How Many Versions of My Résumé Do I Need?

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By Marcelle Yeager

You've likely heard by now that you have to tailor your résumé to every job you apply to. This could very well mean you have a stockpile in the double digits, if not hundreds. And you might feel that for this amount of effort, you've had little success.

What could be behind this? It may be time to take a step back and understand what tailoring a résumé to each job means and how to do it better, which will save you precious time.1. Create a master résumé. This is a staple for all job seekers, no matter what stage they're at in their careers. You need one solid version with everything from your background that could reasonably be used in a résumé. Think of it as your cheat sheet for all future résumés, and continue to add to it whenever you achieve something new.

Record all jobs and internships, education, professional training, licenses, certificates, awards, volunteer work, professional affiliations, languages, publications and technical knowledge. Put as many details as you can in this version, from dates to locations to duties. Go beyond just your job or internship tasks, and include the impact of your work, whether it's quantitative or qualitative.

2. Clean it up. The master résumé is not a dumping ground for every piece of job-related history. In order to save yourself headaches later when it comes to application time, clean it up now, and keep it that way as you add to it in the future.

Do your best to edit the résumé, from cleaning up the formatting to fixing grammatical or other types of errors. Also be sure you're using consistent constructions, like starting every bullet with an active verb.

Once you've done all this, share it with two people you trust, and ask them to review and edit. Incorporate their edits, and review a hard copy of the résumé. (It's hard to catch spacing errors and other formatting issues on the computer screen.)

Once you're satisfied that it's as good as can be, you can create a new version to use for a job application. How do you go about that? Read on.

3. Dissect the job description. So you come across a job posting, and you're ready to apply. First, read the description closely. Highlight the required and preferred qualifications. Ask yourself whether you are a good match. If you meet the majority of required qualifications, it's likely worth your while to apply.

Read through the rest of the posting again. Look at what the job responsibilities entail, and highlight the main skills or experience listed there.

4. "Save as" and delete. Once you feel you're qualified for this job and have a good grasp of what the employer is looking for, it's time to look at your master résumé and "save as" a new version. Keep only duties and accomplishments relevant to the job posting. If you've held jobs in a similar type of company or industry, don't delete those.

You also need to make sure you hold on to information that employers look for and expect to see, such as education, awards and any unique technical knowledge.

5. Adding the infamous keywords. "Keyword" now has a bad connotation in the job-searching world, but it's not as terrible as it seems.

Take a look again at the portions of the job description that you highlighted. Where you see a match with your experience, check the wording of the posting against what's in your master résumé. Do you use the same terms or synonyms? If you don't have the same words or phrases, make some replacements.

Where people get caught is sprinkling around words from job descriptions randomly with no purpose. Do it in a meaningful way, and you won't only get through an applicant automatic tracking system, but also past the deciphering eyes of a human reader.

6. Review, and then review again. Like you did above when you created your master résumé, it's critical to review your work. You cannot assume that since you deleted information from your solid master copy, everything went smoothly.

Technology does have its faults, as do humans. It's essential to look over the résumé with a fine-toothed comb, and best to do this with a hard copy. Make any changes necessary, and then repeat the edit process after taking a break for an hour or, if you have the time, a day. Try not to edit if you are exhausted after a long day at work.

If it's a job you're serious about, you want to submit the best product possible. Remember that this is the first impression the employer will have of you, and it needs to be good, because you will not have a second chance.

In truth you need only one résumé – the master version – and the others that stem from that are variations. Once you get the hang of dissecting a job description and identifying keywords, it will be much easier to create new versions when applying to jobs.

Getting the strong, clean master résumé in shape is key. The rest is some slight tweaking and well worth your while toward getting the job you want.

Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.
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