Once upon a time, you could post your resume to the various job boards and feel like you had accomplished something. You'd post, they'd search, and then they would contact you. In a sea of job opportunities, if you had a strong background and an search-optimized resume, you could expect to receive inquiries with some regularity.
In today's economy, this passive demand generation approach is more likely to yield spam than any real opportunities. Instead, your real opportunities are more likely to come from your own searches, you own network, and your sales activities. The resume that get's you hired will likely be one that you submit to a company.
Submitting your resume has the potential to have a big impact on your selling process. Since you are responding to an open listing, you start with some basic knowledge of the target customer and the opportunity. It's kind of like responding to an RFP. In theory, this means that you can craft a unique selling tool for each and every resume submission. But with today's job market, even if you're the ideal candidate and a perfect fit, it's quite possible that your resume won't get any response, and all of that customization work that you went through will have been wasted.
A Generic Resume vs an Opportunity-Customized One
Before we go too far down the path of a generic resume versus a customized one, it's important to think about how generic your generic resume is. To that end, the question that you have to ask is, what kinds of job listings are you looking at. If your search is too broad, then even a great generic resume won't fit most of the jobs that you target. But if you're focused within a career path, like only looking at product marketing manager openings, the requirements are probably going to be similar enough across those listings that a generic product marketing manager resume will be an effective tool.
The more focused your search is or the more specific your background is, the more specialized your resume will become simply by default. Naturally, if you are attempting to extend your career in a specific market, you're looking for a specific role within a specific industry and you probably have a solid idea of what experience differentiates you. At the end of the day, you the product have a set of specifications, and the things that you highlight from one role to another is probably the same. So is it worth making an effort to customize a tool for a specific opportunity? The answer to that probably depends upon the opportunity and how much the content of your resume is read and interpreted.
Opportunities where Customization May Make a Difference
There is a big difference between the hiring processes at most large companies compared to small ones. If you're submitting your resume to a large company, your resume will probably be loaded into a database where it will be scanned and read using an automated engine. If you make it through the first pass filter, someone in the company's HR staff will probably review the list looking for matches to the job description to build their list of candidates (submitting your resume through a reference may get you here). For some organizations that use this type of process, if your resume doesn't clearly match the job description, you can forget about getting a call back. Sometimes, even having internal connections within the organization isn't good enough to make it through the "match this description" HR filter. If you have specific references and you're submitting to a large organization using this type of process, you should probably look at making some customization efforts.
While many smaller companies now use automated resume management tools, your resume is also more likely to be reviewed by an individual at a smaller company. While a strong resume may stand out on it's own, some customization to match the specific job description may improve your chances with a smaller company. At the same time, rather than making modifications to your resume, you may want to spend more time positioning your cover letter.
Is There a Reason Why You Wouldn't Want to Customize Your Resume for a Target Opening?
If it has the potential to benefit you, you might wonder why you wouldn't want to target your resume to a specific opportunity. Errors are one reason. Each time you go in and update your resume, you have the potential to introduce typos and grammatical errors, some of which you may not recognize with a cursory glance. If you're trying to respond quickly or you're submitting resumes to multiple openings, this may rush your review.
Most of the job boards enable you to upload multiple resumes, so if you need to build a deck of 'market-focused' resumes, you can keep several ready at one time. One risk to keep in mind with this -- if you are in a hurry, you may find yourself accidentally sending out an old or incorrectly focused document.
Another potential issue is how the resume you submit fits with your 'permanent record'. Many companies that use resume database hiring tools store those records. While your customized resume may simply be a restating of positioning, it's possible that any documents that you submit may follow you like drunken college photos that you posted on Facebook.
It's Your Direct Mail Campaign
At the end of the day, resume-to-opportunity optimization is great if you have the time, but you don't want to sacrifice weeks (or sometimes days) to respond to an opening. And while I don't have any specific statistics to support it, I suspect that in today's economy, most people sending out resumes probably see a response rate similar to a direct mail campaign. In other words, only a fraction of what you send out will actually result in a call back. And while increasing the effectiveness of your sales tool is worthwhile, you need to balance that with the cost and effort required to send it out.