How Many Resume Versions Are Too Many?

A generic resume isn’t doing you any favors. But a dozen tweaked versions may reveal an unrefined search.

As I coach executive-level clients across every function and industry, I hear a lot of questions about how far one resume can stretch. “How many versions of my resume do I need?” “Can you make the resume general, or do I need distinct versions?” “How can the resume be adapted for other positions or industries?”

The answer is that, ideally, you should need only one version of your resume.

However, not every situation is the same activities — and few are ideal.

Why one resume is best

In a perfect world, you are pursuing an executive position that lines up neatly with your most recent work and marks a new logical step in the types of positions through which you have progressed across your entire career. And to make the fit even more comfortable, you’re pitching yourself to companies that are in the same or related industries.

If your career path is a straight line, a single resume version will meet the needs and expectations of the recruiters, HR folks and hiring executives you’ll encounter along the way.

Great! But most of us live in the real world, where things are not so linear or clear cut. If your job trajectory has more curves ahead, a single version of your resume would either miss the mark or be too broad to prove your specific qualifications for each situation.

When a second version is required

If you need to address distinct audiences, you’ll need more than one version of your resume. However, let’s not go crazy. Here is the basic wisdom on when to create a new version:

Same industry

  • Same position

One master resume can do all the heavy lifting.

  • Slightly different position

A tweak will do. If you are pursuing positions that are very similar, but not exactly the same, a few strategic adjustments to the main resume should be enough to make it look like you wrote the document specifically for that role. In these cases, I wouldn’t consider these documents a new resume version, just tweaks or amendments to the original.

  • Multiple positions

A second resume version is required. You want to create a completely distinct resume version when you are pursuing totally unrelated positions or positions that are highly specialized. If you want to target large corporations, the CEO and CIO positions will be quite different, and the company will be looking for a candidate who is very focused on one particular role. In this case, let’s say you’ve held both positions at different times. You would prepare a resume that highlights your technical leadership accomplishments for the CIO job and a separate resume that details your organizational leadership achievements to align with a company’s need for a CEO.

New industry

  • Same position

A tweak will do. If you are pursuing the same position but decided to target a new industry, you needn’t create a whole new document. Example: You’re a sales executive who’s worked in multimedia advertising, and you would like to pursue sales positions in advertising as well as an unrelated field — let’s say medical devices. Simply tweaking the content in your summary, keywords and other critical areas may suffice to demonstrate that you’re ready to apply your sales experience to a new industry.

  • Slightly different position

One master resume is enough. Make sure your career goal is refined, and try to stick to one new version that emphasizes your new goal throughout. Switching industries and positions is the toughest of all job moves. Consider the skills and strengths that are important for the position and industry you want to be in, then frame your prior work history so that it demonstrates how you fulfil those expectations.

  • Multiple positions

A second resume version is required. You can’t target a director of marketing position and a VP of client services position in the same resume. Again, consider the traits and achievements that are important for each distinct role and then make sure the resume version you provide highlights those critical areas.

Why a general resume never works

“I am an executive,” you say. “Does it really matter if I am that specific on a resume?” Yes, I believe that it does matter.

In today’s environment, most organizations use executive search firms or recruiters to hire for high-level jobs. For the most part, the individuals involved focus their searches on candidates whose most recent work history, accomplishments and focus match exactly the position at hand.

Listing general executive management duties will not resonate with this crowd, even though many think it will give them a broader appeal. Instead, it makes them less attractive to more people. Refine your career goal and use no more than two versions of your resume to support your proven track record and winning personality.