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Michael Coles: Sergeant SQL

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Why "Tailoring" Your Resume Is Bad

I was just writing a response to a comment on my "Sell Yourself!" presentation (, and it started getting a little lengthy so I decided to turn it into a blog post.  The "Sell Yourself!" post got a couple of very good comments on the blog, and quite a few more comments offline. 

I think I'll start this one with a great exchange from the movie "The Princess Bride":

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

So before we get started on why I think "tailoring" your resume is a complete waste of time, let's make sure we're all talking about the same thing when we say "tailoring".  There are two types of "tailoring" your resume:

1.  You create multiple versions of your resume targeting different areas of interest to you.  Shannon Lowder mentioned that she keeps a "master resume" with all his experiences listed, and pulls content out of it for each position he's applying for.  He indicates he's had good success with this method.  I'm not sure if Shannon creates a completely new version of his resume for every job posting or just general versions for different types of positions.  I would recommend the latter, especially if you are planning on sending your resume out to a *lot* of recruiters and/or companies.  It would be difficult (thought not impossible) to manage 20, 30 or more copies of your resume with only slight variations between them.

Shannon uses a method that is actually very similar to one of my suggestions, which is to keep a Word document with descriptions of *all* your accomplishments (no matter how small).  Update the document regularly (I update mine at least once every 3 months, or more often if anything interesting happens).  When it's time to update your resume you can easily grab the relevant accomplishments from your master document and format them for your resume.  Even if you're happy at your current job, with no plans to ever leave, your master document comes in very handy at annual review time when the boss asks you "what were your accomplishments this year?".  It's a very small investment for a potentially significant return.

I know of several people who have had success creating multiple versions of their resume, but there are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Make sure each version of your resume reflects a position you would *want* to be in.  If I'm interested in SQL Server development, .NET or SSIS development positions, it doesn't make much sense to create a custom resume highlighting my 3 months of Linux experience.
  • Manage your resumes well and make sure you send the right resume to the right recruiter.  Sending the wrong resume to the wrong recruiter, or bringing the wrong version of your resume to a job interview will only serve to confuse people.
  • Create your multiple versions of your resumes before you make first contact.  That is to say, put your multiple resume versions together before you approach a recruiter.  More on this later.

So if it's all good, and people have success with it, what's the downside to "tailoring" your resume?  Well, that's where we get into #2.

2.  The flip side of tailoring your resume is the last-minute rush job.  This happens after a recruiter has contacted you (or vice versa) and she tells you something along the lines of "Java development is required for this job, can you tailor your resume to highlight your Java experience?"

This one calls for a little introspection.  If you were really interested in a position requiring skills that aren't highlighted on your resume, why wasn't that skill highlighted on your resume (or one of your resume variants) to begin with?  Considering you weren't interested enough to highlight that skill in the first place, do you think you're going to be happy in a job where it's a core requirement?  If you decide you'd love that job and leaving it off the resume the first time was just an oversight, then you should thoroughly integrate it into your resume and go for that job.  Here's the problem with "tailoring" your resume on-demand at a recruiter's request:

  • The recruiter probably wants it turned around quickly, usually within a day or two (at most).  You don't usually have adequate time to ensure quality.
  • Whatever you slap on your resume at the last minute will most likely have that tacked-on feel; it might have the "doesn't belong there" quality to it.  This can actually diminish the impact of your resume.
  • When you make last-minute changes to your resume you increase the odds that you'll introduce a typo or other error.  As I mention in the presentation your resume is your primary marketing tool.  You've most likely spent countless hours writing, formatting, spell-checking, reviewing, adjusting, tweaking, and perfecting your resume.  You can easily destroy all that hard work in a matter of minutes.
  • In my experience (this is just my experience, mind you), last-minute changes to your resume are almost completely ineffective.

As Andy Warren points out "...the challenge is that if you don't tailor, the recruiter may perceive that you're not willing to help you both be successful."  I agree with Andy that if you're not willing to make last-minute changes to your resume the recruiter won't be happy; but a good recruiter should ask the same questions you asked above:  Why isn't that skill already highlighted?  Any recruiter worth her salt will wonder this.  A great recruiter will ask you that question and probe deeper to find out if this job really is a good fit for you.  To turn Andy's point around: If you change your resume to get a job that requires skills you're not really interested in, neither you, the recruiter, nor the company who hired you has achieved success.

The important thing is to consider the concept of "tailoring".  Classic tailoring (making, mending clothes) requires thorough planning before the first cut is made in the cloth; well before the first stitch is stitched.  Randomly cutting and sewing pieces of extra cloth into a $1,000 tailored suit at the last minute is not a recipe for success.  The same thing goes for your high-quality resume.

So, the bottom line for me is that creating multiple versions of your resume (well before you send it to recruiters) is not a bad thing.  I'm all for quality "tailoring" like this -- just make sure you manage it well.  Low-quality last-minute on-demand "tailored" changes to your resume don't seem to improve the odds of getting a quality job.

Published Thursday, December 30, 2010 11:16 PM by Mike C



unclebiguns said:

Interesting post.  I just downloaded your presentation and will take a look later.

I like the idea of tailoring your resume for positions you are interested in and having those saved.

I was taught to tailor my resume for any positions I was applying for.  Essentially being sure that my resume lists any experience or successes I have in areas listed in the job posting.  I think this is a little different than your example of tailoring for a recruiter.  The difference is that I have found the position, I am interested in and qualified for (at least in my mind) the position so I want to present myself in the best light for the position.  In theory I would have already done some research into the company to be sure I really was interested in working there.

Overall though I do agree with your point.

December 31, 2010 11:32 AM

Steve Jones said:

Interesting, I tend to have a few resumes for different types of positions. So a production DBA v a manager would be two different resumes, emphasizing different skills. That has worked for me when I send resumes out for different positions. If you are willing to consider being a manager v a developer v a DBA, this can work.

December 31, 2010 2:20 PM

Mike C said:

Hi unclebiguns and steve,

I was taught the same thing about tailoring your resume for the position you're applying for.  What I've found is that it doesn't work all that well these days.  You may be working with different recruiters who are trying to match your resume up against job orders that you don't know anything about yet, so you can't tailor your resume ahead of time.  Also if the recruiters are asking you to make substantive last minute changes it should spark questions for both of you.  Recruiters and HR folks are reviewing 100s of resumes for each open position and I believe there are much more effective methods of making your resume stand out/getting/holding their attention than last minute tweaks.

I definitely agree with Steve that having multiple targeted versions of your resume ready in advance can be a good idea.  It's the last-minute rush job tailoring that hurts the quality of your resume and can do more harm than good.

All that said, obviously for someone in a desperate job-hunting situation all bets are off and they gotta do whatever they gotta do.

January 1, 2011 1:15 PM
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