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The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Targeted Resume


So you updated your resume with your most recent job experience and sent it out to apply to several available positions and … you haven’t heard back. If your resume wasn’t written tailored to each job opportunity, chances are it landed in the resume graveyard.  Writing a targeted resume can help! This article will explain why it’s important and teach you how to create a resume that will get read.

Companies that are flooded by applications often use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to screen resumes. An ATS filters resumes, only allowing the resumes that contain certain keywords that are most relevant to the position to pass through.  

If your resume is being filtered out by an ATS, it is not being reviewed by a human who could potentially hire you for your next job. According to Jobscan, over 98% of the largest companies in the U.S. use an ATS to process applicant resumes.

How can you create a resume that will pass the ATS test and get into the hands of Human Resources and the hiring manager—and that will win over those individuals once it reaches them? The secret sauce is using targeted keywords that match the specific requirements of each open position.  

Targeted keywords can be your superpower in your job search, and they are not difficult to use correctly. In a happy twist of fate, using targeted keywords in your resume will also make your resume more successful once it gets into the hands of its human audience in Human Resources and the hiring department of your prospective employer.

The reason that your resume will be more successful is that the use of important keywords allows you to sell your qualifications in your resume as being the perfect fit for the requirements of the specific job that you are seeking.

By properly using keywords you are able to place yourself in the shoes of the company’s hiring managers and understand the value that they will receive from hiring a person with your specific qualifications. This process of selling your value proposition to the hiring company is the real key to creating a convincing and successful targeted, and intentional, resume.

Read more below, build your resume the right way, and get ready for those interviews!

1. Objective of a Resume

Your resume alone won’t get you your next job. That is too much to ask of a single document.  The objective of a resume is to be the marketing tool that gets you in the door for an interview, an important step in setting you up for a job offer.  

Your resume is your professional advertisement that should aim to convince the reader that you can do the job. How can your resume do this convincingly? Well, you should read the rest of this article to find out.

You won’t be surprised to learn, however, that your resume can only be convincing if it clearly matches up to your capabilities and achievements against the requirements of the job that you want. The better the alignment between your qualifications and the job requirements, the better your chance of convincing the hiring company that you will bring value to the company. It really is as simple as that.

2. How to Sell Yourself in Your Resume

You need to change your perspective in a way that does a great job of selling yourself in your resume. Ponder this: your resume is not about you. Well, it is obviously about you and your abilities and achievements, but you need to put yourself aside for a moment in order to actually do a great job of selling yourself.

To sell yourself as a viable job candidate, your resume must primarily focus on the job and not on you. To sell yourself, you need to really understand what the company is looking for in that job role. You need to understand the company’s perspective, their needs and desires and what they will be expecting of you.

When you think about it, it only makes sense. You can’t do a good job of selling anything to anybody if you don’t understand the buyers’ needs and wants.  

So, how can you learn about a company’s needs and wants? You are in luck here, because companies go through the trouble of laying that information out for you in the job advertisements that they create and publish. You just need to read these advertisements much more carefully and make sure to align your qualifications to the actual job requirements, weaving in the appropriate key language contained in these job advertisements throughout your resume.

3. The Dreaded Applicant Tracking System

A successful company that is a desirable place to work is going to receive lots and lots of resumes for each open position. Not every resume will be from candidates who are a good fit for the job.  

In order to deal with this influx of resumes, busy Human Resource departments use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to organize their work in receiving and reviewing resumes (and managing other aspects of the hiring process).

While an ATS can be a great tool for HR departments, the ATS can be a big problem for you as a job applicant. The reason is that an ATS can be configured to automatically filter out resumes that don’t appear to be a good enough fit for each available job.

In other words, if you don’t write each of your resumes with each particular job advertisement in mind, then you risk your resume being filtered out by an ATS. This means your resume won’t ever be reviewed by an actual person.

Using specific keywords from the job advertisement is the solution here, and LeadUp Career’s 5-Step Approach walks you through the process of identifying and using powerful keywords to beat the ATS filters, helping you craft a resume that will get you in front of the right people.

ATS filters can also reject resumes that contain certain types of resume formatting. These issues will be addressed later in this article.

4. Two Reasons to Target Your Resume:

So far, we have laid out two important reasons you want to target each resume you write for each specific job you are applying to.

  1. The first reason is that you want to do a great job selling yourself to your prospective employer. And, the best way to sell yourself is not to just start listing all of your qualifications. Instead, you really need to understand the needs and desires of the hiring company. Then, target your accomplishments and experiences in your resume to those specific needs and desires found in the job advertisement.
  2. The second reason to target your resume is to beat the automatic filters of the Applicant Tracking Systems. These ATS filters look for specific words and phrases related to the job. Your resume needs to be targeted—to include these keywords and keyword phrases—just to get into the game and to qualify to be read by an actual human being.

5. Keywords and Where to Place Them in Your Resume

A keyword can be a specific technical skill such as “financial analysis,” or a more general soft skill like “problem-solving,” a specific degree or credential such as “B.S. Degree in Accounting,” or even experience with a specific tool such as “Microsoft Excel.”

After identifying the important keywords for a particular job or position, it is time to put the keywords to work. You will need to include these keywords in your resume to target it properly.

Some ATS filters place special importance on the beginning sections of your resume. For this reason, you should make sure to include the most important keywords in the top one-third of your resume. This is also important for human readers. You want your readers to see important keywords throughout your resume, but particularly near the top. It’s been said that the average time a recruiter spends on reading a resume is 6 seconds, so compel your reader to want to read on!

You should also make sure to include alternative forms of your most important keywords. If “paid search advertising” is often also called “pay-per-click advertising,” then make sure to use both phrases in your resume if it is an important capability for the job you are seeking.

6. General Resume versus Job-Specific Resume

The type of resume that you create depends upon your job search situation. If you are not specifically seeking a particular position, you should create a General Resume. A General Resume can be useful in situations such as to:

  • Post to a job board
  • Share at a job fair
  • Send to a recruiter
  • Give to networking contacts
  • Provide to your references before they are contacted
  • Provide content to your social media profiles and bios

A Job-Specific Resume is different. A Job-Specific Resume is focused on one desired position in particular. Both General Resumes and Job-Specific Resumes should be highly targeted to your objective. Even a General Resume should never be one-size-fits-all.

LeadUp Career’s 5-Step Approach and the Resume Builder Tool will walk you step-by-step through the targeting process, but we will also outline the highlights below.

7. General Resume Targeting Approach

There are three main steps to properly targeting your General Resume: 

  1. Select several job postings that are a great fit for your next position. 
  2. Review all of the selected job postings and identify all of the most commonly-used keywords or short phrases.
  3. Make a list of all the specific job titles from your collection of job postings.

This may seem complicated, but a few hours of focused work will produce everything you need to accurately target your General Resume. The LeadUp Career Job Analyzer tool will walk you through this process step-by-step.

8. Job-Specific Resume Targeting Approach

Extracting keywords to create a Job-Specific Resume is a similar process, but the focus is on each job posting you wish to apply to.  

Comb through the posting and find the most important keywords. Focus on keywords that appear multiple times within the posting and keywords that appear near the beginning of the posting.

9. What to Leave Out of Your Resume

Now let’s shift back to the content of your resume. Below are some things you might not have considered that you will want to leave out of your targeted resume:

  • Age, gender, race, disability status, religion, national origin, marriage/family status information (unless directly relevant to the job).
  • Reference to previous or desired salary ranges. Save this for a later discussion.
  • The reason you left a previous job or any negative comments about former employers.
  • Passive or weak language. Use powerful, action-oriented words instead.
  • Pronouns such as I, you, he, she, it, and they. You’ll be more concise without them.
  • Sorority or fraternity affiliations.
  • “References available upon request.” It is not needed.
  • Written testimonials or excessive personal endorsements. Also not needed.
  • Spelling and grammar mistakes. Consider an outside proofreader to make sure to eliminate these errors.

10. Critical Resume Formatting Factors

Using an online resume building tool such as the LeadUp Career Resume Builder takes care of important formatting factors for you, but here are some considerations if you format your own resume:

  • Avoid the use of all-caps. It is difficult to read and often interpreted as yelling.
  • Keep some white space in your resume. It makes your resume more readable and helps to separate sections.
  • Keep fairly standard margins. Don’t go below 0.5 inches or over 1.0 inches.
  • Avoid long paragraphs of text. Limit yourself to 3-4 sentences for each text block.
  • Use bulleted lists and start each bullet with an action verb if possible.
  • Use bold and italic for emphasis, but don’t overdo it with large blocks of text or too much repetition.
  • Don’t use graphics or images unless there is a truly special reason.
  • Avoid using color. It can confuse an ATS scanner and filter.
  • Avoid border, headers, and footers. They tend to look too cluttered.

“Keep some white space in your resume to make it more readable and to help separate sections.”

11. Resume Fonts

It is time to switch gears from keywords and targeting and talk a little bit about formatting your resume. When choosing font styles and sizes, keep it basic and simple. Limit yourself to no more than two different styles to keep the look clean. Your reader doesn’t want to be dazzled by formatting, and some ATS filters might have difficulty with rarely-used font styles.

Keep your header font size between 14-16 points and your regular resume text font size between 10-12 points. Never go below 10-point font size. Examples of acceptable font styles include Arial, Tahoma, Calibri, and Gill Sans MT.

12. The Perfect Resume Page Count

Resume length is not as important of a consideration as it once was. If you are very experienced, it may be difficult to draft a resume of fewer than two pages. As a general rule, however, if you have less than five years of experience, try and keep it to one page. Targeting is more important than length, so you must keep your resume focused and writing concise.

13. Should You Use a Resume Builder?

There are many online resume builders available to job seekers on the market today. The good ones include lessons and expert advice as well as integrated tips. The best options embed a best-practices methodology to ensure your resume is targeted to maximize your chances of success. The LeadUp Resume Toolkit offers just that and also includes an integrated database to track contacts, tasks, and deadlines, so you never miss an opportunity to follow up.

A resume builder can save you from uncertainty and manual content generation and formatting work. Resume builders can also prevent you from committing a crime against reasonable design. Even more important, an excellent resume builder can guide you through a process that can lead to job search success.

14. Chronological Resume Format

There are fundamentally two different resume formats that are useful depending on your circumstances. The Chronological Resume format places your work history and experience in chronological order from most recent to oldest. It is the most commonly used format and is easy to create and easy to read.  

It showcases your development within a single career profession. This format allows you to connect your key accomplishments to specific companies, job titles, and dates. It is the format most people think of when they think of writing a resume.  

You should use this format if you have a stable work history and have experience mainly in one profession. It helps the Hiring Manager understand the logical “next step” in your career.  

However, it may not be the best format if you’ve had periods of unemployment, if you want to change your career, or if you just graduated. If this describes your situation, you should consider the Functional Resume Format instead.

15. Functional Resume Format

The Functional Resume focuses on your skills and qualifications without emphasizing where and when you acquired this experience. The functional format helps your reader understand what you can do.  

This format presents a less formal tone, if that’s right for your situation. Be aware that this format can sometimes frustrate the reader because it can be more difficult to connect what you accomplished and where you accomplished it. A Functional Resume can be a good choice if:

  • You are changing careers
  • You have gaps or long breaks from work
  • You are a recent graduate
  • You have worked multiple, overlapping contracting assignments
  • You are a truly seasoned professional with vast experience and want to emphasize that it will transfer to a new position.

16. Social Media and Your Resume

Other than a hyperlink to your LinkedIn profile, you probably should not include any other social media profile information on your resume unless there is some kind of compelling business-related reason to include it. An example might be a link to your Twitter profile if you are a journalist or a marketer with a social media management focus.

17. Your Personal Brand Statement

Remember that a targeted resume is your tool to sell yourself as the perfect fit for a particular position. To do that, you need a short and punchy brand statement. It must be targeted to the job and, if done well, this will increase the reader’s curiosity to learn more about you.

Here are some examples:

  • For a marketing professional – “Builds brands and captures audience interest.”
  • For a senior project manager – “Develops and inspires teams to do more.”
  • For an IT technical architect – “Innovates next-generation platforms.”

A short, punchy statement gets the reader to notice you and makes them want to learn more. It should communicate your unique value to this particular organization and position. Include important keywords if at all possible.

“Your personal brand statement should communicate your unique value to this particular organization and position.”

18. Hard Skills and Soft Skills

Hard skills are the capabilities that are specific to your job or profession. These are often technical and can be somewhat specialized. Hard skills are often fairly easy to measure or evaluate.

Soft skills are more general capabilities that are often less easy to measure. Soft skills that can be important to a job include leadership, problem solving, collaboration, communication, adaptability and work ethic.

Make sure to consider both hard and soft skills when you evaluate keywords for a job and when you construct your resume. Both can be important in convincing a prospective employer that you are a good fit.

19. You Are Your Quantifiable Achievements

When listing your professional experience in your resume, you need to provide your key achievements, but only those tailored to the actual job. This part of your resume is crucial because it gives you the chance to stand out.

Don’t just “spray and pray” with a generic list of achievements. Instead, take the time to draft your experience as specific, quantifiable achievements to the greatest extent possible.  LeadUp’s experts recommend doing this in C.A.R. format: “challenge, action, result.”

To do this, briefly explain the challenge you faced, the action you took to address the challenge, and the specific result you accomplished. Be as specific and quantifiable in describing the result as you possibly can. Most job candidates don’t bother to do this, and you can stand out if you do it. Numbers speak volumes to establish that you can do a particular job.

Here’s an example: “Launched an expense tracking program that reduced reimbursement payment time by 27% and reduced expense report errors by 76%.”

And here is another example: “Implemented a content marketing strategy that generated over one million additional website visits and increased average time-on-site by 37%.”

What if your particular profession doesn’t lend itself to quantifiable outcomes? Challenge yourself. Find a way to document your achievements in the best quantifiable way possible.

“Challenge yourself to write truly quantified achievement descriptions for your resume. You will stand out from the crowd.”

Here’s an example for a Project Manager: “Managed three complex projects including over 700 interdependent tasks and brought all three to completion on schedule.”

20. How to End Your Resume

Once you have built a powerful resume that uses extracted keywords to be properly targeted to the desired job and that leverages quantifiable achievements to demonstrate your capabilities, how do you wrap up that resume in a compelling way?

Instead of just trailing off with your earliest job experience or a list of your educational accomplishments, include a Closing Brand Statement that reinforces your main brand message. This is the one place where you might start out with the pronoun “I” to focus the statement and to stand out.

Be sure to strongly capture what the employer is looking for in a candidate. Here are some examples:

  • “I build and grow consumer beverage brands.”
  • “I collaborate to bring high-profile projects to the finish line.”
  • “A leader and mentor for growing technology organizations.”

This is your opportunity to remind the hiring manager that you’re the one for the job.

21. Should You Include a Cover Letter?

While some people believe that cover letters are old-fashioned and that employers don’t read them, LeadUp’s experts recommend that you include a cover letter with each resume that you submit.

Including a cover letter shows the employer that you are motivated and understand the particular character of the available position. Additionally, a cover letter provides another opportunity to target your achievements to the position and leverage important keywords to demonstrate your fit for the job.

What if you submitted your resume online and the online system doesn’t allow you to upload a cover letter? We suggest you send a follow-up email to the HR recruiter and/or the hiring manager and attach your cover letter and resume to your email. This will make your application stand out from your competition.

The LeadUp Career Cover Letter Builder walks you step-by-step through the process of creating a crisp, concise, and targeted cover letter that will impress your prospective employer.

There are many moving parts to consider when crafting your targeted resume. Luckily, LeadUp Career is here to support you throughout your job search journey. Find your dream job today with LeadUp’s Launchpad – a complete set of software and tools for today’s job seeker, which includes the Resume Toolkit (lessons and software tools), the Job Search Tracker, Resource Center and Your Community.



If you are interested in more resume tips please check out the LeadUp Career Ultimate Checklist to Write a Targeted Resume! You can download it, for free, by clicking the image below.

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