It’s hard work to write a great resume. But you’re serious about landing a good job, so you’re ready to put in the effort. Before you set out on your job search, you read every piece of resume advice out there, consult with experts, and spent long hours creating the perfect resume to highlight your skills, accomplishments, education and experience. You’ve had friends read it for you, and taken their feedback to heart. It’s finally done.

Unfortunately that perfected professional resume you’ve slaved over is most likely going to be ignored. And that is because it looks very different to the person sitting on the other side of the desk than it does to you.

Here’s what employers see in your resume that you don’t:

    What you see: You have one fantastically well-written resume – and you’re using it to apply to every job that’s available that you’re qualified for.

    What employers see: A generic, one-size-fits-all application. There’s no such thing as an all-purpose 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. 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.

    What you see: 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 in those roles!

    What employer see: You’re a mediocre employee who is ultimately forgettable. Just ‘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 these are the things that 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.”

    What you see: You have a unique writing style, and you show it off in eloquent prose in your resume and cover letter to stand out from the crowd.

    What employers see: Nothing. They’ll never see that resume. 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.

    What you see: A carefully crafted cover letter that explains your interest in the job and how your past experience can make you a great candidate for it.

    What employers see: Nothing. They won’t see that either. While it’s important to send a cover letter with every job application, you have to keep in mind that many employers don’t read them. That’s why your resume also has to bridge the gap between your credentials and the targeted job. You can’t count on the cover letter for this. (See: The biggest mistake in a cover letter)

    What you see: An ambitious resume that clearly shows your objective is to move into a senior position, and shows how you’ve got the ambition and drive to convince them to give you a chance to take your career to the next level.

    What employers see: An application from an under-qualified candidate. 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. Employers aren’t in the business of giving chances. Taking a chance is bad for business. (See: How to get employers to give you a chance in an industry where you have no experience)

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.

Customizing your resumes and cover letters takes more time and effort than the one-size-fits-all approach, but it will pay off. What employers really want to see is that you’ve put in that effort because you’re not just applying to land a gig, you’re motivated to work for them specifically.

See also:

What employers are really thinking when they read your resume
How to write a resume that gets read by more employers
The biggest mistake on a resume (and how to create a masterpiece)


Peter Harris
Peter Harris on Twitter