The key to crafting a great resume and cover letter is using the job posting as your guide and tailoring your application to the specific requirements of the posting. If you can understand what the company is asking for, you’ll know how present yourself as the candidate they are looking for. But to do this effectively, you need to know how to read the posting. It seems simple, but a lot of job seekers are so excited to work at a particular company or get a particular title that they don't read a job posting carefully. Not only does that make their resume less effective, it can also lead to applying unnecessarily for jobs that don't align with their interests or qualifications. Let's break down how to read job postings section by section:
Company Profile: Often, job postings will contain a paragraph or more that describes the company, with particular attention to the company's values. If this is the case, it signals that the company has taken the time to define their company culture and has implemented policies that will align with these values. You may be inclined to gloss over this section, but read it carefully! Every company will try to present themselves in the best light, but you have to know what’s right for you – if they are describing things that are at odds with your preferred way of working, you may want to think twice about applying. For example, if you read “At XYZ company, we are all about collaboration. We have an open office plan and encourage conversation across teams and levels. You might say we're a family,” but you prefer working independently and minimizing hours at the office, this might not be the place for you. Conversely, if you’re loving what you’re reading and can give concrete examples of how some of these elements really speak to you, this may be something to include in your cover letter to give yourself that extra boost.
Culture sections like this also include words that have hidden meanings. In the above example, "family" often means that the company values loyalty, may not have a strict corporate structure or HR department, and expects that employees do things to pitch in beyond their job descriptions. "Fast-paced environment" often means you'll be working long hours to meet tight deadlines. Too much mumbo jumbo can indicate that the firm prioritizes external showmanship over internal grit, or that the company leans into buzzwords without substance. Mentions of diversity and inclusion don't necessarily mean the company delivers on those fronts, but indicate that they're aware, at the very least, that it should be a value.
Note that if there is nothing about the company culture in the job posting, a culture fit might not be the most important thing this company is looking for in a candidate. That’s not to say that the company doesn’t have a culture – all companies do – but it might not be the thing the company prides itself on above all else, and it may mean there aren't a ton of resources devoted to formalizing culture (or other aspects of HR). This could be a good or a bad thing, depending on what you're looking for in an employer.
Role Description: In addition to a company overview, there's often a brief summary of what the role is and what department it's in. You may have read Netflix's culture deck and know you want to work there, but you might not be happy in any department there -- a technical producer job at Netflix is a wildly different job from a creative producer role, even though "Producer" at Netflix may sound like your dream. Make sure you're applying for a role that aligns with your interests. This section in a posting is a quick way to tell if you're on the right path.
Responsibilities: This section is meant to describe the overall and day-to-day function of the role. The first few entries in this section are the most important, as postings tend to lead with the things that you’d be doing the most often. If you lack knowledge about several areas that are listed at the top, this role might be a stretch for you. Similarly, if there are more than one or two acronyms, jargon words, or task descriptions that you don't understand, even with a rudimentary Google search (i.e. the post asks for someone who's skilled at agile project management, and you have no idea what that is or why it's mentioned), then you're probably not a fit for the job. But if you think you have a pretty good overall sense of what the role is and feel confident you can do the job, you should apply, even if your skillset doesn’t precisely match every single one of the responsibilities on there.
The fun part about the responsibilities section is that you can often copy-paste language from it directly into your resume or cover letter. If the posting says “soliciting samples and pitches from agencies and reviewing submissions,” and you have something like this on your resume already, it’s worth updating the phrasing to match the posting – it will call attention to the fact that you have the EXACT skill they are looking for.
Qualifications/Requirements: Job postings often have an extra section at the bottom with some core skills and desired qualities they’d like to see in an applicant. Some of these qualifications will include familiarity with certain computer software or other hard skills, and in this case, make sure those keywords are on your resume (if they're true!). But it may also list intangible skills like “great communicator.” Don't put these soft skills in your skills section, but instead, double check that you have at least one bullet point that starts with “communicated” and shows that you have developed this skill through your duties in a previous position. There also might be some “nice-to-haves” listed -- include those as a bonus for the employer if you have them. Again, don't worry too much about not hitting all the requirements. The word "required" is misleading; they aren't going to toss an otherwise awesome resume into the trash just because you have six years of experience, not 7-10.
Short Postings: Often, and especially for entry-level or production roles, you'll see a paragraph instead of a formal posting. You may not even know what the company or show is! In this case, you have to know the job itself pretty well and what skills are required. The few that are listed are going to be the most important, and you should call them out on your resume and in your cover letter if you have them (i.e. if a posting lists rolling calls, make sure rolling calls or answering phones is on your resume; if you've never answered phone professionally, lean into customer service, multi-tasking, and organizational skills).
Application Instructions: Do not ignore this section! If the posting is on LinkedIn but asks for applications via email, apply via email, and not LinkedIn. If it asks for a resume and cover letter with a certain email subject line, attach all requested materials and follow directions EXACTLY. This is a test of attention to detail and also helps ensure that your resume won’t get lost. That said, you should always ask for a referral if possible, but you should also apply formally, as this is often required by HR departments.
By taking the extra time to read the job posting carefully, you'll make sure you're focused on applying for jobs you're interested in and qualified for, and that you're applying with a strong, tailored resume. Hiring managers sift through tons of applications that don't seem aligned with what they're looking for, but by making the clear case that your skills and experience match their posting, you'll stand out from the rest!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan