Effective resume variations that get technical writers a job

Brace yourself… you are going to need multiple variations of your resume.

I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work with resumes. As a technical communicator, my job is to know audiences and I’ve come up with at least 5 different resume variations to appeal to targeted stakeholders during the hiring process. While it’s cumbersome to maintain multiple variations of a resume, you’ll have more success in getting the job you want. The primary hurdle, though, is that a successful resume will be seen by different people with different needs. While it’s impossible to write one perfect document for such a wide variety of audiences, it is my hope that I can give you information to make good decisions.

Master resume

Audience: Broad range of employers

Primary need: List everything you’ve ever accomplished in previous roles

The master resume is one written for you that will act as a source for your resume variations later. You will need to list all of your accomplishments and there is no length limit since this version wont be seen by others. However, don’t list anything earlier than around 10 to 15 years ago. Marketing writing is key, even when marketing rules conflict with technical writing rules (such as, avoid listing precise details). This will make it easy to create an appropriate variation later without spending a lot of time reinventing the wheel each time.

Resume variations for submitting to employers

Using information from your master resume, you’ll need to create variations for your audience. This can be tricky, but makes the difference between getting an interview or being ignored. These are not hard and fast rules, but observations of what has worked and what hasn’t worked.

Recruiting variation

Audience: HR recruiter

Primary need: Matching your resume to the job description

Imagine for a moment that you are in the middle of writing about a key feature for a product, then someone hands you 300 resumes and tells you to pick three for consideration. You’re probably just wanting to finish what you were working on, right? Well, that’s what it can be like for HR recruiters. You have about 3 seconds to stand out and make a good impression. I study the eyes and body language of recruiters closely. They skim resumes, not read every word–with the exception of your introduction paragraph (your elevator pitch). I’ve come to the conclusion that only information above the fold is examined (the top half of page 1). However, some recruiters will flip that resume over and read the bottom. Most people put volunteer work there, but it could be an opportunity for you that’s yet undiscovered!

ATS variation

Audience: computers

Primary needs: Match tools and keywords

With the number of tracking systems out there, it’s impossible to generalize responsibly about what to do. However, it’s widely believed that a text version of your resume (no formatting) will be more effective. Include the tools you used at least once under each position so the ATS can calculate your experience (such as, “used MadCap Flare to solve world hunger”). You might even consider matching sentence structure, as this will increase your match rate. However, job postings use a lot of repetitive language (“experienced with…”) and that might not work at all when a human clicks “View resume”. Remember, though, 85% of jobs come from networking, not computers.

Hiring manager variation: technical communicator managers

Audience: Your future reporting manager of the technical writer team

Primary needs: Problem-solving, process improvement, grammar; command of the English language

You resume will be evaluated on an entirely different level and the marketing writing that got you past the recruiter may not serve as a good example of your technical writing skills. English skills are highly valued, especially if the manager is a grammarian or English major. But the fact is, you won’t have the option to swap out your resume mid-process. Just one typo will cost you an opportunity, so have a non-writer friend edit your resume before submitting it.

Hiring manager variation: non-technical communicator managers

Audience: Your future reporting manager

Primary needs: Problem-solving, process improvement, initiative, self-managing, and collaborative

This person will have many other responsibilities and may not fully understand the technical writing skillset. He or she will be looking for indicators of your behaviors, such as collaborative, persuasive, and ability to problem solving effectively. They are seeking a good fit and know personality types quite well. Make sure you highlight your soft skills in your accomplishments. They need to get a feel for who you are from one very-limiting medium, your resume.

LinkedIn variation

Audience: Recruiters, hiring managers, potential co-workers, colleagues

Primary needs: Engaging, being relatable, interesting

Do not just copy and paste your resume! This is your opportunity to talk about your experience and accomplishments in a storytelling format. This type of writing is more creative than technical, but should resemble an in-person conversation. Don’t forget to include your volunteer work, it says more about you than you might think!


Unlike many other positions, technical writer resumes are often evaluated on more than one level. By targeting your resume to a specific audience, you will achieve success in your job search. Remember, though, your resume is a marketing tool – you need to learn how to recognize your successes and document them in an appealing manner. If you have a particular method that has found success, please share it here!


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