Fitting Your Resume To The Job Listing

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So you stumble across a job that sounds interesting…what do you pay attention to? If you’re like most job seekers, you might skip straight to the qualifications to see if you’re qualified, skim the rest of the document, then send in your application, right? Well, if you do this, you’re likely missing out on clues that can help you craft a stand-out resume.

To ensure you don’t miss any key information, use this checklist with your resume handy (and even your cover letter!). You might be surprised by what you learn about the organization, the job, and your own skills!

Read through the entire job listing and locate the following:

  • Organization description and mission
  • Job responsibilities
  • Qualifications and skills
  • Candidate attributes and characteristics
  • Keywords and key lingo
  • Application instructions and deadlines

Note that there is overlap in some of these categories (for example, how the attributes and characteristics are written might also be examples of an organization’s “key lingo”). That being said by pulling out these specific elements, you can identify different ways of demonstrating your fit.

Organization description and mission

This part of the job description can give you a picture of what the organization is like (size, location, history) and why it exists (its mission and purpose, the community it serves).

Read about the organization and its mission:

  • How does the organization describe its work and community?
  • What population does it serve?
  • How does it do its work?
  • Why does it do its work?

When crafting your resume and cover letter, use the information you find to address your experience with the population the organization serves and your familiarity with its work and community.

For example, maybe you’ve worked in the cause area of the organization and are compelled by the mission. To make your experience and commitment clear, you might include a sentence in your cover letter demonstrating your familiarity and desire to further that particular cause. As one HR professional told us, when reviewing cover letters they often wonder, “What about the mission of the organization is appealing to [the candidate]?”

Job responsibilities

This section of the description gives insight into the types of tasks you will have at the organization.

Compare the responsibilities listed to your previous experience and accomplishments:

  • Which of your accomplishments most relate to the job functions listed?
  • How can you produce similar results at this organization?
  • In which areas are you missing experience and how can you supplement?
  • Which aspects of the role are you familiar with and excited about?

Matching your job responsibilities and accomplishments to the ones for the job you’re applying to is always a key strategy in writing an effective resume. Customize your document to showcase your most relatable experience, skills, and accomplishments. Here are some steps on how to create a tailored resume.

Qualifications and skills

Job listings will outline the knowledge and experience necessary to do the job. Typically, job seekers are not required to have all the qualifications or skills listed in order to be considered for the position, so don’t count yourself out too soon!

Take inventory of the skills and qualifications listed:

  • Identify the hard skills (e.g. Quickbooks, language skills, graphic design) needed.
  • Take note of the soft skills (communication, time management) needed.
  • What knowledge or experience is necessary to do the job? Do you have it?
  • How did you use these skills in the past and what were your results?
  • Which skills are you missing and how can you supplement?
  • Determine the transferable skills that you will use to excel at this job.

If the employer is using an ATS (Applicant Tracking System), it is in the qualifications and skills sections that you’re likely to find the keywords (more on that below!). Also, there are a few ways to demonstrate your understanding or mastery of a skill or qualification: If a certain degree is required you can highlight it in your education section, or if the description lists proficiency in a language or technical skill, you might add “Bilingual English/Spanish” or “HTML” to your skills section.

Keep in mind that some skills—like project management or communications—broadly fall under the category of “transferable skills.” Meaning, different kinds of experience offer you the ability to strengthen these skills, so you may have more experience than you think! Learn more about transferable skills here.

Candidate attributes and characteristics

Attributes and characteristics help identify organizational fit and may be listed throughout the job description. For example: ambitious, achievement-oriented, cooperative, enthusiastic, diplomatic, and assertive.

Read through the entire job listing:

  • What are the attributes and characteristics listed in the description?
  • Which ones describe you? Think about examples from your past work history that depict you as having those attributes and characteristics.
  • Take note of the attributes listed and what they say about the culture and organization’s needs.

Once again, making a strong match between what the organization is looking for and yourself is essential. By using the attributes and characteristics from the job description on your application, you show the employer that you’re a match, and also that you are aware of what makes their organization tick!

A great example of this is a listing we found that stated candidates, “must be able to go from A to Z and beyond.” It is a clever way for the organization to state that a prime candidate would be one who is conscientious, meticulous, and goes the extra mile. You may want to use the same phrase when you craft your cover letter or simply share results that indicate your ability to go above and beyond.

Keywords and key lingo

Keywords are those which show up in the job description repeatedly. The term “keyword” can also refer to hard skills (such as Quickbooks or proficiency in a language). Key “lingo” refers to the words the organization uses to help give a picture of its culture and “personality.”

Familiarize yourself with the keywords used throughout the description:

Identify cultural fit by locating the “lingo” used in the job listing:

  • Pay attention to the language and “tone” used in the job description to get a sense of the organization’s culture and values.
  • Ask yourself, “Is this a good fit for me?” (Take what you discovered via the rest of your analysis into account as well.)

We already touched upon the importance of keywords as they are presented in the “qualifications” and “skills” sections. Key lingo would be another strategic add to your resume — it might be as simple as using “organization” instead of “company.” When you talk in the same “language” as the organization, you are adding another layer to showing how you’re a great match!

Application instructions and deadlines

Read through this section to familiarize yourself with the application documents you will need and take note of any deadlines.

After paying attention to other clues of the job description, it might be easy to overlook the instructions! But this is the biggest pet peeve of many hiring managers so keep the following in mind:

  • Be sure to apply as directed. For example, if there is an online application to fill out, complete it rather than sending only your resume via email.
  • Submit all required documents on (or preferably, before) the deadline date if one is mentioned.

By following this checklist, the application that you submit should be more polished, detailed, and eye-catching to the employer by focusing on their needs.

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About Author

Throughout my 15+ year career in resume writing, career coaching, higher education, and working with nonprofit job seekers, I’ve used an approach that is nurturing yet practical and driven to achievement. As Audience Development and Content Manager at Idealist for our online publication, Idealist Careers, I bring relevant tips to today's social impact job seekers and career changers with sensitivity towards the challenges they face. I also am the writer of our career advice column, "Ask Victoria". Understanding the roles that a positive outlook and holistic self-care play in career success, I share with our readers time-honored methods for improving confidence and productivity. Have a question? Ask at askvictoria@idealist.org. Follow me on Twitter @_AskVictoria.

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