How to Match Your Skills so They Fit the Job Description

Estimated reading time ~ 5 min
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Updating your résumé (courtesy of Adobe Stock Image)

Applying for jobs is almost a job itself. One of the most time-consuming tasks is creating or updating your résumé. Résumés may look like nothing more than bullet points and table lines, but creating a compelling one takes a lot of effort (and can’t be left to the last minute).

Ironically, the more experience you have, the easier crafting a great résumé might be. At that point, updating a résumé is about cherry picking your best and most relevant experiences and working off the existing language you’ve written or have learned over time. When you’re newer to the workforce, figuring out how to accurately convey how the experiences you have are useful can be really difficult. Nonetheless, the work you’ve done — even at an academic or extracurricular level — is likely more transferable than you might think. Making that come across on paper is all about finding clues in the job description for the position you want, and mining your own experience for specific examples that prove you are a fit. Read ahead for a few ways to start.

Start With Yourself

Applying for a job if you don’t have a ton of work experience is intimidating, but employers don’t expect recent grads to have the same professional experience as mid-career workers. Instead of focusing on what you lack when applying for a specific job, keep your mind on what you have done.

Start by getting everything on paper: list every job and/or extracurricular position you’ve held inside and outside of school. Think through summer jobs or part-time work. Don’t forget academic positions or social activities that take up your time (e.g., clubs and sports); independent projects or research positions a professor may have entrusted you with; side gigs, such as babysitting, working in restaurants, or volunteer work in your community.

Once those are all out, think critically through your schedule of those activities: how many hours did you devote to them per week or month? What responsibilities went along with the work you did? What skills made you successful at those roles? Planning an agenda for a team meeting might show a hiring manager that you’re organized, have the ability to prioritize, and that you have the capacity to run a meeting. It seems basic, but looking through your calendar as you think can be a big help in jogging your memory. You might forget a project you worked on months ago now that the rush is over, but seeing it in your Google calendar could bring it all back.

Read Carefully

Revisit the job description of the position you want and read it carefully. Focus on the actual day-to-day tasks the job lists out as opposed to the title itself. Start to think which roles on your list might be aligned with the skills the company is looking for. As you start describing your experiences on your résumé, make sure that you show some correlation between the two areas.

Some links will be very direct: seeking a teaching position is in direct alignment with having tutoring experience, either on campus or as a part-time job (e.g., having been a standardized test instructor). Both show an interest in a position that involves being hands-on in the educational field, rather than administrative. If you have an athletic background and are a journalism major, looking for opportunities in sports broadcasting isn’t a stretch. You’ll definitely want to include all those relevant experiences on your résumé!

Having a more abstract connection between your experiences and your job of interest is tougher to explain — but not necessarily a deal-breaker. Someone whose extracurriculars include being a club treasurer might play up their business acumen when applying for financial service jobs or accounting positions, or anything about handling money, expertise in budget management, and working with sensitive transactions. Being an RA or holding leadership positions on campus involves navigating relationships with various stakeholders (students, faculty, administrators, etc.) and that might be perfect for management-track jobs in the corporate space. Think through those connections and connect the dots as clearly and succinctly as possible to those reviewing your résumé.

Get Active

On-campus resources like job centers can be helpful. They might have staff on hand who can review your résumé or provide you with some good examples. Doing a deep dive online has become a popular past-time. Even if you use an online résumé format that you didn’t create, don’t copy the content of another résumé word-for-word. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when talking about a job, but you do want to make sure you’re bringing in your own perspective.

The advice about focusing on action words still holds true: a good verb is clear and direct. There’s no need to use flowery, unusual, unnatural, or overwrought language. You don’t want to confuse a potential employer or any algorithms that scan your résumé. Keep it simple yet thorough. Another bonus point regarding verbs is that they are industry-agnostic. Industry-specific jargon is often too insider and a little alienating to people who aren’t in the know. Using strange terms might also have the opposite effect of making it seem like you don’t know what you’re talking about for the job at hand. Verbs like designed, managed, or coordinated seem simple, but potential employers in any industry will understand how you could add value to their team. Choose words that you know meet the needs of organizations you are interested in and use precise language to convey that.

Write With a Guide

If you find yourself returning to the same verbs over and over again -- and using a thesaurus is starting to make you sound like an 18th-century poet -- you might need a little help. Try O* NET, a database of occupations that summarizes the roles and responsibilities for a huge number of jobs. Typing “waitress” in the Quick Search box yields 12 matches. The first result, “Waiters and Waitresses,” comes with a sample of alternate job titles (banquet server, buffet server, food runner, waitstaff, and more); a list of 25 expected tasks (“take order from patrons for food or beverages,” “explain how various menu items are prepared, describing ingredients and cooking methods”); listed tech skills (such as point-of-sale software and Facebook page creation); knowledge (sales and marketing, food production); desired hard and soft skills (active listening, coordination), and more. These descriptions may help freshen up what you’re writing and even refresh your memory on experiences you may have previously forgotten to include.

Use LinkedIn As A Cheat-Sheet

If you can get a real person to read your résumé — especially someone who works at the company or in the industry into which you’re applying — definitely do so! If you lack the connections or want a lower-lift perspective first, try LinkedIn.

One of the LinkedIn’s newest features includes the ability to see how well you match open jobs on the platform. When you view a job, the company explains, you’ll find a “checklist of factors,” including education level, years of experience, and current job title. Even if the exact job you want isn’t listed, you can search for similar jobs and test your LinkedIn profile against those positions. Don’t worry about scoring 100% — requirements like years of experience are often negotiable. Something women, in particular, should remember, as they are less likely to apply for jobs unless they can check off every box. When you hold your résumé skills against their algorithm, you may find that you match in all the right ways, or have omitted important things that would be good to include.

Just know that practice makes perfect! Enlisting people you trust who understand the role you’re seeking can be a great way to make sure you’re on target and are connecting the dots (they can also serve as proofreaders). Everyone starts somewhere, so don’t undersell yourself. You have qualities and experiences that someone else doesn’t. You just need to put that into words.

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