Customize Your Resume in 5 Quick Steps

Several recent studies have indicated that the human reviewer -- if/when they do actuallyyour resume -- will spend fewer than 10 seconds looking at it before deciding whether or not you are qualified for the opportunity.
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Customizing your resume for each opportunity is not optional for most professional jobs in the current job market. Resume/application customization is becoming increasingly important now because resumes and applications are usually stored in an employer's resume database or applicant tracking system ("ATS").

In addition, several recent studies have indicated that the human reviewer -- if/when they do actually see your resume -- will spend fewer than 10 seconds looking at it before deciding whether or not you are qualified for the opportunity.

Appropriate Customization Pays Off!

Carefully done, customizing your resume should do two things for you:

  • Your resume will pass the critical keyword test.

Do the right customization (adding the appropriate keywords) so that the employer's ATS recognizes that you are a fit with the job's requirements. With the right keywords for the opportunity included in your resume, the ATS should make your resume visible to the people doing the resume screening.

  • Your resume will impress the human reviewer.

This may be the biggest challenge in the whole process, so far. Once your resume passes through the ATS and is seen by a human being, it needs to show the human reviewer -- in a 10 second scan -- that you are qualified for the job and deserve further consideration.

How to Customize Your Resume in 5 Quick Steps

Don't be discouraged or intimidated! Customizing your resume does NOT mean a complete re-write of your resume for each opportunity, assuming that you are applying for the same kind of jobs with every employer. But, it does mean taking a little more time than simply clicking on the "Apply" button.

Since your first goal is to ensure that your resume contains enough of the appropriate keywords that it is seen by a human being, start by focusing on the keywords needed by the ATS.

Then, add content to appeal to the person briefly viewing your resume. Focus on the top half of the first page of your resume -- "above the fold" as they say in the web development and newspaper publishing worlds -- where the content is obvious to someone doing a quick visual scan.

1. Analyze the job description.

Carefully read the job description. Make note of:
  • The job title used in the description
  • The duties and responsibilities
  • The specific requirements
  • The location

Don't waste your time applying if you don't meet at least 50 percent of the job's requirements.

2. Customize your resume's "Target Job Title" or "Objective" to match the job title in each job description.

Resume expert and author Martin Yate recommends using a "Target Job Title" at the top of your resume, below the standard name and contact information. If you want to be more traditional, you could call it "Objective," just do NOT use an old-fashioned, meaningless, and keyword-less objective (e.g., "Achievement-driven, highly motivated administrative professional seeking challenging opportunity in a high-growth...").

If the employer has used a standard job title, the one already on your resume, you are all set. However, if they used a unique version of the job title, match it.

For example, let's assume that you are an experienced administrative assistant looking for a similar job, and let's assume that you found a good job which the employer has labelled, "Medical Administrative Assistant." So, for this example, "Medical Administrative Assistant" would be the exact title you would put at the top of your resume as the Target Job Title or Objective. Thus, it would be seen immediately, making it clear that you want this job.

3. Customize your skills, as appropriate, to match the terms used in the job description.

Continuing our example, doing a quick scan of the requirements for the medical admin assistant job posting, assume that you find the following language used -

Job description: Advanced knowledge of Microsoft applications (Word, Excel, PopwerPoint) required.

Ideally, assuming you do have the skills required, you would be smart to match the reference in your resume with the terms used in the job description.

Let's assume that your resume currently describes your Microsoft Office skills like this:
  • Original resume: Proven expert in the use of the entire Microsoft Office suite of products.

Notice that the original resume lacks important keywords which are included in the job description (applications, Word, Excel, PowerPoint). This could result in the resume remaining in the ATS, never to be seen by a human being. Recognizing this problem, you could adjust your resume to match the description:

  • Submitted resume: Advanced knowledge of Microsoft Office applications - Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote, and Outlook.

This matches the language in your resume with the language used in the description, and should help your resume pass the keyword-matching requirements. It also adds the terms "Office," "Access," "Publisher," "OneNote," and "Outlook" to demonstrate your complete expertise and also to expand, clarify, and/or confirm your qualifications.

Including additional terms is fine. Being too complete (having too many keywords) is preferable to not having enough keywords, as long as the keywords used are appropriate for you and not just a meaningless list of words.

4. Highlight your matching skills in a special section at the top of the resume.

Resume expert Martin Yate recommends capturing the human reviewer's attention by clearly lining up your experience with the requirements in the job description in a section at the top of your resume, below your contact information and the "Target Job Title" or "Objective," labelled "Performance Summary." Other resume experts recommend naming the section, "Summary of Qualifications" or simply "Summary."

In that section, which needs to have only 3 to 5 bullets for most jobs, pick your experiences or achievements that seem to best match the most important requirements in the job description. Or, the relevant achievements you have that are most impressive.

5. Confirm your location.

The top of your resume should indicate your location, generally. Don't publish your home or work addresses on your resume (EVER!), but do include a city, county, or other regional term, like "East Bay" or "Metro West," that fit with the job's location. Use your current location or, if you are trying to relocate, your future location.

By including a location that fits with the employer's requirements, you are confirming that you could be a good match. Employers are usually sensitive to the location of the job candidate in relation to the location of the job. They prefer to hire someone who is located near the job's location, for many good reasons: a local candidate is more likely to stay in the job, a local candidate is more likely to be on time, and a local candidate will not need an expensive relocation.

Customization done!

Assuming that the job is appropriate for you, the rest of your resume probably needs little, if any, customization. The customization you have done for the top of the first page of your resume has probably not taken you very much time, but it should have a good payoff.

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Susan P. Joyce is president of NETability, Inc. and the editor and chief technology writer for Job - and This article was first published on WorkCoachCafe.

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