Before you started looking for a job, you read every piece of resume advice out there, consulted experts, and spent long hours creating the perfect resume to highlight your skills, accomplishments, education and experience. It’s been proofed and polished, and everyone says that it’s great.

So now you’re ready to send it out to every job posting and company that’s hiring people in your field. The resume that you’ve agonized over will surely stand out from the crowd of applicants who put less effort into refining their resume, right?

Unfortunately not. If you’ve done it right, that perfected professional resume will cast you in a great light. But it’s most likely going to be ignored. It’s sad but true.

Here’s what your resume says about you (and why it won’t work):

    You are great (but generic). You have one fantastically written resume – and you’re using it for every application. Employers can tell a generic application when they see it. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all resume. You need to carefully read the job description, find out what you can about the role and the company, and tailor your application to their needs specifically.

    You’re accurate (but forgettable). You have accurately and concisely described all of the duties that you were responsible for at your previous job. Hey, you were taking care of a lot of stuff!

    But ‘taking care of stuff’ isn’t the same as standing out in the role, making unique accomplishments, achieving what others in a similar position wouldn’t. And that’s how you get noticed. Employers generally know what duties go with your job titles, so there’s no need to list them. Instead document what set you apart in a measurable way.

      “Consistently performed within the top 5% of account managers while contributing over $1,000,000 in annual sales.”

    You’re creative (but nobody knows). You have a unique writing style and you show it off in eloquent prose to stand out from the crowd. The trouble with that approach is that there’s a good chance that no one will ever read your masterpiece. More and more companies are using software that filters through applications before the recruiter or hiring manager sees them. If your resume doesn’t contain the relevant keywords that are being screened for, you won’t make the cut.

    Try to match the way you’ve described your skills and experience as closely as possible to the wording used in the job description.

    You’re talented (but not relevant). You have listed the measureable accomplishments that you’ve made for your past employers. But you haven’t connected them to the challenges of the role you’re applying for. This is why customizing is so important – especially for people changing fields or making a career transition.

    The fact that you’re a multi-award winning sales rep doesn’t make me want to hire you as a marketing person – unless you can show me how what you’ve accomplished in that role can be useful to me in the one I’m hiring for.

      “Achieved record-breaking sales numbers through deep understanding of clients’ needs and challenges, and knowing how to communicate solutions in terms they can relate to. This knowledge of both product and customer can be invaluable to crafting effective communications strategies.”

    You’re ambitious (but not qualified). It’s sad but true, employers tell us that sometimes more than half of the applications they receive for a job are from candidates who aren’t nearly qualified for the role. It’s good to stretch yourself, and to aim high, but if you don’t have at least 75% of the qualifications an employer is asking for, you’re probably just wasting your time and theirs. Think quality of quantity. You’ll increase your chances of being hired by submitting better applications to fewer jobs than by simply mass applying to everything out there.

Lots of people use the same resume and cover letter when they apply to multiple jobs, only changing the hiring manager’s name, and the job title. (Hopefully!) But it’s not a very effect job search strategy, especially in a tight job market.

Use the resume you’ve perfected for posting online and creating a LinkedIn profile. And use it as a template for applying for jobs, but like any template, it’s just a starting point that you tailor to the job in question.

It’s more work (but worth it.) Customizing your resumes and cover letters takes more time and effort than the one-size-fits-all approach, but trust me, it will pay off.

See also:

How to write a resume that gets read by more employers
The 10 most overused words and phrases in Canadian resumes
The biggest mistake on a resume (and how to create a masterpiece)


Peter Harris
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