Tailoring: Resume Writing’s Annoying Little Sibling

Nobody likes to tailor resumes. That’s why we should.

Cindy S. Cheung
Jun 24, 2020 · 6 min read
Photo by Kenny Luo on Unsplash

There is one thing everyone hates about writing resumes more than creating one. Tailoring.

In the past few weeks, I have encountered a number of new clients who have made it a point to instruct me to produce resumes that does not require any tailoring whatsoever.

Let me be clear. I am more than a simple resume writer. I am a resume coach. I write the best resumes for all my clients to the best of my ability based on each individual’s background and intent. However, I will push back if I believe a client wants me to do something that would actually be a disadvantage for him or her.

Writing a resume that can be used for any job is not just disadvantageous, it is not possible.

Thankfully, tailoring can be made easy.

Why Tailoring Resumes is a Thing

Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

When we apply to a position online, the first things our resumes would likely encounter is either the applicant tracking system (ATS) aka the computer or a recruiter.

What do those two things have in common?

Well, one, both act as the gatekeepers for the hiring manager. And two, neither of them truly know what the actual job entails.

So what do they go by?

The job descriptions.

If the words on our resumes do not match those on their job descriptions, then how would they know we are right for the job?

When we accept this reality, the issue becomes how do we show that we are a great fit for the company and the role while staying true to ourselves.

This is feasible with moderate tailoring.

Master Resume, Tailored Resume, and Career Bank

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

You are probably scratching your head with that third item in the section heading there.

The common concept of a master resume and a tailored resume should already be ingrained for those of us who have been in this job search process in recent years.

Still, I have slightly upgraded those common definitions to work better in this day and age.

Master Resume

Unlike its tradition description, which states that a master resume includes everything we ever did in our lives, my definition of a master resume is one that is used when there is no job description to guide us.

I have experienced this numerous times.

A recruiter, headhunter, or someone I hit it off with at an event discloses an interesting position to me and asks for my resume. Yet, when I request a job description, he or she tells me there isn’t one.

Should I wait until there is one? Absolutely not!

So what should I do?

This is where the master resume comes into play.

The master resume includes all of our top accomplishments and most confident skills so that we can present our best foot forward within two pages.

Because there is no description, we have the luxury of showing our best ideal selves with a desired main title that most fits us and with our favorite areas of expertise.

That said, tailoring begins here as well.

By the time we write a resume — no matter how many years we have been in the workforce — we would have learned the kind of words that are commonly used in our discipline and industry. In fact, we likely learned some of these words in school.

So, in a way, if we already know the jargon used in our profession and we use those words in our master resume, we have actually tailored our master resume without realizing it because those words have become innate to us.

And if we can to this, then half the job of writing a tailored resume is already done.

If we are still uncertain about which keywords to use, then it is time to research and select three to four job descriptions for similar roles. Highlight the keywords and identify the ones that are common on all of them. Once done, try to incorporate them in to the master.

Tailored Resume

A tailored resume is used when we do have a job description to guide us.

This is the one in which we have to read and examine the job descriptions for relevant responsibilities and keywords so that we can match our resumes to it.

This is accomplished every time.

We dread this.

With the all-too-common recommendation to match the job description by 80%, I used to spend up to four hours trying to tailor a resume by using all the keywords while keeping it grammatically correct. Many of my clients still do.

I could have applied to five different jobs in that same amount of time.

Now, it takes me 30-minutes or less to tailor my resume.


First, that 80% match recommendation is ridiculously high. At that level, we run the risk of being suspected of copy-and-pasting the job description to our resume and overqualifed for the position even when we are not. Plus, it may show little room for professional growth. So my advice is to go for 50% to 70%.

Secondly, like I said, half the work of tailoring a resume is accomplished when writing the master. That leaves the significant keywords that are specific to that particular job description. Not only are these specific to the company, the industry, or the job; but they are also rarely seen in other job descriptions outside. These are the words we want to try to include in our tailored resumes.

Now, thirdly, remember, when tailoring a resume, it means more than using the right words. It mean including the right experiences. That’s where the career bank comes in.

Career Bank (aka Career Brain Dump)

The career bank is a tool that is especially conceived by me.

It is similar to the traditional definition of a master resume, but instead of compiling it on a Word file, it is compiled in an Excel spreadsheet.

I like to think of the career bank as my career brain dump in which I can dump absolutely everything I ever did in my career. Every accomplishment. Every task. Every position. Every keyword. Every tool. Even every personal brand statement.

It also allows to me to flesh out and think more thoroughly about my accomplishments, their results, and their impact on me.

With the career bank, I am basically molding my Lego pieces. The resume is my canvas to put those pieces.

When I tailor my resume, I go to my career bank and pick out the pieces that are most relevant to the job. Once those are ranked, I scan for any keywords that need to be added or replaced.

Of the three components, the career bank takes the most time and effort.

Fortunately, this is achieved upfront before the search starts. Once it is completed, the time spent on tailoring resumes for each job description is drastically reduced because I do not have to stress myself to brainstorm for the right bulletpoints and the right keywords during a time crunch. I just have to select them from my career bank.

Final Touch

Photo by Phix Nguyen on Unsplash

Look, I get it. Nobody likes to tailor. I hate tailoring myself.

Nonetheless, its existence means something. In the current status of how hiring is done, it has become a highly accepted and recommended step in the whole job search process.

By not tailoring our resumes, we are actually making the recruiters and the hiring managers out to be enemies because we would be saying we do not care about making their jobs harder for them. And that is not a good start to our relationships with them.

But making their jobs easier does not have to mean taking on the work and making our own jobs harder.

If the trick I mention in this article is applied, the tailoring process will at least be more amiable.

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Cindy S. Cheung

Written by

Data Analyst. Screenwriter. Project Manager. Now, Resume Coach. A student of life and West Coast Swing. A promoter of self from within.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +725K followers.

Cindy S. Cheung

Written by

Data Analyst. Screenwriter. Project Manager. Now, Resume Coach. A student of life and West Coast Swing. A promoter of self from within.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +725K followers.

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