tailoring your resume to a job

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

Conventional wisdom says tailoring your resume for each job you apply to is a MUST, but I don’t always agree.  

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% 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.

Check your:

  • Resume summary
  • Experience section
  • Education

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 particular 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
  • Laptops
  • 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 more significant 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 intelligent priorities.

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

Featured by PayScale
Image Courtesy of Alexander Solodukhin
Updated December 2021

© 2016 – 2022, 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.

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