How to Customize Your Resume and Still Highlight Your Personal Brand

How to Customize Your Resume and Still Highlight Your Personal Brand

In previous blog posts, we’ve covered what personal branding is (and is not), and how strengths-based assessments can help you focus and describe to employers the person you really are.

This prompted a question: In an era when the best job-search practice is to custom-build your resume for every job opening, how can you also highlight your uniqueness? Where does personal branding fit in this process?

Susan Joyce of says only a customized resume will get through the seven-second scan that a typical resume receives from a human. Keyword screens in applicant tracking systems make it even less likely that a poorly targeted resume will make it onto a hiring manager’s desk. But once on the desk, you have to stand out to get the interview.

So you need both customization and personal branding of your own fine self. Tune your resume for the specific job opening, then use your cover letter, your social media profiles, your website and other supporting materials, and the interview to highlight your unique strengths.

Joyce’s suggestions:

First, make the resume “Target Job Title” or “Objective” match the title listed in the job description. If it says “Full Stack Engineer,” use that term instead of the more generic “Web Developer.” It’s an easy way to show that you’re paying attention to this specific opportunity, and pragmatically, it helps the employer match you to the actual job you’re applying for.

Second, revise your resume so the skills you have are worded exactly the same as the required skills listed in the req. Note emphasis: the skills you have. Don’t stuff your resume full of tools you don’t know, or barely know, to make the ATS love you. Just describe the tools you do know in a way the ATS is sure to recognize.

Here’s an example: The job listing uses this language: “Advanced knowledge of Python (R and Scala a plus).” Your resume says, “Skilled in all major data analysis tools.” Another data scientist would assume those are the same thing, but an HR person or a machine might not.

A quick revision to “Advanced knowledge of data analysis tools (Python, Scala, R, pandas)” will allow the ATS to match you. More keywords are better than fewer, and including synonyms will help if a screener uses different search terms than the person who wrote the job description.

This tip extends beyond lists of tools and software to how you describe soft skills and other qualifications. If the req asks for “management experience,” don’t say “team leader.” If it asks for “CCP Data Scientist” certification, don’t say “Cloudera Certified Professional.” Use CCP (Cloudera Certified Professional) Data Scientist. If it says “Washington residents only,” write out the state name at least once, as well as WA.

Third, add a box or a bulleted list to the top of the first page, enumerating your most important skills as they relate to the job you’re seeking. This is a great place to use some of those synonyms.

Finally, make sure the job location is referenced near the top of your resume. Don’t use your full address, but indicate “Metro Denver” or “Bay Area” or whatever, whether you live there now or plan to relocate.

Joyce has a step-by-step Resume Customization Cheat Sheet to help you match your accomplishments to the job listing point-by-point. And at The Muse, Aja Frost lists how to describe your experience to emphasize those soft skills employers are always looking for: good communicator, team player, or self-starter.

This kind of customization takes a lot of time, which forces you to limit your job search to the positions you really want and are qualified for, rather than spamming the universe with your resume. And that’s where personal branding really comes in. Make the best case you can, consistent with your ability to deliver. Tell your prospective employer what makes you different, then show them how those differences will help you do a great job for them.

As Stuart Grief, chief HR of Steward Health Care, told CareerBuilder: “What’s important for each candidate to leave me with: What are the two or three things that are truly unique about them? But then, in addition to that, helping me understand how those two or three or four unique things are relevant for Steward Health Care. How are they different and how does that difference apply to the job at hand?”


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