Tailor your resume to the job description

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The economy is shedding jobs faster than a black lab sheds hair. At last count, some 12.5 million Americans were out of work.

For many frustrated job seekers, getting a resume in front of decision makers seems daunting as responses from potential employers become rare and job offers rarer still.

While it may be fair to point to the economy as the main reason why it’s taking so long to bag a job, a key stumbling block could actually be your resume.

Avoid one-size-fits-all resume

A big mistake that job seekers make: They use the same resume for every job possibility regardless of the industry or job title. It’s a strategy that some recruiting experts say will get you nowhere fast.

“Always submit a customized resume,” says Tory Johnson, workplace contributor to ABC’s “Good Morning America” and CEO of recruiting firm Women for Hire in New York.

Johnson says most organizations today use applicant tracking systems to sort through the large volumes of resumes they receive and identify potential candidates.

When you submit a resume for a job posting, the tracking system mines data from your resume by searching for relevant keywords or phrases. If the system determines that your resume is a close match, it will save your information in a database for recruiters to review.

By submitting a one-size-fits-all resume for every job posting, you could be rendering your resume electronically invisible. Company A may use one kind of tracking software while Company B may use another, and both may pass over your resume because they don’t match you with the job posting.

So what do you do?

Fine tune for keyword hits

If you expect to get past these electronic gatekeepers, you’ll have to make small modifications to your resume to ensure the applicant tracking system identifies your resume for further inspection.

It’s especially important if you think you have skill sets that translate into an industry that’s different from your employment background.

That doesn’t mean you need to create entirely new documents every time you apply to a job posting, but you will have to make small adjustments to your resume, Johnson says.

For example, when you find a job that you’re interested in, print out the job posting and highlight the key words.

“Many times you’ll look at them and you’ll say to yourself, ‘I’ve done these things’ or ‘I can do these things,'” Johnson says. “You want to make sure that those skills are actually reflected in the same language in your resume.”

Next, tweak your resume so it contains keywords that correspond with the description in the job posting, especially if it’s industry jargon. The tracking system likely will be looking for those keywords.

Examples of keywords include spreadsheets, accounts receivable, information technology, management, payroll or supervisor.

“The more keywords that you have in your resume that match the job posting, the greater likelihood that your resume is going to be flagged for a recruiter to actually look at,” Johnson says. “And that’s what you’re hoping for, a human to look at your resume.”

Recent grads: Focus on college highlights

Once you finally do get a set of eyes to look at your resume, you’ll want to avoid causing them to glaze over because your resume is either too long, too difficult to read or it doesn’t highlight your accomplishments up front.

For example, newly minted college grads typically have thin files, so they should limit their resumes to one page and play up skills learned at internships, part-time work and campus leadership positions.

Remember, the recruiter really isn’t interested in reading about every pizza delivery gig you had while attending state college unless you gained some extraordinary experience from it or were promoted to management.

It’s a good idea to state in your resume how you plan to apply your college education rather than to merely state that your objective is “to secure an entry-level position,” says Susan Whitcomb, author of “Resume Magic” and president of Career Coach Academy in Fresno, Calif.

“Put a target statement first,” she says. “Say you are targeting analyst positions in venture-capital firms, for example. (It can be) just something simple like that, that’s straightforward and doesn’t have a lot of fluff.”

Try to flesh out the college experience by listing a strong grade-point average and specific projects in classes that were relevant to the target statement, and go into detail about them, Whitcomb says.

Mid-career workers: Point up your value

Mid-career professionals should avoid punishing recruiters with epic-sized resumes. The exception: You’re applying for a job as a college professor where it’s vital to catalogue the details of research projects and scholastic publications.

Your best bet is to craft a resume that is concise while still trumpeting solid accomplishments.

“It should never be more than a two-page resume,” says Jan Cannon, a Boston-based career counselor since 1995 who offers professional resume writing services. “The key is to not go back more than 10 years. Most employers don’t care what you did 10 years ago unless you worked for the same company. They want to know what you can do for them and what benefit you can provide.”

To that end, list specific achievements that point to the value you bring to an organization and place them right after your personal information on the first page of your resume. Your education should typically be listed toward the end of the second page.

Include enough information to intrigue your reader, but not much more.

“Everything should be filtered through that ‘so what?’ value proposition question, meaning now the target statement becomes not just ‘an analyst in a venture capital firm,’ but ‘an experienced national account manager who consistently delivered double-digit growth for Fortune 500 companies,'” Whitcomb says.

Late-career workers: Play up leadership skills

Resumes for late-career job seekers should be written so that they point to specific goals the person wants to achieve in the short stretch to retirement.

For some, that means getting a job to simply make ends meet. For others, it can mean much more.

“It really depends on what they’re targeting,” Whitcomb says. “It’s going to be a completely different scenario for somebody who’s reaching the pinnacle of his career and is now going for the CEO position versus somebody that may be near retirement,” she says.

Functional resumes are usually the best choice for job seekers who are changing careers, don’t have a lot of management experience or don’t want to pigeonhole themselves into a specific industry but still need to work for a few years until retirement.

Functional resumes highlight skills, training and professional licenses without emphasizing chronological order, which typically reveals a person’s age.

But for the late-career professional who is still very much in the game professionally and looking for the next logical progression in his or her career, a functional resume could be a career killer.

“That will raise red flags more than anything,” Whitcomb says. “If it’s a natural progression they had over a 20-, 30-year career, they still need to use the traditional reverse chronological order with a very strong summary section. And that summary section could even be a full page.”

Resumes for late-career professionals should highlight enterprise-sized successes up front. Examples include significant contributions to company growth, procedural practices that saved the company substantial sums of money and any innovations that brought recognition to company brands.

List any professional affiliations and awards at the end of your resume if they emphasize leadership skills, or otherwise distinguish you professionally or personally from the rest of the crowd.

How to kill interest in your resume

Certain revelations are bona fide resume killers. Unless they are absolutely critical to your job search, don’t include them in your resume.

Here are a few examples:

  • Sloppy, visually unappealing resumes that contain typos and other errors.
  • Personal photographs.
  • Personal information like date of birth and Social Security number.
  • Political party affiliations.
  • Religious affiliations.
  • Personal hobbies not relevant to your particular industry or career.

“Don’t give people more information than they care about,” Whitcomb says. “You’ll end up looking like a smorgasbord, and not the specialist they are looking for. You want to be able to convey your brand, that unique promise of value and what you’re going to deliver. So everything needs to be aligned with that brand and the value proposition.”