Properly fitting, tailored clothes look better on you and make a better first impression than a baggy one-size-fits-all t-shirt. You take time looking through racks of clothing and trying on different sizes to make sure the style and size fit your body type.
The same should apply to your resume and cover letter. However, much too often, applicants send out the same generic “one-size-fits-all” cover letter and resume package that lacks proper fit to the job description and fails to fully flatter their best qualifications. Taking the extra time to make sure your marketing materials are tailored to each job description and company culture allows you to highlight the specific skills the employer desires and shows an attention to detail and added interest in the position. In short, it makes a better first impression.
Most job descriptions give you all the information you need to write a resume and cover letter targeted to the company's specific needs. If the description states “Ability to work independently with occasional assistance from supervisor or others in a collaborative manner,” then you will want to highlight experiences you’ve had working both independently and in team settings. If the position involves “managing strategic customer and supplier relationships,” you will include relationship building experience and showcase your interpersonal skills. Make sure the vocabulary in your resume and cover letter mimics that of the job description. HR departments and computer scanning systems often search for certain keywords that match their specifications.
To go one step further, tailor your resume and cover letter not only to fit the job description, but to fit the company’s individual values and mission. Visit the corporate website and read the “About Us” or “Careers” section to learn about the company’s goals and values. Highlight shared values and reasons why you want to work for that company. This is not permission to get too soft and mushy; remain professional, but show some personality and enthusiasm for the company.
For example, GE describes their company as a “diverse set of businesses in which to work, and a development-focused culture in which to grow” in the “Why GE?” section of their webpage. If one of my reasons for wanting to work at GE is an interest is cross-disciplinary collaboration or I am personally focused on growth and development, I might highlight this match in my cover letter or included collaborative experiences in my resume.
Tailoring your resume and cover letter to fit each job does take more time than sending them out willy-nilly, but HR professionals can tell when you put in the extra effort. A representative from a government agency visited Auburn last spring and I asked him what made a resume stand out from the crowd. His response was that resumes that were tailored specifically to fit his job and his organization were the ones that made it into his “Yes” pile. He was interested in meeting with and interviewing students who went the extra mile to make sure that their resume fit the job description.
You wouldn’t show up to a job interview in a poorly fitting one-size-fits-all suit, so why would you send in a generic one-size-fits-all resume? Tailor your resumes and cover letters to help land the job you want.