Do You Really Have to Customize Your Resume for Every Job?

Conventional wisdom says you MUST customize your resume for every job you apply to, but is that right? 

New survey research (p.24) by Kimberly Schneiderman and outplacement firm RiseSmart shows that customization isn’t always needed.  

They asked 273 recruiters and hiring managers, “How closely does a resume need to match the [job] description to warrant a next step with you?”

As you can see in the chart below, only 20% of the responding recruiters and hiring managers want perfection:

80% are willing to deal with reality.

Thus, if you’re crunched for time, send your resume whether it’s a perfect match for the job posting or not. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you’re a good fit, you have a four in five chance of that being OK.*

*Do consider your market. If it’s hot, and candidates are hard to find, recruiters will be more flexible than if they’re deluged with near perfect, almost-10’s. Much of the “always customize” advice was published during the Great Recession and hasn’t been updated.

Increase Your Odds of Success

When not customizing, you’ll up your odds of success if your resume has already been written to give recruiters:

  1. The information they want: Where you’ve worked, for how long, and what you did (responsibilities and accomplishments). See the research findings here and here.
  2. In a format that’s easy for them to read on desktop, laptop, and mobile.

The survey (p. 15) revealed that 59% of respondents read resumes on their phones. Learn more here about optimizing your resume for mobile readers.

You can see sample resumes that demonstrate these principles here.

What to Customize

If you don’t want to risk the other 20%, but time is short, focus on getting the posting’s keywords into your resume. This matters because recruiters search their applicant tracking systems on keywords.

An Even Better Approach

However, rather than using your time to customize your resume, double down on getting it to the eyes of a person who can refer you to the hiring manager or recruiter.

The survey (p. 12) found that referrals (55%) are the respondents’ best source of top candidates – not the ATS (22%).

If reaching out to people feels scary to you, then relax. It’s made EASY with these 24 phone networking scripts. They cover just about every situation you might encounter.

Prioritize Your Time

You can waste a lot of time following unsubstantiated “advice” on how to conduct your job search. Always ask yourself about the best return on your limited time and set smart priorities.

On that note, I particularly like Kimberly’s study because it was done to collect answers to real questions that job seekers ask and then generously shared beyond RiseSmart’s client base. Thank you, Kimberly and RiseSmart!

I write executive resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Save time. Get hired. See my bio and recommendations here, or email me at for more information.

Featured by: SmartBrief

Image: Fotolia/Sikov


Comments 2

  1. Should customize the resume to show more details about the specific experience that you had success in previous company that can help this company solve their similar issue. After all, recruiters look for a person who can solve some specific issues successfully.

  2. Given that the vast majority of recruiters today do not actually read your resume, but enter it into a database and scan for keyword hits, it’s really not useful to customize a resume until you’re actually being presented to a client. . .

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