Why a One-Size-Fits-All Resume Never Works

By Laura DeCarlo

Your resume is not a buffet at which a prospective employer will linger to happily select what he wants and leave the rest. Instead, if you are working with a one-size-fits-all resume, screening technology and human resources personnel will conspire to keep your potential boss from ever even seeing your resume.

Unless you are applying to a small mom-and-pop establishment, chances are layers are in place for reviewing resumes and discarding applicants. The reality is that only a few of the hundreds (and possibly thousands) of applicants get interviews. So it’s critical to understand the path your resume could take on the way to the yes, no, and maybe piles.

First-line human resume screening

Understand that the first person to review your resume is likely not the person for whom you would work if hired. Envision instead that the initial screener is a busy secretary or human resources clerk. This individual is young, juggling multiple tasks, has never worked in your specific area before (and thus knows nothing about it), and has several hundred resumes sitting in her email inbox.

Her approach? Visually scan the resume in as little as 10 seconds, looking for keyword connections to the job description in front of her. If this lightning-fast scan reveals a strong enough match in keywords between the job opportunity and your resume, then into the “maybe” pile your resume goes.

Therefore, your resume must be quickly scannable for top-line content in under one minute, rich with keywords, error-free, and easy to read.

First-line computerized resume screening

Technology has put countless job opportunities at your fingertips, making it easy for you to apply with a click of the button. Because of the glut of unqualified (and untargeted) resumes that employers receive, they have had to find ways to cut down on man-hours in screening applicants. During the past decade, these systems have rapidly evolved, creating a potential black hole for job seekers who haven’t targeted their resumes to the specific position.

It’s all about applicant tracking systems (ATS) and electronic keyword scanning. These types of systems provide the first line of defense for screening out applicants who do not demonstrate an exact match to the target position.

Therefore, your resume must function with both content and appearance. It should be clean and uncluttered with a legible standard typeface with Arial or Times New Roman. You should approach keywords by first front-loading them in a special keyword section, typically presented in a 2- to 3-column list after your summary section, but then also making sure they are connected to examples of their application in the body of the resume.

Know your synonyms

You may hear the same type of resume called by different names. Here’s a rundown so you can understand which resume someone is talking or writing about:

Generic resumes are also known as: Targeted resumes are also known as:
One-size-fits-all Customized
All-purpose Tailored
Core Personalized
All-in-one Job-specific

Final destination with decision-maker

Only if your resume survives the initial scans will it arrive in the hands of your prospective boss who understands the position and its needs, goals, and challenges. A one-size-fits-all resume might have snuck through to this point if it contained all the right data.

However, this individual will take a deeper look and rapidly classify you as someone who isn’t 100 percent committed to his department and the target role. No matter how qualified you may be, you will get screened out if you don’t present a resume targeted to the needs of the prospective employer’s position.

Therefore, your resume must target the position at each step of the way from your objective header statement through your summary of qualifications, keywords section, professional experience, and even in what education and training details you choose to include. The better the match you represent, the better the chance of landing an interview.

Because your resume is now in a smaller stack of individuals who all seem qualified for the position, targeting allows you to laser in on not just what you know and can do for a targeted position, but how well you do it. By using CAR stories (Challenges, Actions, and Results) to describe your responsibilities and accomplishments, you’ll stand out from the other applicants.