Conventional wisdom says you MUST tailor your resume to every job you apply for, but I wonder.
What The Research Says
Survey research from outplacement firm RiseSmart found you don’t always have to customize your resume (2016).
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 respondents wanted perfection. 80% could deal with reality.
More recent research conducted by TalentWorks found you only have to meet 50% of a job’s requirements to get an interview (2018).
After that, the incremental benefit of a better match flatlines:
You Miss Every Shot You Don’t Take
Thus, if you find yourself in a time crunch, send your resume and cover letter whether your work experience matches the job posting perfectly or not. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
- Resume summary
- Experience section
If your skills and experience are a good fit (50%+), you have a competitive chance of winning an interview without customizing your resume.
Dubious? I can tell you that in my 25-plus years of executive search work, the candidate who looked best “on paper” never got the job.
Your Job Market Matters
The surveys are super helpful, but they’re also generalizations about the employment climate.
So, you have to consider the market for your specific skills, your microclimate so to speak:
- Does demand exceed supply?
- Or are there too many people chasing too few jobs?
If there aren’t many jobs, you’ll want to spend more time polishing your presentation than if you’re fielding several headhunter calls each week.
Tailoring Resumes for Jobs When You’re a Perfect Fit
Also, consider how much you want the job. If you’re a perfect fit and you really want the job, but your resume doesn’t make the argument, then definitely tailor it for the job.
You might even be able to craft a special type of cover letter that clinches the 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:
- Where you’ve worked
- For how long
- What you did that’s relevant to their needs
- Your accomplishments/impact
2. In a format that’s easy for them to read on:
- Desktop computers
- Mobile devices
The RiseSmart survey revealed that 59% of respondents read resumes on their phones (it’s likely more now):
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 matter 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 RiseSmart survey also 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 conducting your job search — like you have to tailor your resume for every job.
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 RiseSmart’s study because it collected answers from real decision-makers on questions job seekers ask.
© 2016 – 2021, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.
Donna Svei, an executive resume writer and former C-level executive, retained search consultant, and CPA, authors all of AvidCareerist’s posts. She has written for and been quoted by 100+ business and general media outlets, including Forbes, Mashable, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur, CNBC, the New York Times, USA Today, Time, CBS, the BBC, Lifehacker, Social Media Today, IT World, SmartBrief, and Business News Daily.
Let her expertise inform your job search strategy and decision making.
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