they were involved in the process of taking the company public.

With those four categories checked, let’s go over how to dissect a job description to find what a company thinks is important. There are two main ways to do that. First, there’s word frequency. Are certain skills in the form of tactics or tools being repeated in the job posting? Second, there’s semantic emphasis. This is where a company uses specific language to tell you what is important. Terms to look for are things like “must have,” “have skills in,” “experience with,” etc.

With this information in hand, you now have what you need to tailor your résumé. Pick the top 3 to 5 things you think matter in the job description and try to address them on the top half of the first page of your résumé. You can do this in your professional summary, in the list of accomplishments at your most recent job, or in a skills and interests section. Even better if you can reference these skills in multiple locations. As you apply to more positions, you will start to see the same things requested over and over again, so you can pull from what you’ve already used before.

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It can feel weird to write about yourself, but of all places, your résumé is the place to brag. Remember, on your résumé, you’re a salesperson, and the product is you.


David Fano is the founder and CEO of Teal, a personal career-growth platform that gives people the tools to make their job search smarter and more efficient.

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