Ask LH: Should I Tweak My Resume For Each Role?

Dear Lifehacker, Should I change my resume? I'm currently using a basic resume template, but I've also looked at writing up a technical resume. While a technical resume would be no good for retail or customer service jobs (which is what I'm mostly applying for now), would it be worth writing a resume in that style for entry-level IT jobs? Thanks, Hunting Hard

Resume picture from Shutterstock

Dear HH,

I've reviewed hundreds of job applications over the years and my advice is to absolutely customise your resume and cover letter for every position to apply for.

Your cover letter and resume are the first thing a potential employer will know about you. If you can't take the time to make them fit the job, why would your potential employer think you've got what it takes to work for them?

The approach I favour is to read the job ad carefully and look for the specific skills and experiences that the employer is looking for. In the cover letter, address each of these specifically. For example, if the position requires that you manage a team then use a phrase like "In my current role, I manage a team of five people" in the cover letter rather than relying on the employer discovering it in your resume.

With your resume, follow a similar approach, emphasizing elements of your work history that specifically address the position requirements. While it's nice to list all of your professional accomplishments, make sure that those most relevant to the position are emphasised.

So, our resume 101 advice is to customise as a generic resume won't get responses, especially for differing roles. Here are some more specific guides:

What Shouldn't You Mention On Your Resume How To Write A Resume That A Recruiter Will Notice And Love

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Here's my advice...

    Forget a cover letter. If you have relevant information such as "In my current role, I manage a team of five people" - then have that listed in the resume. People don't have time to waste reading cover letters. Sure, some do, most don't.

    You don't need to tailor your resume for each position. Yes it won't hurt, but it takes time and may provide minimal benefit.

    It's much more important to make sure that you do read the job adverts properly - and really why apply if you don't meet the requirements.

    Have your resume tailored to the type of job that you're looking for - not for each individual position. Relevant information will be relevant to all jobs that you're applying for - that is if you're applying for the right jobs.

    If you're looking for several different types of jobs, would't it be better to come to a decision as to what you're REALLY looking for, before applying.

    Acknowledging the details of the position in your application may be looked upon favourably but it won't get you the job. It;ll create a positive first impression, but won't be strong enough to overcome any weaknesses that your application may have. It's a nicety, but essentially pretty weak and will be eclipsed in importance by many other aspects of your application - and the applications of other job seekers.

    Generic resumes absolutely WILL get responses.

    A resume is a dull and boring document that lists relevant information.

    If you follow a basic resume template you will have a perfectly functional resume. It won't be a good read, it won't be ground breaking - it will just be a bog standard document that presents information - and that's all any of us want and need.

    Would you refuse to buy a Sony Vaio just because the manual was boring? No. Because the manual is presenting cold hard facts and will inevitably be boring.

    Sure, presentation is important - use nice fonts, use correct spelling and grammar, add a touch of colour, maybe even use a nice image on the front page - but a resume is a document that is presenting cold hard facts and does not need to be muddied with egotistical customisation.

    Last edited 24/07/13 6:54 pm

      The part I agree with most is keeping the resume generic.

      I don't have a defined cover letter but the first page of my resume is sort of a hybrid of what skills and qualifications and how they relate to the industry I am applying.

      Using this technique I have got every single job I've ever worked and I refuse to do it any other way.

      Also, most of the statistics you see published by the government about job hunting are skewed because employment agencies falsify their data and a lot of people are forced to lie to their employment agencies so they don't get their benefits cut.

      Possibly the worst advice I have read on resume presentation.
      I truly hope you are not in the job market.

      Cover letters - have one crafted, and use if it is asked for. Quite a few companies or agencies will not progress your application if it does not come with a covering letter. Whether they read it or not is immaterial. It takes about 5 minutes to write, and there is no genuine reason not to have one, if you are serious about landing a job.
      In a tough market, recruiters will get hundreds of applications for a single role, and they use a variety of methods to thin them out - not having a cover letter is one of those methods.

      If you're looking for several different types of jobs, would't it be better to come to a decision as to what you're REALLY looking for, before applying.
      If it's an entry level candidate as the OP indicated, then they have the opportunity to try their hand at whatever they feel they can do, and as most people move on from their role in 2-3 years, it's not that important.
      Furthermore, recruiting trends show that employers typically want candidates with a variety of skills, not ones with a deep skill level in just a few of them.

      A resume is a dull and boring document that lists relevant information.
      As both this article and several others that preceded it have gone to great lengths to describe, your resume should be anything but.
      If it doesn't grab their attention in a professional manner, then you'll lose out to someone who does know how to catch a recruiters eye, and you can be assured it isn't because they have a boring resume.

      Would you refuse to buy a Sony Vaio just because the manual was boring?
      If it was presented in a grey box, that simply said "Sony Laptop. Runs really well. Will do most things you need a laptop to do", yes I'd go buy some other laptop.
      That's why these companies spend millions on researching attractive packaging, font design, colour matching. angle presentation. etc.
      You resume is your attractor, the external packaging, if you will. It represents you at a time when you cannot represent yourself in person, so it should present some of your personality, responsibilities, and achievements.

      Generic resumes absolutely WILL get responses
      Oh absolutely they will. Just not the response you were wanting.

      Sure, presentation is important - use nice fonts, use correct spelling and grammar, add a touch of colour, maybe even use a nice image on the front page - but a resume is a document that is presenting cold hard facts and does not need to be muddied with egotistical customisation.
      You seem to have veered away from the Sony manual metaphor in the very next paragraph by suggesting the very opposite, but it's the last part that is the most concerning - yes, idle bragging has no place in a resume, but writing about your achievements, improvements and other significant contributions as an employee is not vainglorious, it is exactly what an employer is looking for.
      They want to see who will be the best fit, the hardest worker, who is going to add the most value to their teams, and who can get the job done without handholding.
      Bus timetables have cold hard facts, your resume should not resemble one.

      Last edited 24/07/13 11:54 pm

        "Possibly the worst advice I have read on resume presentation."

        When you make (unjust and) bold statements like that, you really ought to point out where and why the advice is not to your liking. Otherwise you just appear like a pointless heckler.

        "In a tough market, recruiters will get hundreds of applications for a single role, and they use a variety of methods to thin them out - not having a cover letter is one of those methods."

        Those recruiters (should they exist) that do not process applicants on the basis that they do not have a cover letter should not be in recruitment. They are doing themselves, the employers that they represent, and the applicants concerned a massive disservice.

        "If it's an entry level candidate as the OP indicated, then they have the opportunity to try their hand at whatever they feel they can do, and as most people move on from their role in 2-3 years, it's not that important."

        Firstly, my comments weren't directed directly at the OP as I expect that the OP will not be the only reader of my comments.

        Secondly, if you're trying to argue that the type of position that an applicant applies for and accepts is unimportant (regardless as to whether or not they are a Junior) then we're really not on the same wave-length.

        "As both this article and several others that preceded it have gone to great lengths to describe, your resume should be anything but."

        If so, then I'm disagreeing. Things aren't correct just because they're written in an article or two you know. And even if they are, we're still allowed to disagree with them and present reasoned and opposing views.

        "If it doesn't grab their attention in a professional manner, then you'll lose out to someone who does know how to catch a recruiters eye, and you can be assured it isn't because they have a boring resume."

        I disagree, primarily because you're fundamentally wrong.

        The recruiter is looking for information. Do you have the skills and experience required. If so, and if that's clearly presented in the resume then THAT will garner the recruiters attention.

        "If it was presented in a grey box, that simply said "Sony Laptop. Runs really well. Will do most things you need a laptop to do", yes I'd go buy some other laptop."

        But a Sony Vaio manual wouldn't say that, would it. It would discuss the specifications of the unit, what comes in the box, a basic how to set up etc. It would be very dry information but it would be accurate and helpful to those that required it - i,e, functional.

        "You resume is your attractor, the external packaging, if you will. It represents you at a time when you cannot represent yourself in person, so it should present some of your personality, responsibilities, and achievements."

        I largely disagree.

        Absolutely, the resume should be well presented. Nice fonts. Clearly spaced out. A touch of colour or some very minor design points (images, headers, footers) can make the resume look nicer and could be welcomed. I have not suggested that a resume ought to be an ugly mess. Further, I have made it clear that in my opinion a very standard resume format, a template of which could be found on one of thousands of websites highlighted after an incredibly basic google search, will be perfectly adequate when populated with correct and relevant information.

        Your resume DOES NOT need to represent your personality.

        It needs to represent your work history, qualifications, skill sets etc. I shouldn't have to state this. We know what a resume is meant to represent.

        "Oh absolutely they will. Just not the response you were wanting."

        It seems that in (at least) this (above) comment you're being purposefully silly.

        But, to be clear, your resume WILL NOT be overlooked on the basis of you failing to inject your personality through some form of customisation of your resume.

        You will be an attractive applicant if it is shown in a clear and easily understood manner that you (largely) have the skills, experience and qualifications for the position. And a basic resume does that well.

        "They want to see who will be the best fit, the hardest worker, who is going to add the most value to their teams, and who can get the job done without handholding."

        Perhaps I need to make something clear.

        Your resume is not applying for a position - the applicant is.

        You won't be offered the position on the basis of your resume alone. You will still have to meet with the employer/recruiter in order to discuss the position, and your application further.

        That being the case...

        If your resume clearly shows the skills, experience, qualifications that the employer is looking for THEN the employer (or recruiter) will be discussing your application in more detail.

        AT WHICH POINT your personality can present your personality.

        Your resume should present the information that a resume should present. I don't need to repeat what that is yet again.

        In the same way the Sony Vaio manual doesn't need to contain a sales bumpf, price details etc etc - as it's purpose is just to provide cold hard facts, as you correctly identify a bus timetable as doing. Let the Advertising department handle the sales spiel. Let the interview be the time that you present yourself in more detail.

        But what if I don't get an interview? (I pre-emptively hear you cry)

        Well, if you have a clearly understood resume, and if you genuinely (largely) meet the clients requirements then you probably will.

        Now Mandroid, it's perfectly fine for you to disagree with my comments - thankfully I wholeheartedly disagree with yours - but please try to be civil.

        I've stated a response to the OP (to be read by others too) which makes my point clear that I, someone who is in recruitment (despite your hopes to the contrary), do not advocate continuing to use Cover Letters. They are pointless. Sure, some people haven't realised that yet, but that doesn't mean that they have value because of it. Sure, there are some stalwarts that will continue to insist that applicants jump through hoops just to please their antiquated ways, and that being the case (I agree that) there is some merit in having a cover letter prepared even if for no other reason. However, in general terms, a Cover Letter is completely and utterly pointless. If you want to encourage applicants to spend their time and effort on pointless activities you can, but I'm not going to. I'm just trying to educate applicants.

          When you make (unjust and) bold statements like that, you really ought to point out where and why the advice is not to your liking. Otherwise you just appear like a pointless heckler.
          The entire post clearly pointed out where I thought your advice was misleading, or just plain wrong.
          I even quoted the sections, just so you weren't left confused to the parts I was referring to.
          It could not have been made it clearer if I tried.

          I'm not going to refute your next post, because quite frankly it's not worth the time or energy for either of us. You disagree with everything I've written, and I'm more than happy to leave it at that.
          Vive la difference !

          Most of what was posted in my comment was from articles about resume presentation, and as Lifehacker does, industry professionals were invited in to provide their insights.
          If they say having a cover letter will help with getting you a job, or some such tidbit, then I'm going to go right ahead and believe them, because they're the professionals, not me.
          A small amount was from my experience of being a both hiring manager and potential candidate.
          It appears you draw from a different well of experience.

          thankfully I wholeheartedly disagree with yours - but please try to be civil.
          Now this mystified me, because as far as I could tell, I had not been abusive or derogatory, nor launched a personal attack against you.
          Just because I do not agree with you, does not mean I am being offensive to you, we just simply enjoy different perspectives.

          I think that concludes our little tete a tete, and if you are in the job market, I wish you the best of luck.

          Last edited 25/07/13 11:27 pm

            "I even quoted the sections, just so you weren't left confused to the parts I was referring to."

            Yes, you did quote, and yes you did refer to the quotes. However you did not show how or why you feel that my comments constitute "Possibly the worst advice I have read on resume presentation". Nor did you show cause to "truly hope you are not in the job market."

            "Most of what was posted in my comment was from articles about resume presentation, and as Lifehacker does, industry professionals were invited in to provide their insights.
            If they say having a cover letter will help with getting you a job, or some such tidbit, then I'm going to go right ahead and believe them, because they're the professionals, not me."

            Hmmm. Firstly, this above statement really does reflect your position on this subject. You are acknowledging that you're not really putting a great deal of thought, and don't have a great deal of experience in regards to the subject, and are merely referring to and relying on advice written in an article(s) by self appointed industry professionals.

            That contrasts with myself who is someone that does apply thought, does have extensive experience to refer to and is not looking to push an agenda (such as promoting the notion of professional resume writing), and is quite willing to offer assistance to those that ask for it (OP) and those that may benefit from it (other readers).

            May I suggest that you DO apply some thought before bandying around insults.

            "Now this mystified me, because as far as I could tell, I had not been abusive or derogatory, nor launched a personal attack against you."

            This is baffling.

            You're telling me that you're opening remarks of...

            "Possibly the worst advice I have read on resume presentation.
            I truly hope you are not in the job market."

            ...wasn't meant as a personal insult? You believe that, or are we just pretending?

            Let me clarify, I felt that the above statement that YOU MADE IN THE FIRST INSTANCE was insulting, harsh and completely unnecessary. I've not attacked your livelihood have I? No. And I never would. Why? Because I'm a reasonable adult and I'll argue the valid points in a reasonable manner.

            But you're happy to attack my livelihood - why - presumably you're not so reasonable and not as inclined to argue the valid points in a reasonable manner.

            I also thought that sarcastic comments such as "Oh absolutely they will. Just not the response you were wanting." and "Bus timetables have cold hard facts, your resume should not resemble one." just add to your condescending tone and pointless (in the literal sense - lacking a valid point) approach, and as such were unwelcome and not at all conducive to the discussion at hand.

            "Just because I do not agree with you, does not mean I am being offensive to you, we just simply enjoy different perspectives."

            Correct - but you're direct personal insults do mean that you are being offensive to me. Let's not forget that - or are we still pretending they weren't personal insults?

            Either way, may I suggest that next time you decide to pooh-pooh someone's comments that you refrain from slagging them off in the first instance, and that you present valid points in order to explain your disagreements. Who knows - you may have some - and that may help everyone.

              Oh Dave, you're just repeating the same old tune and we're going in circles.

              Here is an example of me being offensive to someone, in an insulting, harsh and very unnecessary way - You are a fucking idiot.
              Here's me disagreeing with someone's opinion What you are saying is wrong and misleading.
              I don't normally stoop to such crass generalisations, but you seemed to have difficulty determining between criticism of an opinion and criticism of the person. I trust you can see the difference now.

              You are acknowledging that you're not really putting a great deal of thought, and don't have a great deal of experience in regards to the subject, and are merely referring to and relying on advice written in an article(s) by self appointed industry professionals.
              I'd acknowledged nothing of the sort, but if that is the only way you can interpret it, your loss.

              Given the choice between taking the advice from industry professionals, or a unknown commenter - I'm going to go with the professionals.
              As for self appointed industry professionals - It appears to be case of the pot calling the kettle black, and I highly doubt you are in a position to question the integrity of the guest writers.

              The reason why I called you out on your methods was because they haven't been used for the last 20 years, and some cases, just plain wrong.
              Saying 'Don't bother with a cover letter because it's a waste of time' is neither representative of the job market today, nor give any valid reason for this statement.
              If a job role requests a cover letter, then you provide one - if you want a chance of getting the job.
              So, just to repeat - it was the worst advice I have read on resume presentation.
              I've dropped the 'possibly', because I no longer have any doubt, and you have provided no external sources for me to re-evaluate that assessment or bolster your advice.

              Here are the top 3 Google hits from my search on CV writing:
              http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2012/mar/15/cv-tips-first-arts-job
              http://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/cv.htm
              http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15573447
              You'll note that all recommend tailoring the CV to the role (not use a generic CV), describe your achievements, skills and aspirations (not just cold hard facts) and suggest you outline your hobbies and activities so they can see you will work well with others (personality).

              If you want to go and tell them they are doing it wrong, I wish you the best of luck.
              And if you are thinking of replying to this comment, go right ahead, but I won't be reading or replying to it, as it will most likely be a copy and paste of the same unsubstantiated arguments you've used twice in a row, and this conversation is simply going in a circle.

              That said, I hope you have a great weekend.

              Last edited 26/07/13 1:16 pm

                Oh I see. So I was mistaken when I thought that "Possibly the worst advice I have read on resume presentation. I truly hope you are not in the job market." was a direct and unnecessary insult. Silly me. Please accept my humble apologies. What was I thinking.

                "I'd acknowledged nothing of the sort, but if that is the only way you can interpret it, your loss."

                Pretty sure you did when you said...

                "Most of what was posted in my comment was from articles about resume presentation, and as Lifehacker does, industry professionals were invited in to provide their insights. If they say having a cover letter will help with getting you a job, or some such tidbit, then I'm going to go right ahead and believe them, because they're the professionals, not me."

                You clearly state that you're relying on the advice of professionals with little thought, and you go on to highlight your limited experience.

                But then i've interpreted your comments directly based on their meaning - and perhaps that was wrong of me do so, given that you're now stating that your meaning was somewhat different to what you stated.

                "As for self appointed industry professionals - It appears to be case of the pot calling the kettle black, and I highly doubt you are in a position to question the integrity of the guest writers."

                Why is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black? You've not explained yourself at all well there. I'm guessing you're inferring that I've somehow declared myself a professional recruiter - which is to some degree true - as I have made it clear that I do work as a recruiter and that I do have a lot of experience. But the bottom line is that all i've done is express my opinion and disagreed with some of the comments made within the article - and explained my reasons for doing so. I've announced myself as a recruiter only when asked if that is the case - I'm not sure if that was within this thread or another, and I'm not about to check.

                Further, where have I questioned the integrity of the guest writers? I do think that it is fair comment to remind people that those writers (guest or otherwise) that promote resume writing as a high level skill and are in the business of selling resumes have an agenda. That doesn't mean that they lack integrity - but it is something that ought to be noted and recognised as having a bearing on the discussion. Reasonable? I think so.

                "The reason why I called you out on your methods was because they haven't been used for the last 20 years, and some cases, just plain wrong.
                Saying 'Don't bother with a cover letter because it's a waste of time' is neither representative of the job market today, nor give any valid reason for this statement."

                Your comments here are quite annoying.

                Which methods "haven't been used for the last 20 years, and some cases, just plain wrong" - and on what basis are you declaring them as such?

                "Saying 'Don't bother with a cover letter because it's a waste of time' is neither representative of the job market today"

                How so?

                "nor give any valid reason for this statement.""

                Yes I have.

                "Here are the top 3 Google hits from my search on CV writing:
                http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2012/mar/15/cv-tips-first-arts-job
                http://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/cv.htm
                http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15573447
                You'll note that all recommend tailoring the CV to the role (not use a generic CV), describe your achievements, skills and aspirations (not just cold hard facts) and suggest you outline your hobbies and activities so they can see you will work well with others (personality)."

                Well aren't you the clever one for allowing others to make your decisions for you.

                "And if you are thinking of replying to this comment, go right ahead"

                Thanks

                "but I won't be reading or replying to it,"

                Thanks again

    As an employer when I advertise for a job I might get 20+ responses.

    The ones with a tailored cover letter usually rise to the top of the pile.

    Go with what Anthony says - he is a wise man.

      Top, bottom, middle - it doesn't matter.

      If you're only getting 20 or so applicants, and if you take the recruitment process seriously then I would imagine that you give all applicants due consideration based on their merits.

      In the grand scheme of things, an applicants desire and ability to present a cover letter is, I would say, a pretty minor aspect compared to their skills, work experience and qualifications.

      I agree that an applicants willingness to show an active interest in the position is very much a favourable aspect - but it's not the be all and end all. I would say that it would be wrong to hire or not to hire someone on that alone.

    "I don't have a defined cover letter but the first page of my resume is sort of a hybrid of what skills and qualifications and how they relate to the industry I am applying."

    Something like the above is MUCH better than a cover letter. It should be the first half page though - unless there's good reason for it to be in more detail, which there might be (skills matrix).

    First off, it's on the resume - a cover letter is a separate document. You expect your interviewer to refer to multiple documents? Too difficult, won't happen. People are busy, make it easy for them.

    Secondly, a career summary, basic but highly important information (qualifications, key skills) at the beginning of a resume immediately makes your key strengths known. And shouldn't take up too much space.

    "Using this technique I have got every single job I've ever worked and I refuse to do it any other way."

    Remember, the resume didn't get you any of those jobs - your skills, experience, personality did. The resume just made it easy for the employer/recruiter to identify your strengths. And that's really all a resume has to do - present YOUR RELEVANT information in a CLEARLY UNDERSTOOD WAY.

    Anything over and above that is largely superfluous. Unless, of course, you absolutely must stand out by declaring your unique abilities by creating a highly customised document.

    I think I ought to add that I personally feel that almost everyone is perfectly capable of writing their own highly functional resume. It will take probably less than 1 hour, some care and attention, and a tiny bit of brain power.

    If you're entering a best resume of the year competition you might want to spend a couple of hours on it but please (readers) don't be fooled into thinking that writing a resume is a hugely complicated task. It's not.

    "Also, most of the statistics you see published by the government about job hunting are skewed because employment agencies falsify their data "

    Falsify their data? My belief is that they falsify their data. they falsify your data, the clients data - etc etc. Well, a lot do (I'll be kind and choose not to say virtually all) - and those that don't ought to be supported.

    Last edited 24/07/13 11:47 pm

    This could have been a one line answer: "OF COURSE YOU SHOULD. ARE YOU SERIOUS ABOUT GETTING THE JOB!?"

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