What does a recruiter look for when they’re sourcing candidates for a job?
They look for a lot of things—skills, education, previous
job titles, etc. But it all boils down to the fit between job and candidate. An IT recruiter
wants someone who can write code, whereas an academic recruiter wants a good teacher or
The requirements for IT and teaching jobs, much like the requirements for other jobs, vary. The recruiter might be looking for a candidate with knowledge of specific software or experience in a certain industry. And what they're looking for varies from job to job. That variation is why generic resumes rarely work, and why your resume should be tailored to every job you apply to with the right keywords.
You probably think this process will take ages. It might at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.
Besides, isn’t it better to submit ten tailored resumes to get three job interviews than to submit 50 generic resumes only to end up with no responses?
After reading this guide, you’ll learn how to tailor a resume to a job by using the exact keywords recruiters look for, and putting them in key places on your resume. I'll also explain how using a resume template can shorten the process.
Step 1. Understand the Job & Company’s Hiring Requirements
Read the job ad you want to apply for and highlight the important points related to the job.
1. Critical Information
Skills and experience mentioned on the job description or the top half of the job advertisement are must-haves on your resume. Here are some examples:
- Job-related skills: Ruby on Rails, copywriting, classroom management, accounting, app development
- Software or hardware used on the job: SQL, QuickBooks, Adobe Illustrator, Facebook Business Manager
- Training and certification: ITIL, Six Sigma, HubSpot Inbound Marketing
- Industry jargon: A/B split tests, portfolio management, asset consolidation
2. Soft Skills
Combination of transferable skills applicable across different jobs and soft skills needed to help you fit seamlessly within the hiring company. Highlight these and take note of skills mentioned repeatedly or in different variations throughout the job posting. Here are some examples:
- Soft skills: leadership, collaboration, multitasking, and accountability
- Transferable skills: sales, problem solving, and research
3. Nice to Have
These are not necessarily skills but information the recruiter may look for to either thin out the herd or filter for top candidates. Here are some examples of this category:
- Impressive terms. Ivy League school and impressive terms like Fortune 500, Inc 500, or Top Salesman.
- Company names. Some companies use the names of their competitors or other big companies when hiring for top positions.
- Location. Recruiters look for candidates living or working within a specific location for jobs where hiring local is a must.
4. Process Walk-Through
Here’s what that process looks like for three actual jobs.
In the job descriptions below, I highlighted the information described above as follows:
- Critical information such as job-related skills and software are underlined in Black.
- Soft and transferable skills are underlined in Red.
- Optional keywords are underlined with Blue.
Job 1. Job Description for Business Development Representative
Here's a sample job description from an actual job listing:
In the first example, you’ll see communication skills mentioned twice, once as is and a second time in the bullet point “convey technical principles in a consultative and conversational way.”
“Work closely with quota carrying sales executives” is too long
and awkward to directly mention on your resume, but you can use related
keywords like teamwork or collaboration.
Job 2. Job Description for Marketing Copywriter
Here's another sample from a job listing:
Writing is usually considered a soft skill, but it’s underlined in black here because writing is a copywriter’s main job.
The phrase “enthusiastically receives and acts on feedback” could be incorporated as a soft skill on a copywriter’s resume with phrases like “open to feedback,” or “open to criticism” by adding it to a specific task under your work history as “revise copy based on client feedback.”
The bullet point “define
and maintain a consistent, engaging voice” and “alignment with brand
guidelines” refers to “developing or
creating a brand’s voice,” which could be referenced in a copywriter’s
resume as such. The phrase “switch
vocabulary, tone and style” is just another way of saying that you can follow
the “editorial style guide,” which was already mentioned in the candidate’s
responsibility. Analyzing the job posting like this allows you to decide which
are worth including in your resume, and which keywords are just variations of
Job 3. Job Description for Software Engineer
Here's our final example from a job listing:
The job-specific skills listed in this example are straightforward and easy to incorporate on a resume. The recurring mention of curiosity and desire for learning, however, can’t be described as easily.
Situations like this call for a little storytelling. For
example, you can write about a time when you had to look up how to code a
certain function because all the other strategies you tried didn’t work. Any
previous work experience that can prove you’re willing to set aside your ego to
learn will work.
Step 2. Create a Skills & Achievements Inventory or “Master Resume”
Now that we know what the company is looking for, next we need to figure out if those requirements are already listed on your resume. And if they are, can the recruiter easily spot them? Does your resume provide enough evidence that you’re knowledgeable and experienced enough with those skills?
If you don’t have their requirements on your resume, the obvious thing to do is add them. The problem with this approach is there’s a risk you’ll forget some of your skills, achievements, and tasks the next time you tailor your resume to a job.
To prevent this, create a “master resume” where all of your skills, tasks, work history, and achievements are listed, so you can just add to this document whenever you receive an award, finish a big project, or acquire a new skill.
This document takes time to compile, but there’s no need to complete it right away. It’s just that creating an inventory of your skills and achievements is a good way to start a master resume, so you might as well do it and hit two birds with one stone in the process.
Don’t worry if this document gets too long, you won’t be using it for job applications anyway. This is the document you'll customize for every job you send.
Creating an inventory is easy. Get your resume and a piece of paper that’s been divided into three columns—one for job-related skills, another for soft and transferable skills, and the third one for achievements—this will be your inventory. Follow the steps below:
- Go through the skills section of your resume, and then copy all the skills listed there on your paper and put it under the appropriate column for skills. Add any other skills you've got that aren't already listed on your resume to this list.
- Using the same process you applied for the job postings, highlight your job-related skills, transferable skills, and soft skills found elsewhere on your resume.
- Compare the information you highlighted with your list, and then add the skills that are on your resume, but not in the inventory.
- Write all the achievements tied to a specific skill in the achievements column.
- With this inventory, you don’t have to rack your brains next time you've got to customize your resume for a specific job posting. All you've got to do is check if you've got the keywords highlighted on their job ad on your list, and then add them to the right places on your resume.
Step 3. How to Tailor Your Resume to a Job
Now comes the tedious part, tailoring your resume. You'll use a combination of keywords, power words, and data.
You can’t just add the keywords wherever you want; you've got to put them in the right places to satisfy both the recruiters and the digital gatekeepers or Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).
1. Place Critical Job-Related Skills at the Top
Doing this helps with the recruiters or anyone reading your resume. These people go through hundreds of applications daily, so to save time they only look at key areas of your resume, and if they don’t find what they’re looking for in that first scan—you’re out.
The first thing they look at is your resume summary, so make it a point to include all the job-related skills there.
Below are the must-have job-related skills and soft skills for the job pulled from the Marketing Copywriter job ad earlier:
- Create copy for email campaigns, website, and social media
- Develop program-specific messaging
- Value proposition
- Benefit-driven copy
- Alignment with brand guidelines, positioning, and editorial style guide
- (3+ years) professional writing experience
- Editorial judgment
- Data and engagement analytics
The job posting also mentioned Slack, Google for Business and Dropbox, but I’ve opted not to include them in the must-have list as they’re not writing or marketing tools. I also didn’t include “writing skills” and “editorial judgment” as both are too generic and situational, so they're better placed somewhere else in my resume. You've got to use your best judgment in situations like this, as there are details only someone with experience in your job can determine.
Since I’m a copywriter, I used my resume for this example so I can show you the before and after versions.
Here’s what my qualification summary looks like before it’s customized for the
copywriting job above:
As you can see, only the keywords “website copy” and “email campaign” directly match the job posting. Even if “USP” or “unique selling proposition” is just another variation of the phrase “value props,” the keyword indicated on the job posting, a recruiter with no copywriting background might not connect the dots between the two phrases.
Based on the job posting, my qualifications summary is still missing the following keywords:
- Social media (copy)
- Develop program-specific messaging
- Value proposition
- Benefit-driven copy
- Alignment with brand guidelines, positioning, and editorial style guide
- Data and engagement analytics
These keywords are listed on certain entries in my work history because I don’t find them impressive enough to list on my qualifications summary since I've got other achievements I want to highlight there. But those accomplishments, such as the link bait article with 500+ shares, aren’t relevant for the job so I need to remove it to make room for the important keywords. You’ll have to make similar changes when you’re customizing your own resume.
Here’s what my resume’s qualifications summary looks like after incorporating the missing keywords. I even included the soft skills “collaborate” and “flexible” on bullet points where it made sense.
Now you’re probably
thinking, where did those new bullet points come from?
Some of them I had to write because even though they’re part of my job, they’re not results-oriented and I tend to focus on results-oriented tasks in my resume. For instance, writing an email campaign can be a quantifiable achievement, whereas following an editorial style guide cannot. But as this job ad shows, even non-results-oriented tasks are important for some employers.
The other bullet points are easier because I just moved them up from my work history. You can do the same when you’re customizing your resume. You can even customize your resume template so that it matches the brand colors of the company you're applying for!
2. Revamp Work History Bullet Points
You've got three options to do this:
- Rearrange the bullet points you've got so the ones with the keywords that match the job posting are on the top. This is the easiest way to tailor your resume to a job ad, but it only works if those keywords are already in your resume in the first place.
- Write new bullet points.
- Think of another way to reframe the tasks or accomplishments so the skills or keywords in the job posting are highlighted (see below).
We continue with the same example using my resume. Notice
that my original work history only had a few of the keywords mentioned in the
job ad, while several of the bullet points, highlighted in purple, appear irrelevant.
As with any candidate, you’ll have sub-tasks or specialties that aren’t related to the job you're applying for. In this example, it’s my tasks as an outreach specialist writing link bait or roundup articles.
For designers, you may have experience designing 3D layouts, but that may not be relevant when applying for an illustrator job. In the same way, IT specialists applying for an app-development role should highlight front-end development experience, instead of database expertise.
Below is what the revised work history looks like after
implementing the three strategies above:
The first thing you’ll notice is there are more black and red underlined phrases, which means the revised version now has more keywords from the copywriter job posting.
You’ll also see phrases underlined in green, which are variations of the job-specific keywords. For instance, website landing page is a variation of website copy in the sense that the recruiter might also use this keyword when filtering resumes using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Some of the bullet points in the old version were redundant, such as the “2-stage email campaign” bullet, so I deleted them.
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Find out how to tailor the resume to a job description in my detailed breakdown of the changes below.
1. Replace Words That Mean the Same in Context or Are Synonyms
“Translate product features into tangible benefits that appeal to the customer’s emotions” was changed to “Write benefit-driven copy that appeals to the customer’s emotions while adhering to brand’s value proposition and market positioning.”
The two sentences basically refer to the same task of writing copy that emphasizes benefits, except in the second bullet, “tangible benefits” is replaced with “benefit-driven.” I’ve also inserted “value proposition” and “market positioning” since these tasks go hand in hand.
2. Write a Targeted Resume Using Keywords to Describe Specific Work Arrangements
“Collaborate with design, marketing, and web development team of startup clients….”
It’s hard to insert the keyword or soft skill “comfortable working in a fast-paced startup environment.” So instead of using the whole phrase, I used the keyword “startup” in a bullet point since it practically means fast-paced anyway, especially for those familiar with startup environments.
You might think using the keyword as a situational limitation as I did in the bullet point will affect your credibility. Using the phrase “startup clients” might suggest that I only work with startups when in reality I also work with established brands—and the recruiter will see that later on as they read through my work history.
Since this job prioritizes startup experience, the best way to tailor the resume to the job is to highlight my startup work so I can fit in as their ideal candidate.
You might have a similar experience, where you don’t want to let go of the credibility that big brands add to your resume. Don’t worry, you don’t have to. As long as the skill or achievement connected to your work with big brands is related to the job you’re applying for, it’s okay.
3. Write New Bullet Points to Insert Other Missing Keywords
The bullet point “Revise website, email, and social media copy based on client or editor feedback, and A/B split test results” is new.
You can’t write a targeted resume without writing at least a couple new bullet points. It’s inevitable because there are so many skills related to a job that it’s impossible for you to predict and include them all in your resume.
Step 4. Don’t Forget to Add Quantifiable Data
A targeted resume won't work if you can't show proof of your skills, so use numbers whenever possible to provide a measurable evidence of your value as an applicant. In my case, I use open rates, click-through rates, social shares, and inbound links, as these are some of the well-known metrics that companies use when gauging a writer’s skill.
For other jobs, these
metrics might include time saved, money earned, sales quotas, or customer
Step 5. Add Remaining Keywords and Other Variations
The tools “Google for Business,” “Slack” and “Dropbox” and the soft skills “switch vocabulary, tone and style” and “editorial judgement” are still not in my resume since I’ve deemed them not important enough to appear in the summary and the first two entries of my work history. You’ll see keywords like this when you tailor your resume to job postings, too. For example, in the Software Engineer job, it seems “can do attitude” is the least important of all the keywords.
Keywords like this shouldn’t be neglected, because you can still put them in the skills section of your resume. Variations of the important keywords, on the other hand, should be added elsewhere in your work history and education section to satisfy ATS requirements. The goal here is to create an 80% match when your resume is compared directly to the job posting, and you can’t do that if you only edit your summary and the first two job entries.
Step 6. Final Review
Read your resume from top to bottom or have a friend read it for you. Have them check for the following:
Is it clear that you’re qualified for the job?
If your resume and a printout of the job posting are compared side by side, can the person reading it immediately see the qualifications listed in the job posting? If they can’t, then you need to tailor your resume to the job a bit more, which means adding more keywords or going beyond the qualifications summary and first two job entries suggested above. In some cases, you might be using a cluttered resume template that makes your application difficult to read. The goal here is to create an 80% match when your resume is compared directly to the job posting.
How to Save Time When Creating Resumes
One way to quickly create an attractive resume is to start with a pre-built resume template such as those found on Envato Elements or GraphicRiver. These attractive resume designs are especially useful when you know a human will see your resume—such as when you need a resume to take to an interview. The resumes from both of these sources have numerous features for various types of resumes.
You can get unlimited access to a variety of professional resume templates with an Envato Elements subscription. Here are just some of the resume templates you'll find:
Using a pre-built, professionally designed resume template can save you hours of time. And each resume is ready for you to tailor to any job position.
For a closer look at some of the various resume types available, take a look at this article:
You've just learned how to tailor a resume to a job. We've examined three different job postings, and I've shown you how to match your resume to each of those jobs. We've also discussed how a targeted resume can help set your resume apart. Finally, I've explained how starting with a resume template and tailoring that resume template to a job posting can save you time.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in August of 2018. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.