How to Customize Your Resume (Without Driving Yourself Crazy), with Louise Kursmark

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 164:

How to Customize Your Resume (Without Making Yourself Crazy), with Louise Kursmark

Airdate: November 7, 2018

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the publisher of Mac’s List, an online community that connects talented professionals with meaningful work.

I believe everyone can find a job they love. But to do that, you need to learn the skills to build a successful career. From professional networking to personal branding, you’ve got to get good at job hunting.

This show helps you do this. Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I talk to a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find your dream job.

Before we get started, though, I want to ask a favor.

I want to give you the most useful job search advice I can. To help do this, we’re doing a short listener survey.

We want to know what you like and don’t like about the show. And we want to hear your ideas for topics we should cover in future episodes. We also want to get to know you better.

It’s a quick poll with just a handful of questions. I’d be grateful if you filled it out. And you’ll eligible to win a $50 Amazon gift card. Go to macslist.org/findyourdreamjobsurvey.  And please let us hear from you by November 20, 2018.

Thanks in advance. And now let’s get back to the show!

Our guest this week is Louise Kursmark. She’s an expert in resumes who helps you tell your career story through powerful branded documents.

Louise admits she feels strongly about the need to customize a resume for every job application. The people who do this, says Louise, have a huge advantage over job seekers who rely just on a generic resume.

So why don’t people use custom resumes? You may worry about the time it takes. Perhaps it just sounds too complicated. Or maybe you just don’t know how to get started.

Louise says you can create a custom resume quickly. And you can do this with methods familiar to all of us.

Her advice includes using old-fashioned tools like yellow highlighters. But Louise also emphasizes that the best resumes come from people who have clear goals.

Would you like to learn more? Join me in the Mac’s List studio as I talk with Louise Kursmark about how to write a custom resume without driving yourself crazy.

Now let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Louise Kursmark.

Louise Kursmark is one of the leading resume and LinkedIn profile writers in the United States. And she was the first person worldwide to earn the prestigious Master Resume Writer credential.

Louise is a six-time Best Resume award winner. And she has written more than 20 career books, most recently “Modernize Your Resume” and “Modernize Your Job Search Letters.”

She joins us today from Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Louise, thanks for being on the show.

Louise Kursmark:

Hi, Mac, nice to talk with you.

Mac Prichard:

It’s great to talk with you and our topic this week, as you know, is how to customize your resume without driving yourself crazy. When you and I were planning this interview you said, “Well, you know, I kind of get up on a soapbox about this topic,” so you feel, I know, strongly about it, Louise.

Let me start by asking you, why shouldn’t job seekers send in the same resume for every application?

Louise Kursmark:

Well, job search today is kind of a complicated process because first, for most people, the consideration is, “How is my resume going to stack up against all of the other candidates coming in, flooding in, through the electronic floodgates in response to a posted opening?”

When your resume comes across the transom in that way it’s really just a matter of how well do you, in the content of your resume, match up against the job requirements and every other candidate? Because the employer is going to select only a couple of people to interview from the dozens, maybe hundreds, of resumes they receive.

You have to be a great candidate on paper before you get the opportunity to be a candidate in person. That’s the number one reason that it’s important to customize.

The other reason or something to think about is, if you create a resume that describes who you are, what you do well, your ideal position, and it does not match the job posting, no matter how great that resume is, you’re not going to look like you are an ideal candidate.

Mac Prichard:

Louise, those are great reasons but my experience has been, and I’m guessing you see this, too, many people don’t customize their resumes. Why is that?


Louise Kursmark:

Well, it’s kind of time-consuming and kind of tedious. They do the resume once, and it takes a lot of time and effort to create a good resume, and then they think, “Well, this is close enough. This is good enough. I’ll think I’ll just send this one in.”

You know, Mac, in a way they’re kind of right. Because…I’m just contradicting myself, I realize that…because most people would be much better off spending their time reaching out to individuals through their network to get in front of a hiring manager in person. Or to make a connection at a hiring company. Rather than simply blasting out resume after resume after resume and sitting there waiting for the responses that often don’t come.

I am a little bit divided on the advice because yes, you should customize to keep your chances as high as possible but you also need to recognize that your chances are pretty slim. You’re just enhancing them a little bit when you customize.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about what you touched on a moment ago, which is a common strategy for many job seekers, which is to play a numbers game. They say, “Okay, I’m going to spend X number of hours today looking at public postings and then I’m going to send out X number of resumes, and eventually, the odds will work in my favor and I’ll get an interview. It might take me several hundred applications but that’s okay.” Why isn’t that a good strategy?

Louise Kursmark:

Well, I’m not saying it’s a bad strategy. I certainly think that a job seeker should spend a little bit of time every day or every week perusing openings and sending out resumes that we can talk about customizing. Yes, you should do that but that is such a limited and small part of the job market.

If you talk to people, you will find that many people have an experience of getting hired in a method other than submitting a resume. They got referred, they got recruited, you know, their mother’s friend told them the company was hiring. Or they were looking at a company and they found out that they knew someone so they made a phone call and had a conversation that led to a referral. So often it is outside of the structured process of submitting resumes that people actually get jobs. Because your chances of meeting with a person and having an interview are exponentially higher when you do that.

I think a little bit of time, playing the numbers game isn’t a bad thing. It certainly gives you exposure to lots of different job descriptions. It gives you information about what companies are hiring and yes, you might get lucky every now and then and score an interview. All that is good. Just don’t stop there because you will spend a lot of time in frustration and you will spend a lot more time in the job search than you need to.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Well, let’s talk about customizing resumes. What kind of revisions do you typically recommend, Louise?

Louise Kursmark:

I like to start with a resume on one side. I’m an old-fashioned person so I’m going to print one out, not just use it on screen. I have a resume and I have a job posting, so I take my yellow highlighter…again, very old-fashioned…and I highlight the keywords that I see in that job posting. I look at the resume. Did I meet most of those terms? Did I include those words in my document? Because if they’re not in there, my resume will not be selected. It’s pretty much as simple as that. Start with that. Look at the job posting, match it up with your resume and see, “I have this experience but I haven’t mentioned it.” Or, “I haven’t used this term but I used something that was similar. Let me just change it to match the term that the employer is using.”

Start with that. Match your resume to the job posting as closely as you can. Of course, you need to be truthful. You can’t make up experience that you don’t have but that will tell you if you are even going to be a good candidate in that very first scan.   

Mac Prichard:

So, you do that and I, just a digression, I have got to say, I followed that advice myself in my career about twenty-five years ago when I first came to the west coast and I was having difficulty getting a job in state and local government. Even though I had masters in public administration from Harvard. Somebody took pity on me at the Oregon Employment Department and said, “What you need to do is…” exactly what you just described, Louise. She said, “Take out the highlighter and look at the position description, mark the keywords and again, be truthful but make sure that you’re using those phrasings.” Remarkably, I started getting interviews right away and eventually, within a month or two, I got a job offer.

Louise Kursmark:

Exactly. It’s the first step. You have to look like you match the job description which sounds simple. You would think that the person reading it would be able to interpret some of the information on your resume. Of course, when it gets in front of a human being, that could happen but the first scan, nowadays, is completely done by applicant tracking systems automated scanners that are just looking for those keywords. Actually, not just keywords, Mac, it’s even a little more complex than that because they’re looking for keywords in context, evaluating length of experience, they may be looking at other factors that are not necessarily spelled out in the posting but that the employer has factored into the search. The better you match, the higher your chances are. Spend some time to do that.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so you find those keywords and incorporate them truthfully into your resume. What other changes or tweaks do you recommend people consider making?

Louise Kursmark:

Well, I think a lot of times, when people start looking for a job, particularly a new graduate, someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience, but even true for people who do have experience, they are afraid to get specific. They start off being very broad and trying to appeal to a lot of people. They write a resume that is truthful and hopefully positive and all the good things that you want to include, but that is kind of broad. Then, even if they have the correct keywords, if their experience does not look focused enough, sharp enough, clear enough, to the person reading it, they’re not going to look like a great candidate.

Start by creating your objective. What is it you want to do? What is a resume that is going to make you look like an ideal candidate for your dream job? Start with that, because if you try to be everything to everyone, you really don’t look like you are that special to anyone. It’s not a great resume.

Start with a focus. Then, as we talked about earlier, look at the job postings for that specific job and match them up.

In all likelihood, you might need to have several different versions of your resume, or maybe variations on the types of positions you’re looking for. An example would be if you are an accountant but would also consider something in pure accounting, and maybe something in financial analysis. They are going to require the same educational background and a lot of the same skills but you don’t want one resume to look like you are trying to cover all the bases. Write one for each focus. That way you look like that really strong candidate.

Mac Prichard:

What would you say, Louise, to listeners who say, “Well, I want to keep all my options open? I don’t want to close any doors.”

Louise Kursmark:

I do hear that a lot and what I’m getting from that is that they are fearful. They are afraid that they are going to miss out on opportunities because they have been too specific. What happens is, you end up not being specific enough and then you are not getting any calls for anything.

Also, to take some of the fears away, I like to tell people, “This is not your final and only decision in your career.” We’re, first, going to go for the job that you really want. We’re going to go for that. If you are not able to find or get interviews on that, or you are not getting a lot of postings or getting referrals, okay, what can be my second option? Then go from that.

You are not making a lifetime, once in a lifetime decision, so take away the fear and say this is my objective for now. Then, I’ll look at it in a couple of weeks and reassess so that it’s not final and kind of scary.

Mac Prichard:

I’m hearing you encourage people to have, not only if they do want to pursue one, two, or maybe even three objectives. Is it important, Louise, to craft a resume for each of those objectives?

Louise Kursmark:

It is. You typically won’t have to rewrite the whole resume. Start with objective number one and write a great resume that is very clearly focused on it. Leave off the things that are not relevant for that type of job. Then look at that resume from the perspective of your second objective.

Maybe you’ll have to add a few things or move some things around but you are not starting from scratch. It’s not as overwhelming as it might seem to have to create these different versions. It should be a fairly straightforward process. If you really think about, what is the hiring manager for this job most interested in doing?

Mac Prichard:

I can imagine listeners wondering about the amount of time it takes to do these kinds of revisions. Say you’ve got your basic resume and you’re clear about your objective but you do want to tweak it, typically how much time does that take, Louise?

Louise Kursmark:

It’s hard to say exactly how much time it should take. Most of the time you’re not doing a complete rewrite. You’re really just refocusing. Maybe adding some new information or rearranging some information. Then, you’ll have version number two for that particular position you’re going after. That target number two.

A good example of how to do that would be, let’s say you are in sales and you have in the past and might be interested in, sales management as well as sales. You could lead a sales team or you could just be the individual producer.

On resume number one, your first job target is sales. You’re going to highlight all your sales numbers and you might briefly mention you’ve had some responsibility managing a team. You go to create version number two for sales manager and all of that managing teams stuff moves up to the top and takes even more importance. Of course, your sales results are still important.

They’re going to stay on the resume. You might just have to flip the order. Or add in a bullet point about managing a team in another position that you might have left out in the first version. It’s not like you’re totally rewriting. You’re not… unless your objectives are so very different that they don’t have any relation to each other. That’s pretty rare.

It should just be a matter of taking the one you have and then looking at it from the perspective of objective number two and seeing what changes you might need to make to make you look like a great candidate for that job number two.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so it comes back to that foundational work that you mentioned earlier. Being clear about your objective or narrowing your search to one, two, or three objectives and building resumes that support those. Once you’ve done that, you’re tweaking here and there but it’s not as if you’re writing resumes from scratch.

Louise Kursmark:

That’s right.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, good.

We want to take a pause right now, Louise, and when we come back I want to tap into your knowledge about resumes. Because obviously you, in addition to knowing about customization, you know a lot about what makes for a successful resume. I want to draw out of that.

So bear with us and we’ll be back in a moment.

Three weeks ago you saw a posting for your dream job. It was perfect.

You put together your application. And you got even more excited after you finished. Now, it’s been almost a month since you hit the send button.

And today you received an email saying you didn’t get an interview.

Sometimes people get this bad news because of a simple resume mistake. We’ve had thousands of companies post jobs on Mac’s List, so I talk to hiring managers all the time.

Employers tell us one of the first things they do when reviewing applications is to look for a reason to say no. And a bad resume — even one with a typo, for example — makes it easy to move someone to the reject pile.

I don’t want to see this happen to you. That’s why I created the digital guide, Don’t Make These 8 Killer Resume Mistakes.

It’s a free publication and it’s just 10 pages long. But in those 10 pages, I show you the most common resume errors employers tell me they see all the time.

Set yourself up for success. Go to macslist.org/resumemistakes.

Write a resume that gets you more interviews! Get your free copy today. Go to macslist.org/resumemistakes.

Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s list studio and we’re talking today with Master resume writer, Louise Kursmark.

Louise, before the break we were talking about how to customize the resume and I really liked your points about being clear about your job search objectives and having those basic foundational documents in place. Whether it’s one or two or three different resumes to support with their varied objectives.

Let’s talk about when…about what makes for a good resume. If you’re… what are the key elements that people need to pay attention to?

Louise Kursmark:

I guess I might start by saying what I think is a problem that I see in many resumes. Then if people can avoid those, they’ll have a better resume. One of the main problems that I see is people focus too much on their job activity. In other words, their job description. “I was hired to do this and this is what I did all day. These are my responsibilities.” While that information can certainly include important keywords and describe the kind of work that you do it, says nothing about how well you did your job.

I like to minimize those descriptions and just briefly cover the territory of what the job entailed and spend much more of the space on the resume describing individual achievements. Success stories, times when you took initiative, how you made a difference to your company or your customers. Those are very specific. They’re very unique to you so no one else is going to have them.

They illustrate to an employer the value that you brought, what you do on the job, how well you perform your job, and what you’re going to do for that company when you get hired by them. They’re much more valuable on the resume than simply reciting job descriptions that anyone applying for that job probably has.

Mac Prichard:

Can you give us some examples of how best to document those achievements? Are you talking about statistics?

Louise Kursmark:

Yeah, sure. One thing that I really like to do is ask yourself when you are writing your description, “Why was I hired? What was the problem? What was the situation that was going on at this organization when I was brought in?” Was it because sales had slumped and they needed to replace someone on the team? Was it because they were expanding into a new territory? Was it because they had a problem with customer service and they brought in someone they thought could be more beneficial? What did they hire me to do?”

Was it high-level financial responsibility? When you can frame what you did in the context of what you were asked to do or what the situation was that existed before you got there versus after you got there, then you have that success story.

Oftentimes, you will have numbers and statistics and other concrete data to support your statement about how valuable you were. It just makes it easier when you think about the context to create the story.

Mac Prichard:

Why does that matter more to employers? Don’t they also care about credentials? Or the title? Or the responsibilities you had at your past jobs?

Louise Kursmark:

They do care about that as well. Yes, you need to show job titles. Every employer is looking for a different package of stuff in a hire. They put into their job description all the things they would like to have. You know, a certain level of education, certain career progression, number of years of experience. Most people who are going to be successful in applying for those jobs are going to have all of that.

When you go in as a candidate, if you have only the bare requirements for the job, you’re not really going to stand out against the others. If you have all those, the pieces of data, the credentials, the experience, the job titles, maybe even the type of company or industry you worked in, and in addition to that you have examples of how well you did your job and how you helped your company to be more successful, that’s going to make you a stand out candidate. Someone who can prove it and not just claim to have done something.   

Mac Prichard:

You’ve spent a lot of time working on resumes; that’s been an important part of your career but I was struck at the start of our conversation by the importance you put on doing things other than sending in resumes and looking at public postings. Can you talk more about that, Louise? Particularly the amount of time that people should spend responding to public postings versus doing other activities in the search.

Louise Kursmark:

Sure, and you know, I do spend…my job is writing resumes so of course, I think they’re important. I can certainly talk about why, in addition to having a great resume, I think the process is valuable but it’s a tiny piece of the puzzle.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re in a job hunt. Let’s say you’re not working. If that’s the case you should be spending a full day’s work working on your job search. Let’s call it six hours a day, maybe you can’t do it for eight hours. When you have six hours in a day, you might work on your resume. You might prepare for an interview. You might send out some new resumes. Of course, you need to be thinking about, “Who can I talk to about my profession? About companies that I’m interested in.”

You need to spend time identifying people to talk to. Reaching out to those people, following up with people, following up on meetings that you’ve had or conversations that you’ve had. It’s really a pretty involved process versus sitting down at your computer and dashing off ten or twenty resumes and then going on about your day.

If you really want to have a successful search, you’re going to spend the time to investigate where you’d like to work, the kind of companies you’d like to work at, where you can find the culture that most interests you, where people work who can have a conversation with you about the kind of work your interested in, and maybe help you with a referral.

All of those things require going beyond the postings. Using the telephone, using email, using tools like Linkedin where you can find connections to people. Looking back through your past work history and your personal connections to figure out where people are and how they might be able to give you some advice or some assistance.

All that is a very involved process that the… in my profession we call it “job search.” Job search coaching is a profession that many resume writers do that as well. I personally don’t offer that service but you can work with a coach if you really get stuck and just can’t seem to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other at the beginning of your job search week.

You can also find lots of support at local networking meetings. Or in Massachusetts, we call them the one-stop centers. The state service centers where they help the unemployed. Lots of different resources are available too; colleges and career research centers. Not just for new grads but also for alumni.

Think about the resources that will help you, create a plan, and execute the plan. Start your day, your week, with an idea of how you’re going to invest time and not just simply zap out the resumes. Then, as I said earlier, get very discouraged when you don’t hear back from hardly any of them.

Mac Prichard:

I’m glad you made that point because, of course, your business is about helping people with their resumes but I find, and I wonder if you have this experience too, sometimes when I meet with job seekers, the resume… they don’t know how to think beyond preparing the resume and sending it out. I don’t think often they fully understand what you call the job search process and all the work that’s involved. It’s encouraging to hear someone with your background who focuses on resumes emphasize the importance of that.

Louise Kursmark:

I’m glad that you appreciate that because I think it’s really true. One thing that, as I mentioned earlier, regarding the value of creating your resume. Whether you do it yourself by really digging into your background or whether you work with a professional writer on it, when you end up with a great resume, you have a very clear understanding of who you are and what your value is in the market and stories that you want to elaborate on in the interview. Those are all featured in your great resume.

When you go in and have great meetings with people you aren’t simply saying, “Here I am, help me, I need a job.” You’re saying, “Here I am. Here is a synopsis of my value in the marketplace. Here are some of my great success stories. Let’s talk about some of these and how I can bring them to your organization.”

You have just a clearer focus and much more confidence going into the search because you’ve done the work ahead of time. Really think about why you’ve been successful in the past and how you’re going to be successful in the future.

Mac Prichard:

That clarity about your focus, to bring it back to our topic this week, helps you tweak your resume and customize it in a way that requires some work, obviously, and preparation. There is a way to do it without driving yourself crazy though because you did it at homework, haven’t you?

Louise Kursmark:

Exactly. Once you’ve done it a couple of times it becomes easier each subsequent time. Because you know what changes you made the first time and you know kind of where you were able to tweak some the language to make it more customized. I think that each time you do it, it should get easier. Assuming you’re staying in the same family of jobs and not going off the rails in an entirely new direction.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. Louise, tell us what’s next for you?

Louise Kursmark:

Busy writing resumes every day, of course. Lately, I’m working with my writing partner, Wendy Enelow, on an update of our most recent resume book. It’s called “Modernize Your Resume.”

The second edition will be coming out early in 2019. We wrote it a couple of years ago knowing how much resume writing had changed over last five to ten years and a lot of the resume writing books you’ll find on the shelves are not updated. They don’t have the latest information on how people read today, like what kind of information you need to include in a resume and why. How it should look in this day and age, which is a little different than it used to look five to ten years ago.

So we’re updating that. We’re coming out with a second edition of “Modernize Your Resume” in early 2019.

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. I know people can learn more about that book and the other books you’ve written by visiting your website as well as find out more about your services. The address is louisekursmark.com.

Louise, thanks for being on the show today.

Louise Kursmark:

Thank you, Mac, it was a great pleasure to talk with you.

Mac Prichard:

Take care, Louise.

Louise Kursmark:

Thanks, bye.

Mac Prichard:

I enjoyed that conversation with Louise and I hope you did as well. A couple of things stood out to me.

One was, she offered a very practical process for customizing your resume. I loved the point she made that it begins with clarity about your goals. You have to know where you want to go. That’s hard. That’s hard work, but as Louise said, once you get past that and you have a basic resume and you do the customization one, two, three times, it’s still work but it’s not going to seem as overwhelming as it might if you’ve never done it before.

The other point I’m glad Louise made, she’s obviously a very talented and experienced resume writer, was about the importance of job search. Things to do once you’ve finished writing your resume and tweaked it and added it to your application process…packet, rather. It doesn’t stop there. You’ve got to get away from the computer and you’ve got to go out and talk to people.

We talk about that a lot on Mac’s list and this show. As Louise said, so many jobs are filled through word of mouth, through connections made at events, through conversations with former colleagues, or coffee meetings with old grads that you once knew as a student. Tap into that, as Louise encourages you to do.

Speaking of resumes, we want to make sure that in addition to having a good resume and putting the effort into customizing it when necessary, that you’ll also pay attention to resume basics. Again, we see at Mac’s list too many applicants make the same common resume mistakes again and again. Things like poor formatting, not adding contact information, even allowing typos to slip by. You can avoid these pitfalls. Just get my new guide, Don’t Make These 8 Killer Resume Mistakes.

It’s just 10 pages, but in those 10 pages you’ll find a good description of the most common errors employers tell us they see that can sink most resumes and there is also great advice there on how to fix those problems.

Get your free copy today. Go to macslist.org/resumemistakes.

Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.

Join us next Wednesday. Our special guest will be Jan Melnick. She’ll explain how to clinch a job offer. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job

Job seekers who customize their resume for each individual job application have a huge advantage over those who rely on using a single generic resume. It takes less time than you might think to customize your resume and it’s not at all complicated. Our guest this week on the Find Your Dream Job podcast, Louise Kursmark, says that you have to be a great candidate on paper before you can be a great candidate in person. By using simple methods that include a yellow highlighter and a printer, you can customize your resume to make it stand out in the onslaught of resumes an employer receives for every job posting.

About Our Guest

Louise Kursmark is a six-time “Best Resume” award winner and the first person worldwide to win the prestigious Master Resume Writer credential. While Louise feels strongly about customizing your resume for every application, she is also adamant about the need to network. Louise is a prolific author with more than 20 books published, including her latest, Modernize Your Resume” and “Modernize Your Job Search Letters.

Resources in This Episode: