I read a lot of information related to resumes and job searches, including message boards where people comment on how hard it is to create and organize the materials into the résumé and cover letter. I’ve noticed that a number of job seekers claim that the résumé is easier to write than the cover letter because you can just use the same resume all the time. Technically, you can. However, with an average number of 245 people applying to each job that’s posted online, will you really stand out if you upload a generic resume instead of writing it based on the job ad?
When your job hunt dictates that you apply for a job, or more likely several, you might dread the thought of customizing each résumé to the job ad, company culture, and your personal goals…but it’s well worth the effort. Not only does it increase your chance of standing out and landing a particular role, it also gives you practice crafting that persuasive language about yourself so that you perfect it over time. Here are some ways to connect your own resume language with what your potential employers want to see.
Personal statement/summary section
Don’t waste time creating the somewhat obsolete “objectives” section. The focus of objectives is what you want from the company, not what you can offer the company. You need to tell them why they should care to read your résumé; i.e., tell them what’s in it for them. This is your answer to what the job ad says they’re looking for. So the personal statement section is the first opportunity you have to impress with how your skills and experience match.
If you’re applying for a senior-level role and the company’s description clearly wants someone with at least 15 years of experience whose work could be evaluated by peers, you can tie that into your summary. For example, “Over 15 years of delivering training materials under budget that were ranked highly by the audience members as providing hands-on experience as they developed their key competencies.”
If the job ad indicates that there’s a high percentage of travel involved, and you’ve already been on the road as a traveling consultant, medical salesperson, or other role, you can connect the personal summary to that experience by sharing how you’ve managed multiple contracts and deadlines while traveling to [#] of locations over [#] of years.
Conversely, you may not have a lot of travel experience, but there will be other related requirements mentioned in the job ad. For example, if the job ad requires the successful candidate to take the initiative to work across many channels of the business, you may be able to connect your experience working with cross-functional teams, or multinational groups. A good statement might be “Mentored 3 offshore teams as they learned and practiced the procedures for communicating with our customers.”
Look at what the company’s ad emphasizes in terms of qualifications and requirements, and build your personal statement to address the two to three highest priority items.
When you review the job ad to see if it seems like a good fit for you, jot down some of the terminology and phrasing they use often. If it shows up more than once, it represents key competencies. Then, in addition to highlighting them in your personal statement, take some time to brainstorm and frame your skills and experience around that language. For example, you’re applying as a communication department manager, and the job ad says you need to deliver on measurable, strategic communication plans that contain sensitive materials. You’ve worked in the financial industry and wrote communications that contained the proprietary positioning information, and over time, you helped to strategize better ways to deliver the information to the audience while also keeping the information delivery exclusively internal to the company.
A statement in your résumé could then be:
“Led a team of 5 communicators to deliver timely communications containing confidential financial positioning information. Launched strategic initiatives to incorporate multimedia and post-implementation statistical analysis to increase employee retention and company position within the industry.”
As another example, say you’re a manufacturing manager with 20 years of experience with plant operations, as this sample resume posted by Susanne Feeley at WorkBloom shows. You find a job ad that really emphasizes that a successful candidate is required to improve efficiencies and provide innovative solutions; but, the job ad doesn’t emphasize a specific number of years of experience or a required level of education. To that end, the chosen resume example provides a conglomerate of career highlights upfront and tells a persuasive story. If this was your résumé, you’d tailor your experience to the job ad, showing that you’ve increased revenue while also identifying areas to improve not just production and shipping, but also innovating to improve communications and customer relations.
Even though you want your résumé to connect with the position as described, don’t copy and paste their complete text from the job ad. Align your actual experience and skills to the key competencies the company wants. Then build your experience with action words + quantifiable details (not just managed a team, but how many people; or detailing the amount of money your successful project made or saved the company). For a list of words recruiter prefer and those they can’t stand, check out CareerBuilder’s article on best and worst words to use on a résumé as ranked by hiring managers.
Job ads often list the level of education that is required and/or preferred. If you don’t have the exact degree title or number of years under your belt, you may still qualify for the role. You can list the degrees you do have, followed by a simple statement about what you also did in your minor, or with a special project, internship, or volunteer position. For example, I have held many contract roles as a senior instructional designer, and most of the job ads preferred someone with a master’s degree in instructional design or education. My master’s is in technical and scientific communication, but I spent those two years of upper-level education also teaching undergraduates in business writing and technical writing courses. I also immediately moved into instructional design roles, focusing on my ability to analyze audiences’ needs and deliver the right information they needed to do their jobs. I was not overlooked because I showed how my related experience still benefited the company.
Technology, methodology, and other skills
Note that you have some design options for how you want to list these competencies. Bullet points always work. If you’re applying for a role at a company that could handle a more modern approach, you could use some of the visual elements that are getting more popular for resumes. There are graphs, and sites like visualize.me, that provide neat options.
Include relevant military experience
There is usually a required minimum number of years of experience related to the job and field to which you’re applying. However, if you have served in the military, your service time often covers the prime years when your peers have been building their industry expertise. You might not have been analyzing data at a desk in an office or operating a piece of manufacturing equipment out on the factory floor, but your military experience covers key competencies of great interest to employers, including decision-making, leadership, security, working with complex equipment, and more. Make sure you give yourself credit for the managerial, technical, and life skills you have clearly earned.
If you’re in the hunt for a new job, best of luck. And if you have questions, ideas, or wisdom you can share about connecting your experience to the job ads you’re ready to apply for, let us know!