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How to Tailor Your Resume to a Job Description

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Nov 16, 2022

How to Tailor Your Resume to a Job Description

Dave Fano

The job of your resume is to get you in the door. Make sure it's strong enough to do just that.

The phrase “one and done” can apply to many situations, but writing your resume should not be one of them. Having one perfect resume is not going to cut it anymore. Given technology and what people are looking for, with the volume of people applying to companies, you really need to stand out. 

We will provide you with Teal’s approach and how we think about customizing your resume using the following agenda:

Approach

Using Teal’s approach, we have helped thousands of job seekers and folks that are looking to grow their career customize their resume. 

Something we like to say is that you are a salesperson, and the product is you. Sometimes it’s tricky to be our own advocate and sell ourselves, but a big part of growing your career and convincing people to take a bet on you is having confidence in yourself that you can do it. Get into the mindset of you being a product that is going to make a company better. 

Every company is looking for a different product, so you need to tailor your offering per company. Make sure you understand what the company is looking for, so you can be the solution to their problem. 

The way to show a company that you are the solution to their problem is by customizing your material. The job of the resume is to get you in the door. The resume doesn’t get you hired. That's why it's so important that you spend time and energy on this document and showing how you are qualified for the job at this company. They post a job, you tailor your materials, and you use that for your application. 

No matter what, the person making the hiring decision will look at your resume and they will have an understanding of what they need for the role. The more those two things match, the higher likelihood that you’re going to be called in for an interview, and that’s when you can really prove yourself and give your full story. 

Job Descriptions

The job description is a critical component of seeking out those opportunities to take your career to the next level. 

Whether it's a job description within a company you already work at, or a job description for a company you're applying for, the JD oftentimes will outline exactly what you need to know. That’s why you’re going to invest so much time and energy into really understanding the job description, so you can present yourself as the solution to the company’s problem. 

Think of the job description as a request for proposals (RFD), and you are responding with your resume. The job posting is the company telling you exactly what they’re looking for. They are telling you very specific things they are looking for:

  • Whether you need to have a degree
  • How many years of experience you need to have
  • Whether you’ve achieved a certain thing or not
  • If you’ve partnered with other departments

Job descriptions generally have these four to six sections. There is no standard. They're all not done in the same way, so it's really on you to start to discern these. 

These are generally what you'll see in there: 

  • You'll see a heading that talks about the company and a bit of information. 
  • You'll usually see a company pitch telling you about why the company's great, because at the same time, as it being an RFP, it's also an advertisement, right? They want to get the best talent, so they're trying to hook you in. 
  • There's the roles and responsibilities. 
  • They'll usually do requirements or qualifications.These are like their “need to haves''.
  • Then a little bit more of that selling and telling you about the company. They'll talk about their benefits and perks. 
  • Some JDs include some compliance stuff, depending on the size of the company. 

The first four bullets are the main sections, and the bottom two are a bit more administrative.

The first step in analyzing the job description is copying and pasting them. You want to take that job description and annotate it. You can start to add information to it, and you can start to highlight all those things that matter. We are big believers in fewer quality applications than blasting out a whole bunch of low quality applications, so it's worthwhile to do this work.

Once you’ve pasted the job description into the word editing software of your choice, you’re going to start to dissect it and look at the different sections. 

Heading & Company Pitch

Start with the heading and the company pitch. The heading is going to tell you the job title, but those can be all over the map. Some companies use titles to inflate the role others don’t. One thing we recommend is to go look at other job postings at that company to see how they’re using titles. 

Next, look at when it was posted. When job posts start to get a little stale, they’re probably not going to be as attentive to applicants. Two to three weeks is the furthest to look. Anything beyond that is a little fishy. 

Then look to see where you sit in the organization. This is going to help you do your research as you learn. Look for the cues about teams, and try to construct a mental org chart of the company. That could be super helpful. 

Also included in the heading and pitch is some culture, tone, and style. That information will affect the way you speak when you get the interview and how you write in your communications. Look out for mentions of goals, what they’re trying to do, and their mission as a company. 

About the Role

Now the role is where they will paint a broader picture of the expectation. They're not getting into the nitty gritty of the details, but they might give you a few cues to what matters.

What we consider the JD honeypot is when they tell you who the role reports to. You don’t get that often, but it’s wonderful because now you can go research that person and learn about them. You can learn about the kind of hires they've made, which will give you some kind of inclination of what they're looking for. 

Responsibilities

Next is the responsibilities. This gives information about what the role would be looking for and what you would be doing on a day to day basis. You’re starting to see an explicit callout for the abilities that you need to have. Look for those terms because you’re going to want to put those into your resume, so when they use what’s called the applicant tracking system (ATS) to filter resumes, your terms come up. 

The way this process usually works is a hiring manager will go to a recruiting team and let them know what they’re looking for. The recruiting team will hone in on just a few key things that really matter to find the best candidates for the role. That’s what you’re looking for in responsibilities, and it’s going to be on you to prove that you’ve done these things before. 

Qualifications

Qualifications mention the kind of things that are generally deal breakers. You really want to focus on this section and be mindful of any qualifications you don’t meet. What kind of work are you going to do to make the case for them to hire you and for you to prove that you are beyond capable of doing this? 

Look out for these qualifications. You really want to make sure you address these in your resume. 

Once you have done the full analysis of the job description, the most important parts should stand out. Those will be things you go back to when you start to customize your resume. Make sure you address these one by one to be thorough. The more you do, the better you’ll get at identifying the things that matter. You’re probably applying for roles that are similar in title and responsibility, so these things will start to overlap, and you’ll get a ton of reuse. 

Little by little you’ll gain more efficiency, and you’ll be able to customize these applications very quickly. Your results will be much, much better. We have a couple tools that can help you do this. 

First and foremost is the Teal Job Tracker. It's part of your teal membership. You get access to it. It's a tool to really help you manage the job searching process. The job searching process can be incredibly painful and take a lot of time, so you need to be able to do it well. 

Using the Teal Chrome extension, you can bookmark and save jobs directly to your job tracker. You can easily track things like the day you applied, when you want to follow up, your excitement level for the role, and track the stages of the process. 

You want to show the company that you are the PERFECT fit for the role. To do this, we recommend highlighting the skills and experience you have that match the requirements of the job description. Teal’s Job Tracker & Resume Builder help extract the top keywords so you can quickly customize your resume and let a company know exactly why you are applying for a specific position.

Bookmark a job with Teal’s free Job Tracker and you’ll see the keywords and skills highlighted automatically. Quickly review the most common keywords and make sure to tailor your application answers accordingly.

(Teal’s Free Job Tracker automatically extracts and highlights keywords from a job description)
(Teal’s Free Job Tracker automatically extracts and highlights keywords from a job description)

We will automatically highlight some of those skills for you, the hard and soft skills. Now it won't get a hundred percent, but it gets a fair amount of them, and it can guide you in that right direction of the kinds of things that you would look for. In your custom resume, by default you'll just get the JD so you can copy and paste it quickly.

You can also then start to add notes. You can add contacts as the people that you meet along the way. Then little by little, we'll add more information, but the main thing is that you can then move it over to preparing, manage your funnel, and start to get that ready.

So for this phase of the job search, that's really the main thing you'd want to use in the job tracker, but more broadly, you'll use it for a lot of other things. 

The other thing you want to make sure you're using is the Chrome extension. It is by far the biggest time saver. You can use it as you search jobs on LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, and other search engines. It will pull in the company, the name, information, and the JD. You can add some notes right at that moment. 

You have that all there for you, and you can do everything else and move it over to preparing once you're ready to apply for this job. The job tracker should save you a bunch of time in that process. 

Another tool we highly recommend is a tool called job scan. It will actually take your resume and the job description and compare them for you, which is really cool. They do a really nice job. You can do one scan for free and then you can upgrade to a different plan, so you can do it on a regular basis. 

It's just jobscan.co. You copy and paste your resume, copy and paste the job description, and it will do an analysis for you to get you really close. What it's trying to do is what the applicant tracking system would be looking for. It's just a third party tool, not built by teal, but it's really wonderful, and we highly recommend it.

Customize

Customizing your resume is where you really start to do a lot of work. Now you use the unpacked job description and job tracker to produce your resume. 

First, we recommend that you create a primary resume. This is a little bit of a new concept, right? Oftentimes we'll make that one resume. We'll either use that one everywhere, or we'll do that save as, and we'll continue to make different versions. What we are saying is, do a little bit of extra work and create one document that has everything in it. 

It's an exhaustive document. This isn't the one where you're editing and curating different versions. This is the one that's supposed to have everything. Every time you make a new achievement, you add it here. Every job title or every permutation of a job title that you're excited about, you add it here. If you have different versions of your blurb, you add them. 

We have a working version of a Teal application called the primary resume or the Resume Builder. It's really focused on achievement building and having this one index and log of your career at the moment. It doesn't produce resumes, but it does give you a structured way to do it. It also has a really great achievement assistant. 

The job of your resume is to get you in the door. Optimizing it will help you land interviews for the next opportunities that excite you. Teal’s free Resume Builder can help you keep your Work History up to date and help you write metric-driven achievements using our Achievement Assistant tool.

(Teal’s free Resume Builder helps you write metric driven achievements)
(Teal’s free Resume Builder helps you write metric driven achievements)

Your resume is going to be delivered to a person or a company, right? This needs to be a concise document that speaks to you and your qualifications. The main sections in the anatomy of your resume are:

  • your contact information
  • your summary
  • Your experience
  • Your education 
  • Additional things: skill section, interest, language, certifications, volunteering, awards, and publication 

These additions should depend on how much space you have and how much experience you have. 

A lot of people ask about the length of the resume. Our advice is if your first page doesn't hook them, it doesn't matter how many pages your resume is. The first page has to be stellar and has to get people excited about you. Then if they think that's great, they'll read five pages, but they're not just going to rule you out because it's too many pages.

No matter what, the first page has to be amazing. Your resume is your pitch, right? It shows how you are the solution to their problems. 

We talked in the previous section about the JD. The resume is the tailored response to that request for information, or that request for a proposal. They've said they have a problem. This document should show how you are the solution, which should in turn result in you getting an interview. That's when you really get to talk about yourself and really make the pitch.

This is a very tailor made document to respond to their problems. You don’t get to be there and talk about your resume upon their first glance. It has to be very edited and on point. Don’t think about every amazing thing you’ve ever done. Specifically tailor it to the JD. 

Statistically, or from research and the research that's been done with recruiters and the people that look at resumes, the general metric that people use is six seconds. That's how long someone looks at a resume. Six seconds could feel like a little while when you sit there and count it out, but it's really not.

What that tells you is they're not really reading it, they're skimming it, and what people generally do when they skim is they go from the top left to the bottom. In those six seconds, they are skimming for keywords, and mainly in the upper ⅓ of the document. 

If you don’t hook a recruiter in that top third, they’re not even going to go to the bottom, so that top third is really important. Generally what they do is look at the top then go down the left and look at the names of the companies. Then they'll look at your time, they'll look at the titles, and then they'll go to the achievements. 

Before they do all that, they read the top. We can’t stress this enough: make sure that those keywords are in there! This will help the ATS pull your resume from the pile.

Let's talk about each section, starting with your contact information and summary. 

We like the single line of contact information to include your name, email, phone number, and LinkedIn URL. When it comes to your location, you can include the city and state, but do not put your street address on your resume. This is an outdated practice.  

We like that single line then straight to the blurb. The other thing we like right above the blurb is the title you are applying for. Make sure to use the title as it’s listed in the job description. 

When doing your experience next, we strongly encourage you to do a standard chronological resume. What that means is the last job you had is at the top, and the job you had a long time ago is at the bottom. You want to start with your most recent job and list out the various roles you had, but we recommend against putting the dates per role and only including your start and end date at the company.  

The exception to that is if you've been at the same company for a very long time. I would say if you’ve been at a company for five to 10 years and you want to show your ascension within that time, then it may be worth it because you want to show that you progressed and you didn't just stay stagnant. The other thing we recommend is the month and year.

Along with your work experience, you need to include impactful achievements. Since the first job listed is the freshest and most important, you can go a little bigger there. You can add three to seven bullet points, while we recommend three to five bullet points for all the other jobs. 

Now, remember to go back to the JD and look at those keywords that they used. If you're going to really invest in doing a customized resume, do this work. This is where the company is telling you the things they want to see here. The hard skills, the soft skills, the actions they want you to take. You’re going to take that information and plug it into your achievements.

Use Teal’s Resume Builder to quickly compare the skills in the job posting to the skills in your resume. Make sure to add any relevant experience to your customized resume and to your application answers.

(Teal’s Resume Builder compares the skills in a job description to the skills in your resume to give you a match score)
(Teal’s Resume Builder compares the skills in a job description to the skills in your resume to give you a match score)

One of the biggest mistakes people make in writing that part of the resume is they just do it very descriptively. They just talk about what their day to day responsibilities were and the day to day tasks they were doing. That's uninteresting. It doesn't prove that you have the ability to take on this role, and it doesn't in any way give them confidence in hiring you for it.

You want to build good, robust achievements that empirically prove that you’ve done this. You want to include measurable metrics in your achievements, and you can do that with a simple formula. 

Don’t: Worked with tech team to increase website traffic

Do:

This measurable achievement represents a person who knows how to talk about success, achievement, and can give specific metrics that prove they did this. Metrics are memorable and create great conversation when you’re brought in for an interview. 

Here are some other great examples of resume achievements:

Let’s break down how to customize a resume bullet. The job posting says, manage a team of nine and determine team strategy, priorities, and goals. That's what's in the JD. I might have had a bullet in my primary resume or in my previous resume that said something like lead a team of marketing associates and grew that number of engagement 90% in 12 months.

Let's go ahead and change lead a team to managed a team because the word manage is in the JD. When they're skimming, they're looking for the word manage. To include more metrics, I’ll add that it was a team of five.

Then I did oversee the strategy, priorities, and goals. I took their exact language and I put it in right where it fit. The more you adapt to their language, the better. I know it might feel like a lot of work, but your outcomes will be significantly better. It's absolutely worth it. 

In the primary resume builder we have this achievement wizard, or Achievement Assistant tool. It should help you write achievements. The goal is for it to guide you along with how to do it, and it should really streamline the process. 

The next section is your education and your skills. These are opportunities to put in more keywords. For your education, you want to go ahead and put in all your degrees because oftentimes they're required. Unless there's additional information about those topics you studied, you want to keep it pretty minimal.

Maybe, if you're early in your career, that might matter a little bit more, because you're looking to get some more substance into the resume. But if you're a little later in your career, five years plus, it's not going to matter as much, and they're really going to focus on what you've done and what you've achieved professionally. 

Then there's the skills and additional information. A lot of times people break it out into hard skills, soft skills, and certificates, but we recommend putting it all together so that the ATS can find it. Breaking it out also takes a tremendous amount of space. 

We like a paragraph of comma separated terms because they will be great to put in keywords and fill in terms that you weren’t able to get in the achievements section or into your blurb, but they were listed in the JD. This area might seem trivial and something you just throw in at the end, but it’s actually incredibly powerful for the keyword matching. 

When it all comes together, you should have a crisp, clean document. It can be a simple template because you want to try to use the weight of the text and font that goes naturally to where people look.  

The first thing they do is they look at the title you're applying for. You're conveying, this is the job I want. They will then go to the companies. What are all the companies you've worked at? They will then go to your tenure and look at the titles. 

You want to be deliberate with your space. Don't try to cram a whole bunch of words in there. If you can edit this and make it crisp and tight, that says more than just loading up the document with the size eight font with no spacing, because you're trying to comply with the one page. Too many people we've seen get obsessed with the one page thing. I would say, make the first page incredible.

That's the most important thing. So get that blurb to be on point. Make that first job you had stand out to get them really excited. Then I promise you, they will turn the page and look at the second and look at the third. But if the first page stinks, it doesn't matter. If your resume is only one weak page, you're not going to get called back for an interview, so make sure that this first page is incredible.

Cover Letters

Cover letters and references are oftentimes asked for, but not always. It’s a little bit of a conditional, and they may come a little later in the process.

A cover letter allows you to craft a narrative that aligns both with you and the position. It might allow you to give a little bit more color than you would have in your resume. It also can happen in a couple different ways. It might be in an email itself. It might be a separate document, and some companies explicitly require cover letters. 

From what we've seen from our interviewing with recruiters is that there is a very low likelihood that a cover letter will be read if it is not required. That said, if you submit one, make it really good. If it’s required, you have to do it. If it’s not required, we recommend that you don’t do it. 

If you do, tailor it and make it specific to the role. 

A few things to think about when you're putting together your cover letter. What should be included? We have a cover letter template that will be helpful when writing your cover letter. 

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts of cover letter writing:

Have someone review your cover letter, or use a tool like Grammarly. Prove that you did the research by addressing the correct person in your cover letter. Be mindful and show that you did the work. 

Switching over to references. References are super important. You want to think about these as career capital, taking a line from Cal Newport who coined the phrase. Don't just wait until the last minute. 

Think in advance, and always be tailoring, but if you are thinking about making a leap within your company or to a new role, start to think about who are the people that can help you do that. Build out a list of people. Sometimes they might know exactly who the person is, but oftentimes not.

What they're going to do is they're going to look at the companies that they worked at and their titles. You want to be able to draft off of that. So executives, VPs, directors, managers. Look for titles that would carry weight and mean something. Then you are going to reach out in advance and ask for them.

You're going to give people a little bit of context and what you're doing and why you need it. You're going to then develop your final list because some may not get back to you. Some say they might be too busy. Most will probably say yes. Then you will give your final ask and follow up when you need it.

The last thing you want is to be deep into a hiring process, and a company says they need three references and you're scrambling. Worst case, you list three people. They actually called them and you never gave them a heads up. They'll probably do the kind thing, but be much more deliberate.

You're going to call your reference and say, “Hey, I'm applying for this position. This is what they're looking for. I would love it if you would say XYZ”. There's nothing wrong with that. It's you being strategic and architecting the process to get the outcome that you want. 

Here are templates for your asks: 

In addition to these templates, we have more communication templates located within Teal’s Job Tracker. You can use these templates, but modify them and put them in a tone or language that suits you. You also want to make sure you build up your reference list in case you don’t receive responses. This is also a document that you’re going to curate over the course of your career.

(Communication templates help you to put your best foot forward and stand out to important contacts)
(Communication templates help you to put your best foot forward and stand out to important contacts)

The key thing here is to make it easy on the people that you’ve asked to be references. Don't make it stressful. Don't make them dread taking the time to do it. Be mindful of that and wrap it up nice and easy for them. With that, you'll get great references. That will really help you land that next job.

Wrap Up

It is important to customize your resume. Remember, you are a salesperson, and the product is you. Companies have a problem, and you need to be the solution. You can accomplish this by creating a tailored version of your resume to the job description. They need to see your materials and see that you are a person that checks all the boxes on all the things they need to solve. 

We can’t stress this enough. The resume’s job is not to get you the job. The resume’s job is to get you in the door. What’s the invitation? The job description. It says these are all the things we want, and the resume says this is all the ways I know how to do these.

Once you’re in the door, then you’re going to interview and use all the interviewing tactics that we recommend to land the job. Be mindful. It can be a lot of work, but it’s how you’re going to get the best outcomes. 

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Dave Fano

Founder and CEO of Teal, Dave is a serial entrepreneur with 20+ years of experience building products & services to help people leverage technology and achieve more with less.

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