DePaul University Career Center's Blog

Like Buttons on a Coat: Tailoring Resumes for the Right Audience

By: Gina Anselmo, former career advisor for the DePaul University College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences

When considering tailoring a traditional resume to a more industry-specific and customized document, you want to think about what I call ‘buttons on a coat.’ Buttons on a coat is a phrase I usually say to my students to help them visualize how they want the reader to quickly form associations of their skills and value for a certain position and field. To make the best case for yourself, it is important to consider categories that steer the viewer to organize and seek recognition of key skills and experiences.

Back to Basics – Traditional vs. Customized

  • Traditional Resume – A traditional resume will have some of these basic categories: Contact information, education, work or internship experiences, and skills. While a customized resume will have these too, consider how you unpack your experience section further and can elevate the reader viewing you in a holistic light. In addition, think about all of the ways you stand out with technical and soft skills.
  • Customized Resume – A customized resume will show the reader how you specialize in a particular field. Common customized resumes tend to be created for teaching, counseling, IT, and healthcare fields, but certainly any industry can have a customized resume. The key is to consider which categories on your resume will make the most sense for your particular field and position.

Making Your Case – Resume Check List

In order to make the best case for yourself and strengthen how an employer will see you, it’s important to check yourself and brainstorm a few quick questions before you set your draft in motion:

  • The Bundling Effect: What relevant experiences can you group together? Consider what skills and experiences you want to highlight. For example, do you want them to see the range of teaching-related experiences, program development, or writing experience? Remember, the reader is looking at the document quickly. So, it will be important for you to be strategic and bundle the most relevant experiences together (paid and unpaid). If your experiences are much more broad and highlight different touch points in a particular industry or setting, it might make sense to highlight in a larger umbrella such as “Related Experience” rather than “Teaching-Related Experience.”
  • Pulling in Reinforcements: What other areas do you want to highlight? After you consider how you want to group your experiences (i.e. Teaching-Related Experience and Professional-Related Experience) think about how you want to close the loop and highlight other experiences and skill sets. For instance, would it make sense to consider sections on special projects, community outreach, related coursework, research experience, leadership, committee work, freelance, etc.?
  • Customizing the Customized: Is it too specific or a fit? Okay, this takes a little soul-searching. Consider how nitty gritty and literal you want to go on your resume. Does it make sense to consider a nitch category on your resume such as “Sustainability-Related Experience” or “Higher Education Experience?” Remember, not one size will fit all and you will want to consider if that nitch category makes sense when you share to multiple employers. Also, consider if it makes sense to just group it by work environment; is it really making a case for what skills you can offer to the perspective position or is it just sharing that you have been in a similar environment. Consider groupings that make the best case for skills and experiences first.

Show it to Your Sidekick

Finally, after you complete your industry-specific resume, be sure to share it with trusted sources in the industry and advising professionals specialized in reviewing these documents. It always helps to get a fresh perspective and hear how others are interpreting and viewing your skill sets. Guide the conversation and ask them what skills and experiences are clear, what is missing, and what information might still be unclear. Remember, if you share your resume with 10 different people, be prepared to get 10 different opinions! Weigh all recommendations and consider which suggestions make the most sense for you.

My Advice to You When Developing Your Customized Resume

Don’t worry if you feel like you’re playing musical chairs when crafting your customized resume. A benefit of creating an industry-specific resume is that you are highlighting different experiences and skills depending on the role and industry. What might fit into a “related” section might change and what is elevated in one resume might be more muted in another. Keep your customized resume fluid and edit your document in a way that gives you the best advantage for each new opportunity!

Are you interested in strengthening your customized resume? You can meet with a career advisor who specializes in supporting your college. You may also consider checking out our online college resume packets and connecting with an ASK mentor for advice!

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