A step-by-step guide to tailor your resume skills to a specific job description
In this guide, we show a straightforward, fast, and efficient way to tailor your resume skills to every job application during your job search. If your time allows for only one part of the resume to be tailored, it should be your skills section.
Practicing these techniques will help you land your dream job faster.
Table of Content
- Why tailoring your resume skills matters
- Step 1: Identifying key skills from the job description
- Step 2: Comparing your skills with the job description requirements
- Step 3: Choosing which skills to highlight in your tailored resume
- Step 4: Deciding on a format for the tailored resume skills
- Step 5: Tailor the skills list in your resume to a specific job description
- Step 6: Choosing the order of skills according to the job posting
- Step 7: Placing the tailored skills list on your resume
- Wrapping up the skill tailoring process
- FAQs: Answering Common Questions
Why tailoring your resume skills matters
In the competitive job market, a one-size-fits-all resume doesn’t cut it anymore. Tailoring your resume, especially the skills section, to match the job description can significantly up your chances of catching the recruiter’s eye. This guide aims to break down the process of tailoring your skills with the specific requirements of the job you’re eyeing.
From deciphering the key skills required in a job description to presenting them effectively on your resume, each step is designed to bring your resume closer to what hiring managers are looking for. As we navigate through this guide, you’ll uncover tips on identifying, organizing, and articulating your skills in a way that resonates with the job description, ensuring that your resume speaks the recruiter’s language right from the get-go.
Step 1: Identifying key skills from the job description
In this step, the goal is to pinpoint the crucial skills required for the job you’re eyeing. First, let’s make sure you’re aware of the difference between hard skills vs. soft skills, because they get somewhat different treatment.
Hard skills are tangible, teachable skills such as programming, data analysis, email marketing, or financial modeling.
Soft skills refer to interpersonal attributes like teamwork, problem-solving, and effective communication.
You can find examples of soft skills and hard skills in the FAQ below.
Now that we know what we’re looking for, let’s find them.
How do you spot essential skills from the job description?
A good starting point is to carefully examine the job description, specifically the qualifications (or requirements) and job responsibilities sections. Mark in each section the skills that are mentioned. Often the most vital skills are mentioned first. So, pay extra attention to the beginning of the qualifications and responsibilities sections.
The role of “preferred” skills
Besides the essential skills, some job descriptions mention ‘preferred’ skills, which are additional skills that can give you a competitive edge. These skills, while not mandatory, can boost your chances significantly, especially in a pool of equally qualified candidates.
Now that you have a clear picture of the key skills in the job description, let’s move on to evaluating how your current skill set stacks against these requirements.
Step 2: Comparing your skills with the job description requirements
After identifying the key skills from the job description, it’s time to see how they match up with your own skill set.
Utilizing a T-chart for skill matching
A simple way to do this stage is by creating a T-chart. List down the job’s required skills on one side and your own skills on the other. This visual comparison will help you see where you stand, as well as do the resume tailoring.
Aim for an 80% essential skills match
Ideally, you want at least an 80% match with the job’s essential skills. If there’s a significant gap, consider focusing your time on other job opportunities that align better with your skills.
‘Preferred’ skills for an edge
If the job description lists several ‘preferred’ skills, having a few of them can give you an edge. These are not deal-breakers but can help you stand out among other candidates. If there are many (e.g., 5 or more) ‘preferred’ skills, top candidates are expected to have at least one of these ‘preferred’ skills.
Now, with a clear understanding of how your skills compare, you’re ready to select which ones to highlight in the next step.
Step 3: Choosing which skills to highlight in your tailored resume
Now that you have a clear understanding of what the job requires from the previous step, it’s time to sift through your skills and select the ones that align well with the specific job description.
Picking the skills with the best fit for the job
First, pick the essential skills that you have, and then add ‘preferred’ skills. Aim to pick 6-10 key skills in total. If the job description specifically mentions essential soft skills, make sure to have a mix of hard skills and soft skills (link to the previous article).
Grouping similar skills
It’s a good practice to group similar skills together. For instance, if you are skilled in multiple methodologies in agile project management, group them under a subheading like:
“Agile Project Management: Scrum, Kanban, XP”
Ordering the skills list
If you have soft skills in your list, list them first and then move to the hard skills. You should aim to order the skills in your list according to the order of importance inferred from the job posting.
This step sets the stage for how you’ll format your skills in the next section, ensuring they’re well-organized and easy for the hiring manager to skim through.
Step 4: Deciding on a format for the tailored resume skills
Here are two popular formats, along with a recommendation:
Column list of skills
A column list is a straightforward way to display your skills. It’s clean, easy to skim, and allows recruiters to see your qualifications at a glance. It is usually formatted as one to three columns.
Rows of skills categories
Alternatively, you could use rows of categories if you have a variety of skills that can be grouped under a few categories. This format might be abused if too many skills are crammed together.
Skills format recommendation
A column bullet list is generally easier to read and preferred by recruiters. It presents your skills neatly, making it effortless for anyone to scan through. Stick to this format to enhance readability and to keep your resume tidy and organized.
Step 5: Tailor the skills list in your resume to a specific job description
Crafting your skills in a manner that resonates with the job description improves your ATS discoverability and showcases your qualifications.
Utilizing similar keywords from the job posting
Employ the same or very similar keywords from the job description while describing your skills. This creates a direct connection between your abilities and what the employer is seeking, both in terms of being easier to find using search in the ATS, as well as easier for recruiters and hiring managers to recognize what they hope to find in a top candidate.
Example: If the job description mentions:
– Experience contributing to positive collaboration with multi-disciplinary team members
You might write “Multi-disciplinary team collaboration”
Refine the generic keywords from the job description to better reflect your specific experience or expertise.
Example: Rather than simply stating “customer service,” you could specify as “retail customer service.”
Instead of “team collaboration,” consider saying “cross-functional team collaboration.”
Replace “project management” with “Agile project management.”
Swap “sales skills” with “B2B enterprise sales expertise.”
This approach will help to better align your resume with the job description keywords while showcasing your unique capabilities in a concise manner.
Step 6: Choosing the order of skills according to the job posting
The ordering of your skills section plays a pivotal role in making a strong first impression. Here’s how to get it right:
1. Start with essential soft skills
Start with listing essential soft skills as they exhibit your behavioral competencies. For instance, if the job posting emphasizes teamwork or leadership, ensure these are upfront.
2. Follow with hard skills:
Next, list the hard skills that are essential for the specific job posting and then the ‘preferred’ skills. Whether it’s proficiency in a particular software or technical know-how, these skills demonstrate your job-specific knowledge.
Step 7: Placing the tailored skills list on your resume
After you’ve meticulously selected and formatted your skills, the next step is positioning them on your resume. It’s advised to place your tailored resume skills list right below the resume summary section. Here’s why:
Your resume summary provides a snapshot of your professional journey and is usually placed at the top. Following it with your tailored skills invites recruiters and hiring managers to swiftly gauge your suitability for the role.
Recruiters spend a limited amount of time in the initial screening of each resume. Having your skills immediately below the summary helps recruiters by making it easier for them to spot your capabilities. In fact, by placing it there, there is a good chance that this will be the first thing that they read in your resume.
Consistency in Tailoring
It is advised to tailor the resume to a job description by updating all of the resume sections, including summary, skills, and experience. If your time is extremely limited, we recommend that you at least tailor the skills section when you create a resume. If you can afford more time to customize your resume, we suggest that you also tailor the resume summary section. This way, the first two sections in the resume (Summary and then Skills) are both fully tailored to the job.
As one recruiter told us:
Having your skills fully tailored and aptly positioned will make your resume stand out compared to a generic resume, especially in the initial resume screening. Note this is just the first step to tailor a resume to the job description. In the next post, we will discuss tailoring the resume summary section.
Wrapping up the skill tailoring process
In this guide, we’ve walked through a systematic approach to customize your resume’s skills section according to the job description. By now, you should have a clear roadmap on how to:
- Identify crucial skills from the job description.
- Assess your skills against the job requirements using a T-chart.
- Choose, format, and articulate the right skills in a way that resonates with the employer.
Remember, the goal is to make it instantly clear to hiring managers that you are a suitable candidate. For more insights on optimizing other sections of your resume for each job, check out our post about best practices for the skills section.
FAQs: Answering Common Questions
In the journey of tailoring your resume to a specific job description, a few common questions may arise. Let’s address these to give you a clearer picture:
Hard skills vs. soft skills, what is the difference?
Hard skills are tangible, teachable skills such as programming, data analysis, email marketing, or financial modeling. Here are a few examples of hard skills:
- Programming languages (e.g., Python, Java, C++)
- Software development methodologies (e.g., Agile, Scrum)
- Database management (e.g., SQL, MongoDB)
- Adobe Creative Suite (e.g., Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign)
- Color theory
- Structural engineering
- AutoCAD and 3D modeling software
- Soil mechanics and geotechnical engineering
- Financial reporting
- Tax preparation and filing
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Pay-per-click advertising (PPC)
- Content management systems (e.g., WordPress, Joomla)
Soft skills refer to interpersonal attributes like teamwork, problem-solving, and effective communication. Here are a few examples of soft skills:
- Time management
- Conflict resolution
- Organizational skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Presentation skills
What are technical skills?
Technical skills are a subset of hard skills specific to particular jobs, like knowledge of a certain programming language or tool.
What are competencies?
Competencies encompass a combination of knowledge, abilities, and behaviors necessary to perform a job well, like project management or customer service.
What are transferable skills?
Transferable skills are abilities that can be relevant across various jobs and industries, such as leadership, time management, or organizational skills.
Should I list skills not in the job description?
In the skills section, it’s advisable to focus on skills directly or indirectly related to the job description.