should you put the job title you’re applying for on your resume?

A reader writes:

I find myself unemployed again because I moved with my husband for his work. As part of his relocation package, I’ve been offered the help of a job coach.The first thing my job coach did was retool my resume. This is my first experience using this type of help and I’m on the fence about it. Even though my coach asked me a million questions to tailor my resume (that part I did appreciate), when I got it back, instead of the profile I had, it read “Job Title Goes Here,” followed by a list of keywords and skills.

I have never seen this before and it looks a little weird to me. When asked about it I was told it’s to allow the recruiter to know exactly which job I’m applying for and to frame the rest of the resume so that it shows exactly how my background aligns with that job. Or for networking so that others know what type of work I’m looking for.

Still, it seems a little strange to me, and I’m wondering if I should heed her advice or go back to my original use of a short profile at the top of my resume.

So, my question to you is, should I put the exact job title of the job I’m applying for at the top of my resume?

Nope.

I’ve seen people do that here and there, and while it’s not the worst thing in the world, it does come across a little strangely. Assuming that you’re not actually a Teapot Coordinator II or a Marketing Director or whatever the job title is, it’s a little jarring and presumptuous to see that splashed across the top of your resume as the main headline. Or, if by chance that is your current title, it still is just an odd use of really valuable space.

It’s almost like the old-school (and now thoroughly out of fashion) objectives that you used to see at the top of a resume, which people often used to incorporate the job title they were applying for (“objective: to gain the position of teapot director”).

Also, just listing the title up there in big font does nothing to “frame the rest of the resume so that it shows exactly how your background aligns with that job,” as that job coach claimed. The rest of your resume might show that, and your cover letter hopefully shows that, but slapping a title you don’t currently hold up there doesn’t achieve that.

And in the vast majority of cases, hiring managers don’t need you to put the title there. They know what you’re applying for because you say it in the opening to your cover letter, and often because you applied through an online application system that has already funneled you into the correct place in their applicant pool. And if you’re networking, you’re not just handing people a resume — you’re having a conversation with them.

It’s far more helpful to have a profile at the top of your resume that captures in just a few sentences or bullet points what you’re all about. That truly does frame the rest of your resume though a useful lens (or at least it does if it’s done correctly, as opposed to just summarizing the rest of your resume, although the latter is all too often the case).

Also … that list of keywords and skills she put right below it? Get rid of that. You can put a skills section at the end if it’s truly relevant for the type of work you do (in some cases it is, and in other cases it ends up being little more than filler), but it belongs at the end, not the beginning. Employers want to know what you’ve done, not what your self-assessment is of your traits and skills. People’s self-assessments are notoriously inaccurate, and those keywords and right-at-the-top skills sections tend to be stuffed full of stuff that no hiring manager will take your word for (“visionary leader,” “strong communication skills”) and which you’re far better off demonstrating through your actual accomplishments using said skills, which should go in your work history section.

I’d ignore this person’s advice.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

      1. Artemesia

        I remember an application packet from a potential candidate for VP for Finance of an organization where I was on the hiring committee. It was sort of faux parchment paper with a scrolled border, had his picture in the middle, and the title underneath was Wakeen Finstergoggle Xcorps New VP for Finance.

        What made it even odder than its basic oddness was the guy was really unattractive; it seems odd to lead with your picture unless your picture is going to do you some good. I thought it might be someone’s dissertation — you know send applications that are identical but put pictures of women, black men, Asians, white men and see if the hit rate differs.

        Reply
  1. Wendy Darling

    Everything this person was told to do is also stuff my resume writer from Risesmart insisted I do (and in fact when I sent back a draft with it removed she put it back in). My job coach also insisted I do it. Then I dumped them because other than that all they were doing was sending me “job leads” I’d already found via a search for my desired title on LinkedIn. :/

    Speaking of which, Alison, I was doing some searching for outplacement services and I was SHOCKED to see you’d worked with Risesmart and seemed to think they were okay! My only thought is they must have gone downhill a lot since then because my experience with them was that they gave exclusively advice you would recommend strongly against.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I do periodic webinars on how to interview well for the job-seekers who they work with, but I haven’t seen much of the other work they do so it’s hard for me to comment!

      Reply
      1. Wendy Darling

        I think I was signed up for one of those but ended up not going because I was traveling! I don’t think it was you giving it though, I would have gone to it anyway if it was. :D

        Reply
    2. Dan

      A question for the general readership: Are titles that important? In my field, they’re completely meaningless, so if I restricted a search to a specific title, god only knows what garbage I would get.

      Sure, at the C-Level, they mean something, but TBH, I never would have applied to the position I have now if my “title” was what was on the job ad.

      Yes, it makes job hunting a giant PITA because different places call my job different things, and even stick it in different departments. So more often than not, I have to look through hundreds of jobs at larger companies “hoping” to find a job I’m qualified for. Small companies don’t hire me, unless they specialize in that field and sell consulting services.

      Reply
      1. AnotherHRPro

        Job titles are difficult. Even basic titles like “Director” or “Vice President” can mean very different things at different companies. It can make job searching very hard. It is best to look at the responsibilities and year of experience to get a better idea of the actual job.

        Reply
      2. AnotherAlison

        Conversely, I think job titles are fairly consistent and meaningful in my industry niche. Yea for being in a very traditional field of work (engineering/project management) where there are industry-wide best practices and definitions. It does fall apart at the fringes, though, like when you get into the director/VP roles or our internal information technology group(s). . . no one knows exactly what all those folks are doing. ; )

        Reply
      3. hermit crab

        They’re definitely not useful in my field until you’re maybe a Vice President of something. Some people are analysts who used to be associates, some people are associates who used to be analysts, and different companies have different levels within each of those titles. With a title like “associate” on my business card, it basically looks like I’m a lawyer (and I’m really not).

        Reply
        1. De Minimis

          At my workplace they tend to matter as a way to promote people without actually moving them into a totally new job. The title change comes with a pay increase and a change in duties, though often they will continue with a lot of their tasks from their previous role, though sometimes if they are on a large enough team the title change can also mean passing on more tasks to others.

          It’s good in that it encourages people to stay here and allows them to show career progression.

          Reply
          1. hermit crab

            Oh, titles are definitely meaningful internally where I work. It’s just that when you try to compare across organizations, you don’t get a lot of useful information.

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            1. Anna

              Same. The only people who use my title are people who do my job for the exact same org I work for only in different states. Looking for my title for a job lead gets me nowhere.

              Reply
    3. SusanIvanova

      Yeah, RiseSmart is included in my layoff bundle too. Eventually I need to call them back and tell them to stop leaving me voicemails; I was talking to a recruiter the day the layoffs hit. Since they took out my entire team, we’ve been getting together and those of us who’d been part of the hiring process before have been analyzing our resumes – yes, it lines up a lot with the advice here :)

      Reply
  2. Ad Astra

    This sounds like something that might have been helpful at one specific office that someone knows of, and for some reason that’s been extrapolated to “This is how everyone should do all their resumes.”

    Reply
    1. Wendy Darling

      Every time I start to fall into the trap of questioning whether my resume is okay, I try to think back to when I was actually hiring temps and remember what I cared about. And it’s definitely not the title, half the time I didn’t even read the person’s name until I was done reading their work history to see if they had experience in the stuff we cared about!

      Reply
    2. some1

      I can see how it made sense back in the day when you mailed your resume without a cover letter – but that’s obviously a long time ago.

      Reply
    3. Amy G. Golly

      I was once helping a man type up his resume (I’m a public librarian) and a woman who used to have a job where she fed resumes into a scanner was appalled at the “outdated” advice I was giving the man. The job he was applying for was some sort of technical/mechanical repair-type job (I don’t remember the specifics!) and he’d never really had to put together a resume before. I was helping him type out a general list of “these are the classes/training I’ve had and when, these are the jobs I’ve had and when.” She insisted he needed to put together a resume much like the one the OP is describing here: job title at the top followed by a list of skills. Fortunately, the gentleman I was helping was not swayed by her advice, but now I wonder where she worked and what industry it is that expects this format!

      Reply
  3. JGray

    I agree that a job title goes on your cover letter and not your resume. I have run into situations where companies all have the same name for different jobs (i.e. at one company a job is an admin asst, at another its an office manager, at another its an executive assistant) and so I wouldn’t want to have to tailor my resume to each of these jobs. But the cover letter is the perfect spot to do this tailoring. I start my cover letters to start with the question “What can I contribute to X company in the job of Y?” (Or something similar) and then listing out my qualifications. I also replaced the objective section with a highlight of qualifications at the top of my resume and that has actually gotten me a lot more interviews than the objective ever did. This might not work for everyone depending on what your job market is like but for me this is helped a lot.

    Reply
  4. Clever Name

    I would only do this if a company specifically says to note which job you’re applying to /requisition number in the application instructions. Otherwise, I think it would look weird.

    Reply
  5. VX34

    While I find the “Job title” part of the advice a bit strange, I would like to point out that for the job that I now hold, when I applied for it, I took the time to match up word-for-word some key competencies that were being asked for in the job ad, and specifically used that language at the bottom of my resume before applying.

    I had actually not been doing this to my resumes for lots of other jobs, but I did it for this one.

    It was the quickest turnaround from “I applied via their online system” to “Real contact with hiring personnel” ever.

    Might it be a “Your Mileage May Vary” situation? Maybe. But in the days of automation and screeners, and whatever your opinion thereof, I would say that it might make a difference depending on the job and the company.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      This is the reason I would customize a resume for every job I applied for. Look for the keywords in the ad, and rewrite my actual qualifications & accomplishments to include those words. I think it would pay off.

      And it sure wouldn’t hurt!

      Reply
      1. VX34

        I have done this before, but it wasn’t until this particular ad where I actually saw a list like this, read the list, said to myself “I have these qualities, and can prove it” and put them, verbatim, at the end of my resume.

        I would not advise just dumping key words or phrases willy-nilly in one’s application or resume, just adding that I believe that this particular step helped me get my foot in the door. Sometimes that’s all it takes!

        Reply
    2. newreader

      In the organization where I work, hiring committees must document each candidate’s qualifications against the job ad, so using the same terminology from the ad on a resume can aid a candidate in getting further in the search process.

      Reply
  6. TootsNYC

    I got sent to an outplacement firm once, and every time I came in w/ a new version of my resume, my “coach” would tell me to change it.

    This was in the days of retying and photocopying–nobody had home computers then. So every time I redid my resumé, I opened myself up to a typo. Deadly for anybody, but ESPECIALLY deadly for a proofreader or copyeditor.

    I finally actually raised my voice and got vehement. “My resumé organization was getting me interviews before I ever showed it to you, and I am NOT going to redo it again. I run the risk of having an error because I’m futzing with it. This is the end. It is good enough.”

    I think what happens is that these people find themselves bored by the basic advice; they think it doesn’t seem fancy enough to justify their charges, or their time, or something. So they make shit up.

    Reply
    1. the gold digger

      My dad asked me to proofread his (original copy, typed by hand) resume in the 80s.

      I corrected the spelling of “maintenance.” Only, then, as just now, before spellcheck warned me, I corrected it to the wrong spelling. In pen. On an original copy. Of a typed by hand resume.

      Uffda.

      Reply
  7. TheReader

    I’m the reader that sent in this question. I’m so very glad that I’m not the only one who found this advice strange. I also didn’t really buy her reasoning for including it. Good to know that I can change it back and will be helping myself while I ignore her advice guilt free!

    Reply
  8. entrylevelsomething

    I work in theatre and this is fairly common for my world- but that’s because it’s mostly freelance, and cold-mailing resumes is expected and common.

    Reply
    1. SusanIvanova

      “verbs such as increased, decreased, improved, reduced, etc., are what we are looking for. … Every bullet point in your success resume must include a number expressed in dollars, percentages, or a simple, “plain old”, straight-up number. ”

      This seems highly specialized; none of this applies to anything I’ve ever done as a software engineer. My verbs are more like “designed, implemented” and there are no numbers attached – I’m sure sales numbers exist, but getting them out of upper management is like pulling teeth. And if I saw a job title on a resume, I’d assume it was the title they had!

      Reply
  9. Kitty

    I’m probably a bit late on this but I’ve also been seeing advice about listing a fairly standard version of your current job title followed by a one sentence branding (for lack of a better word) sentence that proceeds a “qualifications” section done with bullets. Something like:

    Quality Assurance Engineer
    Helping to keep children’s toys safe for nearly a decade.

    Qualifications:
    – 9 years experience …
    – served as lead QA engineer on x# of products
    – etc…

    Is this basically the same thing being discussed here? It doesn’t make sense to me to list a job title I’m applying for but it does make some sense to list my current position. Thoughts?

    Reply
  10. Monty

    “Also … that list of keywords and skills she put right below it? Get rid of that. You can put a skills section at the end if it’s truly relevant for the type of work you do (in some cases it is, and in other cases it ends up being little more than filler), but it belongs at the end, not the beginning.”

    I work and hire in IT and have worked for several large, household name companies. Having a skills section at the beginning is actually extremely helpful in technical fields – being able to see at a glance if a candidate has particular software experience and/or relevant certifications helps establish who is truly a viable candidate. It can get even more specialized in certain healthcare IT situations, as having specific experience with particular electronic medical record platforms is usually a make-or-break situation, e.g. knowing the underpinnings of, say, Epic versus McKesson isn’t the same as being able to grok your way around SQL Server if you already know Oracle. Obviously, these skills sections need to be taken with a grain of salt – as Alison says, self-assessments are often inaccurate – but if, say, we’re looking for a database administrator, we might need someone who knows Hadoop or MySQL or PostgreSQL, and someone playing around with Access doesn’t cut it. If you’ve been in IT for awhile, you might have worked with some tools at one place, and other tools at another, and I’ve seen great candidates weeded-out of the candidate pool by HR because someone might not have worked with our specific platform in their last position, even though they had it in prior positions. Having those technical skills in a summarized, digestible list goes a long way.

    Just saying – at least in the IT shops I’ve worked in, if your skills list is a list of actual compelling facts, like years of experience and responsibilities with industry specific technologies, that makes it really, really easy for us to want to talk to you.

    Reply
    1. KD

      Question for you. My husband is trying to get a new job in IT. Specifically moving from a retail desktop support role to something enterprise. His resume lists the technologies he works with in a very general sense (think just listing “Windows operating systems” for XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10, and several variations of server). Is this a good idea or should he be listing everything he has worked on in detail?

      P.S. Not sure why some companies are still running XP since its no longer supported and is as secure as an unlocked door but it’s shown up on quite a few of the listings he is applying for.

      Reply
      1. SusanIvanova

        Why XP: Legacy apps that they need but which haven’t been updated – for a worst case scenario, Paris Orly airport had to close for a few hours recently because of some software that only runs on Win 3.1!

        “Windows operating systems” could be enough if he mentions what he’s done with them – which software, did he work on configuring and setup, what specifically he knows about servers vs desktop. I wouldn’t mention the different desktop versions, but I would mention server.

        Reply

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