How to tailor your CV to job description

A one-size-fits-all CV won’t impress.

If you’ve been applying for multiple jobs and have never secured an interview during the job search ‒ despite knowing that you could perform the role with your eyes shut ‒ it may be your CV that’s the problem. Have you used the same one every time? It would be understandable – job seekers have probably spent ages pulling it together and fine-tuning it until it’s completely perfect.

However, if you want to impress in a competitive jobs market, tailoring your CV to the specific job description is vital. Below, we’ve broken down the steps you need to take to successfully edit your CV to fit each application and catch the hiring manager’s eye.

Why should you customize your CV?

You may have already been advised to customize your CV for every role you apply for during the job application process and wondered, ‘Is it really worth it?’. After all, it takes up time that could be spent applying for other jobs or doing something more fun! We’d say the answer is always yes.

You’re more likely to win an interview for the job posting by sending off a few bespoke applications than you are firing off the same old CV in all directions. Sometimes, less is definitely more, and quality wins over quantity.

Don’t forget that the recruiter or hiring manager is looking for someone to meet their needs – not someone out to meet their own needs. A tailored resume or CV will directly address the recruiter’s requirements and prove that you’re the best candidate to meet them.

Customising your cover letter and CV will also support your progress through applicant tracking systems. By including words directly relevant to the role at hand, you’re more likely to secure a higher ranking and smooth your path through to the interview.

How can you customise your CV?

It need not take forever to create a carefully targeted application. You don’t need to start from scratch every time, so armed with the job advert and the conviction that you deserve the role, it only needs to be the work of a few minutes.

Create a master CV

First off, create yourself a master CV. This is the bit that takes time, but it only needs to be done once. The master CV should include everything that could possibly be relevant to your future career, including valuable skills, experience, achievements, and qualifications. The format should be as spot-on as you can make it too, bearing in mind that the forthcoming customisation may change the spacing.

With your master CV finalised, you’re ready to customise. For every application, save a new version of the master CV. (If you include the company name as part of the file name, you’ll be able to retrieve it easily for reference at interview.) Now it’s just a case of deleting and tweaking parts of the new version to suit the specific job advert. Every role will require different parts of your career history to be highlighted or downplayed, and this will be your main work as you prepare to send off applications.   

Analyse the job description

To present a strong application, you’ll need to thoroughly understand the requirements and expectations of the role. This is where an in-depth reading of the job description is vital. The employer is literally telling you what they want here – all you have to do is tick their boxes by reflecting this back at them on your CV.

This is where keywords come in handy. Try to identify the best keywords to include on your CV that were used in the advert. These words are likely to be the ones used to rank CVs when they’re parsed through the ATS, so the more instances of keywords you can include, the higher your ranking is likely to be.

Additionally, incorporating keywords also shows that you’re speaking the recruiter’s language and know the relevant terminology.

Tailor your personal statement

Your Personal Statement is the short summary at the top of your CV, introducing yourself and sharing some of your notable successes. It’s your chance to make a positive first impression and immediately show how your career aligns with the recruiter’s requirements.

Choose the parts of your career story that best reflect the recruiter’s needs and emphasise them in your Personal Statement. Prime content to focus on here includes a significant achievement, an in-demand skill or your strong industry experience.

Narrow down your applicable skills

There’s really no need to minutely detail ALL of your skills on your CV. It may seem counterintuitive, but listing every single one of your skills is really not productive. That IT application you used 20 years ago is probably obsolete, and your trombone playing really isn’t relevant to a job in a supermarket.

The job advert told you what leadership skills were key for the role, so those are the ones you should focus on. Be ruthless in removing any which may detract from the message you’re trying to convey. It may hurt a little to hit delete on hard and soft skills that you’ve honed over the years, but remember you still have your master CV – maybe they’ll make the cut next time.

Emphasise relevant experience and achievements

You should have accumulated a list of achievements and awards on your CV from throughout your career. As with your important skills, you now need to focus on the achievements most relevant to your target role.

Don’t let recruiters or hiring managers overlook your suitability by drowning your relevant skills and accomplishments in a long list of irrelevant ones! It’s not about making you seem less talented or valuable ‒ it’s about making sure that HR managers can see that you’re capable of meeting their specific needs.

Tailoring your CV is easy when you know how

Far from being the arduous task you anticipated, just a few quick and simple steps can ensure you’re presenting the strongest possible CV and maximizing your chances of progressing to the next stage of recruitment every time you submit an application. Once you have your master CV in place, it’s simply a matter of making small changes here and there – it can make all the difference.

Remember, the recruiter or hiring manager is looking for someone to fill a specific job. Avoid sending a generic resume or CV. Show that you can do that job, not just any job.