Customizing Your Resume

Reading a job description, you realize you meet all the requirements and your experience matches what the company is looking for-the ad could have been written for you. You attach your saved resume and cover letter-updated with the company’s name-to your application and wait to hear about an interview. You are disappointed to receive a form email saying you do not meet their needs right now.

What happened? Companies often use computer searches or have a human resources person to make a first pass over applications. If an application is missing key words from the job description, it may get sent to the reject pile.

Your resume may list experience with chromatographic method development for a pharmaceutical company and the job description may require GLP GC-MS method development and validation. You know that you developed GC-MS methods in a GLP environment and think your resume reflects that, however, your resume does not say that exactly and those facts should be stated plainly. Your resume should be updated to reflect how well you match the job description.

Make sure to keep a master resume that lists all the details from all of your positions, education, honors, publications, and so on. Five years from now it may be difficult to remember the details of everything you are doing in your current job. It’s easy to then copy this resume and edit it.

Some simple ways to customize your resume:

  • Keep a master resume saved with all your experience, education, skills, publications, etc…
  • Save a copy of your resume, the job ad, and relevant materials together.
  • Scan the job position for the experience or skills that you possess.
  • Update the copy of your resume to reflect key words in the job description that describe you.
  • Consider editing sections of your resume that are not relevant-keep your resume visually clean and uncluttered so that a reviewer can easily scan it and see important information. You may not need a lengthy description of your first job anymore. One brief bullet point could be sufficient.
  • Update your cover letter beyond the company’s name. Include descriptions of relevant experience or education.

When I went from working in the lab to teaching, I shortened the descriptions of my lab experience to leave room to emphasize my experience in education. I made sure to discuss my experience teaching during graduate school in my cover letter. I kept copies of the resume, the cover letter, and pdf’s of my unofficial transcripts in a folder along with a copy of the ad for each position. I also kept a master resume separately so I do not lose any information over time. If I need to highlight my experience with chromatography later on, I can use the information saved in my master resume.

Customizing your resume for each position will make it easy for whoever or whatever is reading your resume to see how qualified you are for this particular job.


This article was written by Sara Stellfox. After working in contract and pharmaceutical laboratories, Sara changed her career path and is now a free lance writer and chemistry instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago.

One Response to Customizing Your Resume

  1. MTB says:

    Hi, Sara–

    Excellent post. I think people forget that resumes have to be as close to perfect as possible, because that is all that a potential employer is going to know of you. Unless you’ve got a contact or know someone at the company, your resume is the only thing you’ve got going for you. Best to make as potent as possible!

    I particularly agree with you in terms of making your resume “uncluttered.” Brief is good, too. No one wants to read through three pages of text.

    Again, excellent post—thank you.

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