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.
Why change a resume to apply to similar positions?
While it may be quicker to send out the same resume to every job listing (especially if the listings are similar), the popularity of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) makes it more important than ever to optimize your resume for each specific listing.
Matching the filters for keywords and criteria used by the Applicant Tracking System is essential. Doing this will ensure that your resume isn't weeded out before the prospective employer sees it.
How can you keep your resume flexible?
The best and most efficient way of doing this is to build a flexible resume with interchangeable parts. Organize those parts separately and plugin information, depending on its relevance to the specific position.
How do you know what each listing is specifically looking for?
There are some 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.
The fool-proof flexible resume system
First, put together a collection of all your accomplishments, skills, and anything else you think would be relevant for your job search. Include anything you 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," even though it's essentially just a list.
Second, you must identify what each employer is looking for. This gives you an insight into how they most likely configured their ATS. There are certain keywords and phrases you can look for in a job description that will give you a good indication of what the employer is specifically targeting; those keywords are likely how the employer set up the filters for the ATS scan.
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.
Here's that information on a handy infographic you can save. Don't worry if you're still confused: we've gone into much more detail for each step below the graphic. Let’s take it step-by-step to make sure you’re ready to take on your job search with every trick in the book!
How (exactly) to build a flexible resume
1. Create a “master resume”
What’s the best way to build your all-encompassing list or “master resume” of professional experiences and achievements? 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 any information you think is relevant for each specific application.
Keep track of the little things, as 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!
Organize your master list using the same headers you used to organize 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!
Don't forget anything on your list, because 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 relevance in your application to a sales manager position--but if they don't, no one even has to see your list!
Tips on how to create a master resume
Think about your daily responsibilities in all of your previous experiences (not just the related experiences).
What unique skills do you have?
Which responsibilities have been common throughout your work history?
What do you do differently than your co-workers?
What do people say about your work?
Is there anything that you regularly get complimented for?
Is there anything that you regularly get in trouble for?
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. Then you simply copy and paste it into the resume you're going to send to apply for the specific job.
2. Determine what the employer is looking for
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.
Job description overview
Most job descriptions start with a general overview of the available role. Try to tie your past experiences to this overview. Look for words or phrases that you can relate to and include something similar on your resume.
For example, if an overview for a sales position mentions “client-facing sales” or “collaborative environment," you should make sure to include these exact phrases on your resume. Either integrate them into the company descriptions you give for previous positions or list them under your “core competencies” or “skills” section.
Job description responsibilities
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 passing the ATS scan. 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 similar to the responsibilities listed to the description will give you a huge leg up on the competition.
Job description requirements
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 fine. However, 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.
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.
Job description desired qualifications
Some job descriptions have a desired qualifications 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 to list on a resume are almost always soft skills, like “teamwork” and “good communicator.” Be sure to include everything applicable on your resume. Also be prepared on how these skills apply to you so that you can back up your resume come interview time.
Job description keywords
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 advantage over the competition when it comes to passing the ATS filters--as well as standing out to the human employers.
3. Organize your master resume like a real resume
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 that is conducive to quick changes.
First off, you definitely do not want to include any long paragraphs. Not only are these very time-consuming to alter for each application, but ATS systems only scan them for keywords and most human hiring managers don't bother to read them at all. For these reasons, including long or specific paragraphs on your resume severely diminishes the flexibility of your resume. Skip it!
Instead, if you stick to short points and specific skills on your resume, it will be much easier to make adjustments on the fly.
If you aren't sure what resume format to use, this guide walks you through the three most popular resume formats for American and Canadian employers.
How to write a flexible experience section
Most often, the biggest and most important section of your resume is the past experiences section. This is the meat of the resume and where you can really make yourself stand out 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 on a resume, 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.
View 200+ more professional resume samples for all industries, along with a guide to writing resumes from our career experts.
How to write a flexible skills section
Now, let’s discuss where the real magic happens: the skills section of your resume. This is the easy part! Usually, the desired skills are listed 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.
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 ATS, and make it stand out to hiring managers. Consider working the skills into your work experience, such as software you used or how you achieved a goal. Showing how you used the skill is more effective than simply listing it on your resume.
Technical skills on your resume
If the type of job you’re applying for involves specific technical knowledge, you can include a technical 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 on your resume
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 throughout your resume.
Core competencies on your resume
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 you have built your resume to be flexible, it will only take a few minutes to make sure it provides you the best opportunity to secure that interview.
Good luck with your job search!
Jeffrey is one of ZipJob's co-founders and has been a blog contributor since 2016.