tailoring resumes for a job

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

Conventional wisdom says you MUST tailor your resume to every job you apply for, but I wonder.  

Tailoring Resumes for a Job? What New Research Says

New survey research (2016) from outplacement firm RiseSmart found that you don’t always have to customize your resume.

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

As you can see in the chart below, only 20% of the responding recruiters and hiring managers wanted perfection. 80% could deal with reality.

You Miss Every Shot You Don’t Take

Thus, if you find yourself in a time crunch, send your resume whether your work experience matches the job posting perfectly or not. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Check your resume summary, experience section, and education. If your skills and experience are a good fit, you have a good chance of winning an interview without customizing your resume.*

You might not even need to write a cover letter.

*However, consider your market. Does demand exceed supply (true for many jobs in 2016 when RiseSmart did the survey)? If yes, recruiters will be more flexible than if they have an inbox full of near-10 resumes. If no, as in the COVID-19 unemployment crisis, recruiters can be more demanding. 

Tailoring Resumes for Jobs When You’re a Perfect Fit

When you’re a perfect fit, but your resume doesn’t make that argument and you really want the job, then write a resume that tells that story.

You might even be able to craft a special type of cover letter that clinches the job interview for you!

Increase Your Odds of Success

When not tailoring your resume to the job at hand, you’ll up your odds if your resume has already been written to give recruiters:

1. The information they want, including where you’ve worked, for how long, and what you did — responsibilities and accomplishments (see the research).

2. In a format that’s easy for them to read on desktop, laptop, and mobile devices (learn about how to do that here). The RiseSmart survey revealed that 59% of respondents read resumes on their phones.

You can also view these executive resume samples for a deeper understanding of how to present yourself.

Is the Job Application Due Tomorrow?

If you don’t want to risk being ignored by recruiters who want perfect matches, but time is short, focus on getting the posting’s keywords into your resume.

Keywords matters because recruiters search their applicant tracking systems (ATS) on specific terms. Thus, they’re a big part of tailoring a resume for a job.

An Even Better Approach

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

The survey revealed that respondents found 55% of their new hires via referral — not their applicant tracking systems (22%).

A more recent study by Lever, a recruitment marketing firm, found that a referral gives you an even bigger advantage (10X) over the ATS.

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 source of the advice and the best return on your limited time. Then set smart priorities.

On that note, I particularly liked Kimberly’s study because it collected answers from real decision makers on questions job seekers ask.

Featured by SmartBrief and PayScale
Image Courtesy of Alexander Solodukhin
Updated June 2020

© 2016 – 2020, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

Comments 7

  1. 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. . .

  2. 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.

  3. I think the key is to remember your audience. Are you responding to a recruiter or are you responding to someone that is not using a recruiter. In my experience hiring managers that are not using recruiters do not want to hunt your resume for skills and experience and make the leap to transferable skills. As recruiters we sell these type of candidates to hiring managers.

  4. Christa,

    Thank you for your insight. Customization is certainly the gold standard.

    However, job seekers can still be contenders for many jobs without jumping through hoops to send a perfectly customized resume.

    I’d send the “good enough” resume if I didn’t have time to customize.


  5. Perhaps a different view: know who you are, write a resume showing who you are, send it only to advertised jobs that fit who you are, and spend the extra 20+ hours a week networking and informational interviewing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *