Flexibility is essential to any career, and it’s just as important to your search for a career. Yet, most people build a single, static resume that they use to apply to different job listings – regardless of the job type.
Unfortunately, while this may be the quickest way to send out as many resumes as possible, it’s also the quickest way to get overlooked by potential employers.
You’re probably thinking, why would it be necessary to change a resume if it’s only being used to apply to positions in the same field?
While it may be quicker and easier to send out the same resume to every job listing (especially if the listings are similar), the popularity of applicant tracking systems makes it more important than ever to optimize your resume for each specific listing.
Matching the filters for criteria and keywords used by the applicant tracking system is essential to ensuring that your resume isn’t weeded out before the prospective employer ever has a chance to see it.
So, how do you maintain flexibility in your search without spending hours and hours redoing your application for each individual position?
The best and most efficient way of doing this is to build a flexible resume with interchangeable parts. Organize those parts separately and plug in or take out information depending on its relevance to the specific position you’re seeking.
How do you know what each listing is specifically looking for?
There are fool-proof ways to accurately determine what a listing is looking for, and we will go over those techniques later in this post.
Though it can be difficult to create a flexible resume that will get you interviews for similar but not identical positions, you will soon discover that organizing your resume and your information correctly will help you to make the necessary changes quickly and easily.
First, put together a collection of all your accomplishments, skills and anything else you think would be relevant for your job search or that your think an employer should know about you. This is going to serve as the source you use to compile and organize information that can be used on your resume for any number of job applications. Let’s call this your “master resume”.
Next, you must understand what each employer is looking for and, in turn, how they most likely configured their ATS. There are certain key words and phrases you can look for that will give you a good indication of what the employer is specifically targeting and how they likely set up the filters for their ATS.
Finally, using the information that you’ve compiled, swap in and out the details that best match the specific job description you’re applying to. This includes keywords and phrases that receive prominent mention in the description.
What’s the best way to build your all-encompassing list or “master resume” of professional experience and achievement?
Start writing everything down. There’s no need to be formal about it; you just want to make sure that your list is well organized and easy to navigate so you can quickly find and plug in any information you think is essential or relevant for each specific application.
Here are a few good and important things to think about when putting together your list:
Keep track of the little things, this will be incredibly helpful when building your “master resume.” You never know what a potential employer may be looking for. (but you can get a really good idea, we’ll cover how to decipher job descriptions later in this post!)
Organize your master list using the same categories you used to lay out your resume. Doing this will make it easier to quickly find the information you’re looking for and plug it into your resume. When it comes time to make changes, you’ll be able to do it in no time!
Your master resume should end up looking like a long, rough draft of a regular resume. This way, you can go section-by-section and quickly scan for information that matches the job description, and apply it accordingly.
Don’t forget to include EVERYTHING on your list. You never know what’s going to turn up in a job description. Maybe those swim lessons you taught all those years ago have some relevancy in your application to a sales manager position.
Of course, in order to successfully tweak your resume for a job listing, you need to make sure you know exactly what you’re applying for.
Let’s go over how to successfully read and analyze a job description and use it to accurately determine what will give your resume the best chance of getting past the applicant tracking system.
Most job descriptions start with a general overview of the available role. Try to tie your past experiences to the overview. Look for words or phrases that you can relate with and include something similar on your resume.
For example, if an overview for a sales position mentions “client facing sales” or “collaborative environment”, make sure to include these exact phrases on your resume. Either integrate them into the descriptions you give for previous positions or list them under your “core competencies” or “skills” section.
Usually, the general overview is followed by a list of responsibilities that will be required to be successful in the position.
This part is usually pretty easy. Simply read the responsibilities carefully and try to include at least a phrase or word from each one on your resume.
If you can include full matching descriptions and tie them to previous positions, that’s even better.
Remember, the more words or phrases you have in common with the list of responsibilities, the better chance you have of bypassing the applicant tracking system. Don’t be afraid to get creative; if you can find a way to tie in similar but unrelated previous responsibilities, do it. Even phrasing your responsibilities similarly to the responsibilities listed to the description will give you a huge leg up on the competition.
The one section present on nearly every job description is the “requirements” section. This is the most important section to the employer as these are the things you absolutely NEED in order to be a successful candidate for the position.
Luckily, this is also the easiest section to decipher and, after reading through them, you should have a pretty good idea of whether or not you’re qualified for the position.
Be flexible; if it says something like “3+ years’ experience” and you only have 2, that’s OK.
If it says something like, “master’s degree in psychology” and you don’t have that, you’re probably better off moving to the next application.
BUT, even if your qualifications aren’t perfect, you can match keywords and phrases in the requirements to words and phrases in your resume. At the very least, your resume then has a shot at being seen by a human.
Some job descriptions have a “desired qualities” section. This is generally a list of unquantifiable qualities that don’t require any specific experience. If your job description has this section, make sure you take advantage of it!
This is your chance to make your resume match the description exactly. The desired qualities are almost always “soft skills”, these are things like “teamwork” and “good communicator”. Be sure to include everything that is remotely applicable on your resume. Make sure you think through them and how they apply to you so that you can back up your resume come interview time.
As you can probably tell, the one thing that all these sections have in common is the importance of matching keywords on your resume to those in the job description
It may sound a bit redundant at this point, but keywords are the key to any application. If you can seamlessly include skills and experience that match keywords in the job description, you will give yourself a huge leg up on the competition when it comes to passing the ATS filters – as well as standing out to the human employers.
Now that you have a master list of your skills and you know how to successfully decipher a job description, let’s go over how to set up your resume in a way which is conducive to quick changes and phrase plugins.
First off, you definitely do not want to include any long or specific paragraphs. Not only are these very time-consuming to alter for each application, but applicant tracking systems only scan them for keywords and most human hiring managers don’t read them at all.
For these reasons, including long or specific paragraphs on your resume severely diminishes the flexibility of your resume.
If you stick to short points and specific skills on your resume, it will be much easier to make adjustments on the fly.
Most often, the biggest and most important section of your resume is the past experiences section. This is the real meat of the resume and where you can really make yourself standout to potential employers.
Now, you can’t change your experiences to match those required on a job listing. But, you can certainly change the way you present those experiences!
In the experience section, presentation is everything.
Even if the responsibilities of your past experiences don’t match exactly with the responsibilities of the position you’re applying for, find a way to draw similarities. Look at the responsibilities listed in the job description and word the description of your experience in a way that makes it sound applicable.
If you’ve built a master resume correctly, you should have a long list of responsibilities for every position you’ve held. Look through them and choose the ones that best match the job description.
For example, if you’re applying for an account management position and you have experience in sales, then make sure to put the biggest emphasis on your experience working with clients.
Now, let’s discuss where the real magic happens: The skills section of your resume.
This is the easy part. Usually, desired skills are listed in a straight forward manner right on the job description. All you have to do is look through them and add the ones that you can reasonably say apply to you.
Keep in mind that some employers are looking for specific “hard skills” while most are looking for more general “soft skills”. Read the job description thoroughly and try to extract from it the skills that seem most important to the employer, whether hard or soft. If you don’t already have those skills on your resume but you think you’re skilled enough to include them, put them on your resume!
This will help ensure that your resume makes it through the screening of the applicant tracking system and make it stand out to hiring managers.
If the type of job you’re applying for involves specific technical knowledge, you can include a skills section where you can list specific technical skills like a programming language or framework, a specific degree or certificate, a foreign language, or even math. But don’t forget about the relevant soft skills!
Soft skills can also be swapped depending on the job description. If the description puts a big emphasis on teamwork or problem solving, make sure to include those things in your list of soft skills.
A “core competencies” section is also incredibly helpful if your employment history or the jobs you’re applying for share common responsibilities or points of emphasis.
For example, if you’re applying for a software development position and you’ve held multiple, similar positions in the past, you can include something like “software development life-cycle” in your list of core competencies.
In today’s market, the job search is more complex than it’s ever been. Luckily, with the modern implementation of ATS in the majority of businesses, we can roughly quantify what each company is looking for. And, if we’ve built our resume to be flexible, it will only take a minute or two to make sure it provides you the best opportunity to secure that interview.