do you need multiple versions of your resume?

A reader writes:

I’ve had a few people ask me if I have more than one version of my resume. I have tried to draft completely different versions, but have found it daunting and so have stuck with the same version, save for minor tweaks to the wording of the brief objective statement. I have had difficulty re-imagining old roles and have largely stuck to the specifics of the job, rather than discussing specifically how a particular job relates to the position I’m applying for (especially if it doesn’t). Functional resume efforts seem to become too generic as well.

I’d appreciate any advice you have on how to constructively write different versions of a resume, especially when having to manually enter information on a “Powered by Taleo” site or having to paste a resume into an electronic system that only allows for plan HTML text instead of a PDF attachment that would allow for boldface type and bullet points.

You don’t need to have multiple versions of your resume, but it makes sense to have multiple versions if you’re applying for a few different categories of jobs, because in that case you’d want to emphasize different things. So if, for example, you do both editing and theater work, and you’ve also done some admin work to pay the bills, you might have an Editor resume, an Theater resume, and an Admin resume — each focusing on the relevant skills. But if you’re only applying for editing jobs, then you only need one version.

However, even if you only have one main version of your resume, it still generally makes sense to tweak that main version based on the job you’re applying to. If the job has a heavy emphasis on X, and your resume only mentions X in passing but you actually have more experience with X than you’ve mentioned, then it makes sense to tweak it to better highlight X for that particular job. You probably don’t need to do that for every single job, but I’d be surprised if there were never any opportunities to modify your resume a bit to better show how you’re a strong match for some positions you’re applying for.

Also, some people find it helpful to keep one “master” resume, which lists everything you’ve accomplished everywhere you’ve ever worked (which could be pages and pages) but then pare that down into one actual resume to send (which should be 1-2 pages), pulling the  pieces from the master version which will present the strongest case for the job they’re applying for. This is a smart way to do it.

Now, some advice you didn’t ask for. You mentioned that you have an objective statement. You need to get rid of that because it’s 2014 and they’re horribly outdated. And you’re right that you shouldn’t be using a functional resume, because those are awful and scream “I’m hiding something” to hiring managers. What you need is a straightforward resume, no objective, organized reverse-chronologically, with bullet points describing what you achieved at each job — with the emphasis on accomplishments, not just job duties.

If you’re in doubt, start here.

{ 51 comments… read them below }

  1. Rachel*

    I had 3 main versions of my resume: one highlighting the program director/strategic leadership side of my jobs, one highlighting the ministry experience/theological leadership side of my jobs and one highlighting the administrative/communication leadership side of my jobs. Working in small non-profits means each of my positions had many sides! I also did the master resume as Alison suggested and it was very easy to not only customize each resume, but to have examples to use in interviews when asked about results.

    1. Anonymous*

      I also have a position that has many different responsibilities. Do you mix the categories or just include foe one depending on the posting. For example, do you put the communication/theological roles on the program director one (further down in the list)?

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      But Alison will remove those, right? (I’m mostly commenting so I get my name back in. Otherwise I’ll forget and post as my job title next time.)

    2. glg*

      LOVE the one about the video resume. Yes, please show us how to make one! As they are clearly worth everyone’s time always for all jobs in perpetuity.

  2. Kerry*

    I’ve had a few people ask me if I have more than one version of my resume.

    Are these people friends or people you’re applying for jobs with? It seems unusual to me that this is something you’d get multiple people asking you about and I’m just wondering what the circumstances are!

    1. Ethyl*

      Based on when I was jobhunting, it is probably just about EVERYONE. This seems like one of those slightly outdated pieces of advice (like “have you tried cold calling?!”) that everyone likes to give you when they find out you are jobhunting that make you want to pull your hair out.

      Like, literally everyone. Parents, parents’ friends, people you talk to in line at the pharmacy, just about every single person you meet on any temp assignment, friends, friends’ parents, the therapist you went to to ask for help with your anxiety (this actually happened to me, did not help my anxiety at all actually)….

      1. Ruffingit*

        I hate the job hunting advice from well-meaning folks who actually don’t know shit about your industry or about finding a job in general because:

        1. They are retired and haven’t job hunted in at least a decade.
        2. They have had the same job for the last 20 + years.
        3. They’ve never had to work for a living (that is, their spouse worked and they stayed home, which is fine, but then they haven’t a clue about job hunting in the real world).
        4. They have the luxury of working to “get out of the house” so finding a job to put a roof over their head and pay for health insurance is of little concern. Thus, they have no clue how to actually look for something that will sustain you.

        I could go on. But yeah, I’ve been there with the well-meaning crowd and it makes you want to kill.

        1. Ethyl*

          Exactly. Thank goodness for AAM, because it really helped me to know I wasn’t crazy, that this was bad, outdated advice, and that there were also things I could be doing better to take control of the hunt.

          I seriously could not freaking believe that therapist — I specifically SAID I wanted help with anxiety, not job hunting, because the anxiety would find something new if it wasn’t the job hunt, and she STILL decided I needed to hear her great advice about cold calling random people. UGH.

          1. Ruffingit*

            That is beyond wrong. The job of a therapist is not to find you a job, it’s to help with your mental health issues. It may be that job issues are part of that and certainly that can be explored, but to offer advice in the context of therapy when you specifically asked for help with anxiety? No, that is wrong. Anxiety sucks and manifests itself all over your life in weird ways sometimes. Solving your job problem will not solve the anxiety problem. If that was the case then you could just power through the anxiety until you found a job. But anxiety is not situational like that for people suffering from clinical anxiety. I hope you’ve been able to find some help, it’s a hard thing to deal with. HUGS!

    2. Malissa*

      I actually had a recruiter ask for three different versions of my resume. But they also gave me specific instructions on what they wanted.

  3. Laufey*

    I used the Master Resume idea when I was job searching – every job, class, and training, ever, with more bullet points then I would need for any resume. It made it much easier and less stressful to think “What should be excluded” as opposed to “What should be included”. Also, since I was creating a new file each time, it made me less likely to send the resume for Company X’s job to Company Z instead.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I did it too, and each permutation of the resume that I sent to that company got a brand new file name. Of course, there were plenty of generic jobs that just got my regular one. It took a lot of reading AAM before I figured out how to do it, though.

    2. Chinook*

      I am another one who has a master resume that I shorten whn job hunting. It has the added bonus of making government security checks easier to fill out. This is also why I have another document that lists every address andd phone number since univesity as well as the dates I used different names (since Quebec doesn’t accept marriage as a legal name change). I rarely have had to use it, but it has been wonderful to have when I neeed it.

    3. Judy*

      I have my master resume set up so the first bullet point under each (older) job is what I leave in the resume almost all the time. Then for those jobs (15+ years ago), I still show employment throughout, but they don’t clutter the resume up with old technologies. I also have the bullet points from when they were “new” resumes, and sometimes, not very often, one of the older jobs has a relevant bullet point to the opening.

    4. ProcReg*

      I have a “Career Management Document”, where I list any accomplishments I have and review it about once per quarter. Then soon, I’ll have an incredibly detailed resume. The idea came from Manager Tools. and AAM have become the Gospel for professional advice, and I tell all my friends about them both.

    5. Anonymous*

      I did this too. Mine was about 7 pages when I only had 3 jobs. But my last job had a really wide variety of job duties. What you say about what should be excluded was so much easier for me too. With ruthless red pen I managed to only include those bullet points that were relevant for each job I applied for.

  4. A Jane*

    The other resume tweak I do is that if the job posting uses a specific phrase, but I call it something slightly different in my resume, I’ll change the wording to match the job description. It happens so rarely though, that I can keep my main resume as is.

  5. Banana*

    I have several resumes that emphasize different aspects of my experience. I work in a very specialized field of engineering and some skills are only interesting to companies in the same field. I also have a more general resume for jobs that have very vague descriptions and one that is oriented toward big companies with non-engineering HR people doing the screening. I try to customize when it seems appropriate. I spend about the same amount of time on my resume as my cover letter for each position (which is down to only about 25 minutes, thanks AAM!).

  6. scrapdog69*

    I have a few versions.

    I have my professional resume that I tweak to the positions at hand. I leave certain things out/on depending on the company, title, industry, etc. Highlight entrepreneurial history for smaller companies.

    I also have an adjunct teaching resume/CV that focuses on teaching with professional work secondary in order.

    Then I have one that focuses on HR skills as that is my goal to go into.

  7. r*

    It’s interesting to see how everyone does it. I have about 4 or 5 slightly different resumes kicking around, and I tend to modify each based on the job posting. Like A Jane (above) I tweak the language itself to match the phrasing in the job description. I also add/remove bullets based on the activities highlighted in the job description. As background, I’m applying for positions in the same industry that all involve A, B, C, and D, but some positions are primarily D, with some background in A, B, and C required.

  8. T.*

    For the times when you can only use a plain text resume, I recommend dropping your resume into Notepad and cleaning it up. Having a plain text file saved like that can help speed things along in the online application process and you can avoid the headache of having to re-format your resume each time you Copy/Paste it into employers’ systems.

    1. themmases*

      I was going to recommend the same thing! This is also great for other types of forms that want to know about just specific accomplishments.

      For example, yesterday I was filling out a grad school application with separate text boxes asking about publications and awards. I was just able to copy and paste those individual sections, with or without titles as appropriate.

      I really recommend manually updating the text file, though. It took a long time for me to remove all the weird spacing from copying and pasting my whole CV into Notepad, and I don’t want to do it again!

  9. glg*

    This is random, but this post made me think of it: should I be listing my address on my resume? Right now I only list the general locations of the companies I’ve worked for (city, state), but nothing beyond that. I used to include my address, back when I had just moved cities; I wanted to signal that I was local even if my experience wasn’t. But at this point I have several years of experience in my city to the point where it should be clear that I am local and I don’t want to take up space on my resume with my address.

    1. r*

      I have no idea what’s right, but I switched to using just the city and state instead of my full address. Someone (perhaps on this site?) had mentioned potential safety issues with using a full address, and while I doubt that’s really a major concern, I weighed the benefits of using the address vs. removing it and figured I could use the extra space anyway!

      1. glg*

        Yeah, that works I think. Plus, with the address, there have been times when I’ve jumped around from apartment to apartment rather quickly.

      2. louise*

        IIRC, it had been hypothetically suggested that it could be a safety threat, but it was the revelation of the resumes that were inadvertently posted online a couple weeks ago that showed us just how much of a safety threat it could be to include your home address.

        1. cecilhungry*

          Plus, you get about two extra lines of space by eliminating the address! (I do think it’s a good idea if otherwise your resume suggests you’re not local.)

  10. Felicia*

    I have 3 different versions emphasizing slightly different parts of my experience. They’re not all that that different from each other, just some slight tweaks. I think that was my struggle when I first heard of the concept. I thought they all had to be totally different from each other or for some reason I had to change my resume every single job. I realized it’s not as extreme as i’d been thinking

  11. Chocolate Teapot*

    I do the same as Felicia above, as some job descriptions will place more emphasis on particular skills and experience.

    For example, a PA role might request experience of diary management, whereas an office Manager Position might ask for experience in handling suppliers.

        1. cecilhungry*

          OK, that makes sense. I was thinking some sort of bizarre “Remember to remember to write in your Dreams Journal” nonsense.

  12. brightstar*

    I have about three resumes that I use regularly: one for writing and editing, one for legal assistant positions, and my “regular” resume that has all these on it but is still only 2 pages long. I also have a text version of the regular resume for online application systems.

    I found it didn’t take too long to differentiate the three resumes, it’s mostly just highlighting the skills.

  13. CTO*

    I have sometimes gotten mailed rejections from places I applied to online or via email. It may seem like an inefficient way to reply to applicants, but some places in my sector do it. So just know that you might be giving up on getting those rejection “confirmations” if you don’t include your mailing address.

  14. Rob Bird*

    It also depends if you’re looking public sector versus private sector. For Government work (in general), your resume will be a lot more robust then it would for a business. I say in general because I am familiar with our City, County, State and the Federal ( application process. Other states may do it different.

  15. Gilby*

    Like most of us, I have a couple of versions of my resume, tweaking them as needed.

    Most of the jobs I apply to are basically the same, either customer service of admin/office and most of the stuff I have done is pretty interchangable within jobs.

    I have a couple of different cover templates that I use and tweak for each job. But again,2 different cust serv jobs can basically be the same so I do not need to change too much other than putting in the obvious elements of those jobs in them.

    I have a very good response rate on my resume’s I send out so I am inclined not to change to much from what I am doing.

    Laid off in mid Aug – sending out approx 2 resumes weekly starting Sept, I have gotten about 9 responses, landing a temp job out of one and a 2nd interview from another that I am currently waiting on a hopeful offer.

  16. Paul*

    Thanks to Alison for providing a great answer to my question and for everyone’s comments so far. I am a fan of the master-resume idea and tweaking it for specific jobs to highlight accomplishments depending on the specific position; I am looking into work in affordable housing or community development, which makes tweaking somewhat easier since the former is part of the latter. Doing away with the objective statement also saves two lines on my two-page resume and allows for better use of the space.

    I have a recent MBA and a mortgage background, so am grateful that there is a vibrant for-profit/non-profit nexus in the fields I’m aiming towards, and I reside in a well-connected area with local leaders who have been gracious with their time (as ever, effective networking is key). But I fully expect job interviews to remain a challenge to obtain, as transferable skills that previously held weight now often fall by the wayside, as employers can often afford to hold out for their ideal candidates and automated HR systems will readily disqualify candidates whose experience does not exactly match with the listed skills required.

    That said, the advice here will be helpful going forward. Thanks again.

  17. themmases*

    This is probably my research coordinator self coming out, but I keep a spreadsheet. One is of every publication or presentation I’ve coauthored, with fields for when and where it was accepted and appeared. I love this because I can add a project as soon as I know the likely title and just fill in the rest later once it’s accepted.

    A second sheet is of every research project I worked on, what I did for it, and what happened with it. I just have a column for every job duty I ever do for these with a 0 or 1 for every project. This is great for writing cover letters because I can filter the list to let me honestly say really specific stuff like “I managed 5 studies by first-time investigators” or “I collected the data for 7 studies that were published in peer reviewed publications,” whatever I think will be most relevant to the job.

  18. Chloe*

    I had two resumes when I job hunted – one that stressed editorial specifically, and one that spoke to more of a marketing/general communications position. I also worked in an agency-like environment, so I could move around clients that seemed applicable to the place I was applying closer to the top. I liked having two resumes; it made life easier – and made writing cover letters easier as well.

  19. The Company Librarian*

    I’ve tried different approaches with resumes, but the one that’s paid off is to be very selective about which jobs to apply for and then write a new version of my resume for each job tailored to the posted description.

  20. Anony*

    I’m confused. If I have a Theater resume, Editor resume and an Admin resume, would that be a functional resume, not a chronological one? If so, I thought I read in a different post that we should not do functional resumes bc it hides your work history.

    1. Trixie*

      You would still keep the three in a chronological format, but resume 1 would highlight your theater background, accomplishments, resume 2 would highlight your editing background, and resume 3 would highlight your admin background. Ultimately, you wouldn’t want to highlight your editing achievements if applying for a job in theatre that didn’t involve any editing.

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