How to Customize Your Resume (to More Than a Job Description)
by Mandy Shold
I'm not the first person to tell you: It’s important to tailor your resume.
We all know there’s complicated keyword software out there and shameless recruiters who speed through your resume in just six seconds. You know you need to make an impression and catch attention. But here’s the thing: while people tell you to tailor your resume to the job you’re applying for, that’s only half of it.
Sure, it’s important to customize your resume to the job. But first, you need to customize it to who you are as a person. Your current resume—that CV sitting on your desktop you haven’t touched in a year—doesn’t do you justice. Not even close. It isn’t you. And if it isn’t you, then how is it going to land you your dream job?
This article is about how to build a resume that’s as unique and authentic as you are. How, exactly? Let’s dig into three easy steps.
First, take a step back. Start by asking yourself a couple of questions: What are you trying to show the hiring manager or your future supervisor? If your future colleagues were to read this, what would you want their first impressions to be?
Your resume is a mix of marketing and storytelling. What story do you want to tell?
For me, it’s easiest to start with the “three-word test.” What three points do you want them to take away from reading your resume? This isn’t about the strong action verbs at the beginning of your bullets (though maybe there’s some crossover), but rather the big-picture, thematic elements.
Your big three are words may be ones like strategic, independent and focused. Or, maybe, you want readers to remember how scrappy, innovative and team-oriented you are. Nowhere on your resume do you need to use these words, but all of your experience, examples and skills should ladder up to this big picture. Be aspirational, as long as it’s something you’re actively working toward, and it’s representative of your professional personality. Your resume is designed to show off who you are—they’re looking to hire a person, not a profile.
Part two is all about putting those themes into action. You’re trying to tell your story, so cultivate your experiences to help get that message across. In an ideal world, those three themes are exactly what the job is looking for—but regardless, it’s important to show off what you’re great at and what makes you, you.
A few of the easiest ways to do this are to pull experiences that ladder up your three key themes. Looking to show strategic you are? Use an example that showcases your forethought and keen instincts. Want to show off how independent you are? Elaborate on your freelance position (or that publication you write for on the side).
To tailor your resume, focus on those strong action words. If you’re trying to show off your leadership, utilize key words like “spearheaded” and “managed.”
Still having difficulty? My favorite resume hack is to add an “expertise” or “special skills” section—or even one labeled “passions.” This is a great catch-all for highlighting what makes you unique. Think of this section as the Cliff Notes to your resume—i.e. what the reader is really supposed to take away from the countless examples and experience you provided. In my own experience, this resume hack is actually what recruiters are most likely to take away from your resume, and is almost always what people bring up during initial interviews.
Now that you have the content down, it’s time for step three: making it all come together. It’s time to find the right combination of formats and fonts that bring your story to life. It doesn’t matter if you’re a designer by trade, a computer programmer or an accountant—the way you showcase all of the information you just cultivated matters.
Kick off this step by looking for inspiration. Use Google or Pinterest to browse resume templates, and see what best fits your personality and field. Remember not to let creativity overrule clarity; when in doubt, stick to a black or gray color scheme, sans serif fonts and prioritize information “above the fold.” There a ton of fun examples out there, but just don’t get too carried away. I like to think of Coco Chanel’s rule before leaving the house: “Look in the mirror and remove one accessory.”
If you’re not a designer, don’t worry: There are so many great resources at your disposal that are free (or very nearly free). One of my personal favorites is Creative Market, where you can purchase easy-to-update resume templates. Word and Pages both have dozens of easily customizable resume templates built in to the program.
You’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here, or even reinvent yourself. The key to a successful resume is to play up your strengths and what makes you, you. Authenticity is all about being brave enough to be yourself; about letting go of who you think you should be and embracing who you are. No one else is you—and that’s your resume’s secret power.
Mandy spends her days working in public relations, specializing in sustainability and corporate responsibility - a job which not only fuels her soul but also pays her San Francisco rent. She spends her (virtually nonexistent) free time exploring the Bay Area craft beer scene, working on her rock collection and wishing her cat would be the big spoon sometimes. For additional sass and details of her life held together by caffeine and dry shampoo, follow her on twitter at @WayToRepresent.