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Should you tweak your resume for different jobs? The answer may surprise you

Career coach Lynda Spiegel explains why stating your value proposition is far more important than editing your resume to fit a job description.
Image: Lynda Spiegel
Lynda Spiegel, career coach.Nathaniel Welch

If you’re in the job market, you may have been advised to reframe your resume for every new application. And while some experts believe this is a smart strategy, I actually disagree.

These experts argue that by writing different versions of your resume to emphasize one skill over another, you’ll attract hiring managers’ attention by giving them precisely what they want.

I see this as counterproductive. Doesn’t it make more sense to apply for jobs that align with who you actually are? After all, are you a different person when you apply for one job over another? Do your skills and experiences change? Of course not – so why would your value proposition change every time you apply for an opening?

Know your value proposition

What is your value proposition? It’s a statement that articulates value to the end user – in this case, the hiring manager. It reflects the sum total of your relevant skills and experience. In other words, it’s your professional brand; it’s who you are. While knowing your value gives you the confidence to apply for the job you want, demonstrating it requires writing a solid value proposition.

This is particularly important while navigating the high unemployment environment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies are still hiring, but the competition for most jobs is greater. That’s why it’s critical for your value proposition to differentiate you from the competition.

Let’s examine the dos and don’ts of crafting a value proposition that will resonate with employers.

Here’s an example from a resume I received recently:

A dynamic and dedicated administrative professional with over 14 years of broad-based experience. A commitment to excellence and quality customer service combine to consistently deliver improved efficiency and productivity. A special and detailed focus on effectively managing competing priorities and deadlines all while producing error-free work with an exceptional attitude.

What’s wrong with it? As a Human Resources professional, my first thought is, “broad-based experience?” Doing what? And shouldn’t a commitment to excellence and error-free work be a given? What is “special and detailed” about her focus? In other words, what exactly is her value to me, the employer?

Here’s how we revised it:

My role in achieving Customer Success has enabled high profile accounts to accomplish their e-learning goals for employees. I am adept with CRM software, as well as creating customized reporting to track success. I believe that achieving customer success requires forging a trusted partnership with clients, taking a proactive approach and having a genuine passion for aligning client goals with products and services. And a sense of humor doesn’t hurt!

In this summary of qualifications positioned at the top of the resume, this candidate’s value proposition is clearly articulated.

Notice that she offers her value proposition in the first person, which is how contemporary resumes are written. As a hiring manager, I enjoy this glimpse into her personality. As a recruiter, I appreciate not having to search through the resume to decide if I’m interested in interviewing her; I know immediately if she’s a qualified candidate for the position I need to fill.

Here’s where tweaking your resume to fit the specifics of each job might be a concern. If your value proposition is succinct and specific, it may mean that you will apply to fewer jobs. However, by applying only to those jobs where your value proposition resonates with the employer, you won’t need to create multiple versions. That’s a good thing. After all, do you really want to maintain a database of resume variations, and when recruiters call, try to recall which version they’re reading from?

Reframing your resume

So, let’s discuss the components of an effective resume. As we discussed, your value proposition comes first; I label this section “Summary of Qualifications.”

Next, curate a bulleted list of a few of the most significant achievements you’ve garnered at any point in your career. Label it “Career Highlights.” Think in terms of a problem you solved and quantify wherever possible.

Next comes a chronological list of your employment. Leave off the physical location of the employers as well as the months of your employment; years alone will suffice (you will need to provide this data on your job application, but on a resume, we want the focus to be on what you bring to the table). If you’ve been promoted, note this parenthetically under your most recent title.

Here’s an example:

XYZ Corporation, 2010 – present

Director of Marketing

(promoted 3 times to positions of increased scope & responsibility)

Now list the functions – in general – that you perform. There’s no reason to list your functions before you were promoted.

It’s also useful to list your software competencies, although if you’re in IT, you’ll want to add a section relevant to your specialty, such as programming languages if you’re a developer.

Education is the final section, and to avoid ageism, leave off the year you graduated.

Addressing unemployment during COVID-19

As stressful as it is to embark on a job search during a global pandemic, you shouldn’t worry about any stigma attached to being unemployed.

When a recruiter sees 2020 as the end date of your most recent job, they have a pretty good idea that it’s a result of the economic climate. How you write your resume doesn’t change during this crisis, but it does mean that your resume needs a strong value proposition that will resonate with your target employer.

Lynda Spiegel is a job search coach and resume writer who extensively recruited, interviewed and hired thousands of talented professionals as a human resources executive. She is the founder of Rising Star Resumes and a regular contributor for the Wall Street Journal, focusing on HR and career growth strategies.