How to efficiently manage tailoring of resumes and cover letters?
October 28, 2010 7:01 PM   Subscribe

I've found that the practice of tailoring resumes and cover letters (to various jobs in various industries) is a somewhat cumbersome process. I'm looking for ideas and/or software from those who have found an efficient workflow for doing so.

Just having a resume for each industry and/or job type isn't working, especially if I decide to refine something to better wording, then I've got a bunch of documents containing old versions of that text which I don't want to use.

For example, if I'm creating a resume or letter for a certain position, and know I have bits of text that are spell-checked, grammatically pleasing, and most importantly relevant to it from previous applications; but it takes time to find/open/copy/tweak the section of text into the current document.

So, I'm essentially building new documents from bits and pieces of similar existing documents. And I'd really like those bits and pieces to be maintainable and easy to choose from.

The master/sub-document capability of OpenOffice comes close, but its navigation isn't ideal. There should be a better way, from those that work in an office admin capacity or similar, preferably with previews of the snippets to choose from. Document automation doesn't seem to be applicable due to being more for things like names and addresses.
posted by hungrysquirrels to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Why not just have a spreadsheet with a master document which divides every type of sentence into categories, like "work experience" "personal history", etc.. Under each section, put all of the sentences you have used, then when you need them just copy and paste from that main document. Seems like the easiest solution to me.
posted by Think_Long at 7:06 PM on October 28, 2010

The whole point of a tailored letter is that it is intelligently tailored, not automatically generated by a computer. You're just shotgunning resumes out there. You might do better to really think about how to present yourself to the jobs that you're really right for. Quantity is not going to get you a job. Quality might.
posted by musofire at 7:10 PM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

I had a master set of sentences that I refined periodically: there was the standard opener, the "you asked for computer skills and here is why you will love me" lines, and so forth. In the end I think I had five main Frankenstein's monster documents, most notably one each for the two largest employers in town (one of whom I sent I think 20 cover letters to over the course of a year, garnering four interviews.) All told I kept 70 or so distinct letters.

I always wanted to do an Excel spreadsheet where I could put in a series of answers to set questions and a complete "add the names here" document would result. Alas, I got hired somewhere before I got around to it. The real outrage? This was the ONE place I applied to, out of all of them, that didn't get a cover letter! I took a test and got an interview about two weeks later. Hrmph.
posted by SMPA at 7:36 PM on October 28, 2010

Ah man, I can't believe that I am suggesting this, but you could build a spreadsheet or database of phrases that are keyworded so you can mail merge a letter draft. Now this would work well for the skills section or previous employment. Hmm, would work well for relevant course area too.

I am a resume purist and believe that you should tailor each resume even if it is tedious.

The problem of auto generating content, to any extent, is that it opens you to errors in grammar and style.
posted by jadepearl at 8:01 PM on October 28, 2010

Best answer: Yeah, count me as another voice saying "it's probably not worth it." I actually started to make something like this for both resumes and cover letters (using Perl to select or not select items from a LaTeX-based template as appropriate), but soon abandoned it because I realized I was spending more time on reviewing the final results than I would have just building the docs by hand.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 8:35 PM on October 28, 2010

Response by poster: Just to clarify, the intent isn't auto-generation.

It's to make the process of crafting resumes and cover letters, which are hand-tailored to specific job opportunities, easier and more time-efficient. To efficiently re-use blocks of text which are, well, re-usable.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 8:42 PM on October 28, 2010

I know someone who spends half his life fretting over customized resumes. I am of the opposite opinion: a resume is a immutable thing. It is a list of the stuff you know and have accomplished and have suffered through. It changes in response to life/career events, NOT based on what you want someone to think. Isn't that what the cover letter is for?

So, that's one way to solve the problem. The second way, if you must tailor the resume, is to make a couple of them. Two or three resumes and a personal cover letter will be less work and more effective.

(Are people more likely to hire someone with a resume that is clearly a one-off? I wouldn't. Seems like it conveys a casualness with facts and figures that wouldn't play well.)
posted by gjc at 8:44 PM on October 28, 2010

Best answer: Here is how I do it.

Cover letter: Everything is stock with the exception of 1 paragraph. For that paragraph, the basic sentence structure is the same, but I do customize the example. So a basic sentence is "While I worked at XXX, I did YYY which resulted in ZZZ." XXX, YYY, and ZZZ are tweaked as needed. Most of these sentences are already written and sitting in a spreadsheet.

Resume: I have my standard, ready to go 2 page resume. This is what I usually use.

I also have one giant master resume on which each job has about 10 bullet points. When I customize a resume, I pick the most relevant from those 10 bullet points, but I don't rewrite anything. I know I only have room for about half the bullets I've already written, but the content is already there if I need to highlight a specific skill set.
posted by 26.2 at 9:45 PM on October 28, 2010 [9 favorites]

Absolutely you should have your resume tailored for the industry. A resume that makes someone ask "why are they applying to this job, with that skill set?" isn't going to get you where you want to be, and you don't want to assume that they'll be reading through your cover letter (or that they'll even receive one; many automated systems don't accept them).

I like the spreadsheet idea, actually, as a solution to your 'how do I find that great line I had about my experience with Y?" problem. Of course the final polish is still for you to do by hand. And I might just steal that master resume idea from 26.2... it seems like a great way to handle it.
posted by Lady Li at 1:09 AM on October 29, 2010

My boss is advertising for a junior to come into the business. She advertised in a leading industry publication and offered a physical address for CVs.

She said that she does this to filter out the people who quickly send a canned electronic response because that's not the kind of person that she wants.

As an apostle for the paper reduction movement, I hate it, but I can see how people could want to use different methods to filter out applications that are not serious or well thought out.

Tangenital, I know ...
posted by chairish at 2:00 AM on October 29, 2010

Response by poster: For what it's worth, I found a program that is pretty much what I was looking for in the question. It's shareware, called Time Saver Wolf. There may be other similar programs, given the right search terms. Not sure if I'll use it, as suggested above it may be better to go with the 'keep it simple stupid' approach, but maybe someone else will also find it can be a useful tool to have in situations where you need to paste multiple blocks of various text.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 6:31 PM on October 31, 2010

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