Applying for jobs - do you customize your resume for each application?

Long, sorry…
So I recently finished grad school and have been doing the job application thing. I usually create a completely customized resume for each job I apply for. However, from talking with other people and reading message boards, etc it seems that many people just have one standard resume/cover letter that they send out. This would certainly make the process easier, as I currently spend at least a couple-two-tree hours on each application. However, there’s only so much info you can cram into 1-2 pages in an organized, easy-to-read fashion.

My degree and experience in grad school is such that the jobs fall into one of two categories: micro/molecular biology lab jobs, and environmental/ecology/marine science type jobs. Generally speaking, most of the micro jobs probably don’t care how much field work I’ve done aboard oceanic research vessels, how well I handle a small boat, or how competent I am at deploying oceanographic instruments. Conversely, many of the environmental science jobs don’t necessarily care about my awesome PCR skillz. So while both get mentioned on just about all my resumes, I highlight different areas for the different jobs I’m applying for. This makes lots of sense to me.

However, I’ve been advised several times that your resume should stay fairly constant, and that you can elaborate/draw attention to certain skill sets/experiences in your cover letter. This makes some sense to me too, however if I’m having trouble fitting all my skills/experience into a 2-page document, how on earth do people who’ve been working for 15 years manage to do this?

Any advice/thoughts? Am I wasting my time cutting and pasting a new resume together for every application?

Maybe a little… why not have two resumes, each specialized for the two categories you mention? You can tweak them a little for each job you apply for, but really, it’s your cover letter or specific application that you ought to be customizing each time. Resumes are meant to be cookie-cutter, mostly.

Good luck!

How many jobs are you applying to? On one hand, spending 3 hours on your resume for every single job application sounds like overkill to an outsider (and I’m a perfectionist myself). But it’s really not if you’re only applying to 2 or 3 jobs and you are pretty sure you’ll get an offer from at least one of them.

If you’re mass-applying, it makes sense to keep it more generic–time IS money and nobody can afford to waste 60 hours on 20 job apps. But people with advanced degrees are less likely to need a mass-application, since their work is more specialized.

I wouldn’t say there is a hard-and-fast rule, regardless. But if you really REALLY want a job, spend more time on that resume. If you’re kinda halfheartedly applying to a place and don’t think you’d much like the job, spend less time on it.

Yes, I change the resume and cover letter for each job.

It depends on what format your using and what your trying to emphasize on the application. Cover letters aren’t usually used now-a-days for most people. It’s semi-incorporated into the resume.

Hiring managers want to quick glance, put in a pile, your resume. In other words, they have the yes-call, maybe-call and no-call piles. A quick glance tells you which pile your resume will go into.

To get a good resume you have to THINK like a hiring manager. Who is gonna hire you and with a minimal glance, which pile would it go into.

Also many hiring managers now use keywords. They feed MS Word (.doc) or PDF resumes into a program and search it for keywords.

So that is something to think about when writing your resume.

I tweak it, but I don’t redo it from zero. Mostly it’s a matter of shuffling word/sentence order around a little or of changing formats. For example, if I’m applying for a job requiring knowledge of a very specific and unusual program I happen to have experience in, any occurrences of that program get look-at-me formatting; if the job does not require knowledge of that specific program, its instances get normal lettering.

This is where a bit of research can help.

For my current job the role was basically the same as the role I was previously in, but it used slightly different terminology (e.g. project coordinator vs. project manager).

The recruitment agent I was applying through recommended that I scrub through my CV and replace any terms relating to “project management” with “project coordination”.

This meant was that I ticked the right boxes on the HR shortlist to get me in to interview, and in big firms or public sector orgs there’s often a list of keywords you have to trigger to get a high enough score for interview.

This is what I was doing when I found myself applying to two categories of jobs. Same experience on both resumes, but shuffled around to emphasize the important stuff in each field. If there’s a specific position you really want, spending extra time to tailor a perfect resume may be worth it, but if it’s a general job-hunt and you’ll be happy with any decent job, then I wouldn’t bother personalizing each resume - who has the time for that?

My “resume” is about 10 pages long but I’ve never submitted that to anyone. I’ve found that for customization it’s easier for me to delete to remove information that’s not relevant to a particular job so I keep my monster sized resume and I delete down to what’s appropriate to each job I’m applying for. This way I can customize without needing to spell check since I’m not adding anything new. I also tend to delete chunks of experience rather than individual sentences so I don’t need to worry about flow or sentence structure (which is good since editing anything I write would be a full time job on it’s own)

Each cover letter should be specifically written for that position. In general I would rather spend an hour on a job I’m really interested in and have a shot at it than spend an hour preparing 20 scattershot resumes that my odds are near zero to get a callback.

Personally, I’d go with the general recommendation of having two resumes for the two different types of jobs and the only thing I’d change would be references to any key words in the job description to make it stand out. That said, I would only be spending 5 minutes or less customizing the resumes. Sending out resumes is definitely a numbers game, especially in the current job market, so if heavily customizing each resume ultimately means you aren’t able to send out as many, then I would go for a 50% jump in quantity over a 5% jump in quality (i.e. less customization).

Having been a part of hiring numerous individuals in my life, I can tell you that the HR folks do the first pass, and they are looking for people in the local area in the right price/experience range with any of a dozen key words on the resume, which are related to the area of focus for the company, but only in a general sense. HR people rarely understand the science, so putting lots of descriptors and spending lots of time customizing the resume isn’t needed to get you in the short pile if all they are looking for is the acronym ‘PCR’. In many cases, you might even screw yourself if you wrote out polymerase chain reaction because many HR people wouldn’t make the connection it is the same as ‘PCR’.

I would make two resumes: one for each type of job. Spend your time polishing and proofreading those two versions, and writing a good cover letter for each individual job opening (though you can obviously re-use big chunks of cover letters for similar jobs).
If you apply for a job that falls outside one of those two types, you might want to create another resume version, but only if the improvement is a) worth your time and b) greater than the chance you’ll add a typo or mistake with the revision.

Thanks for the advice guys! I think having two solid, polished resumes is good advice.

This post was precipitated by me recently missing the application window for an almost ideal job - not a dream job, but local, would use my skills, and would be excellent for networking. By the time I finally got around to finishing up my application packet (I work a night-shift manual-labor gotta-pay-the-bills kind of job, plus I’m a bit of a procrastinator to begin with), they were no longer accepting applications. It kind of changed my view of things - I don’t need to have the perfect resume to get hired, I just need to get in front of an interviewer.