Resume summaries—how to write and use them
Your resume has your contact information. It has your education and experience. It even has a creatively written section that makes your hobby of making small hats for cats look relevant for your next job opportunity. But are you sure you’re done and ready to send it out? Let’s look at whether your resume needs to have a resume summary—and if so, how to get it done.
What IS a Resume Summary, Anyway?
You might think that “resume summary” sounds like an objective, or a headline. And in theory, it’s similar: a resume summary, or statement, is a brief piece of text at the top of your resume, designed to call the reader’s attention to specific information. But the similarities actually stop there. A resume summary is a little more in-depth than your average headline, which is a pithy one-liner that sums you up. And while an objective tells the reader more about your goals, a summary is a way to convey what you already have in your pocket—skills, experience, awards, etc.
The resume statement is more of a highlight reel than a headline, calling out a few key bullet points that make your resume The One. The reader will (ideally) find more information about these points later in your resume, but the summary gives them a sneak peek, and helps to grab attention to ensure that they keep reading. After all, the average recruiter or hiring manager spends only a few seconds reading a resume before deciding whether to keep it or junk it and move on to the next candidate. Those seconds are precious, so you want any advantage you can seize.
You may also have seen resume statements referred to as “executive summary” (for high-level positions), “competencies,” or “qualifications summary.” These are all just different ways of saying the same thing: a collection of the talking points you want to set for your resume.
Do You Need a Resume Summary?
Short answer: no one has ever died from not having a resume summary. And it’s not an element that every job seeker necessarily needs. Although it’s optional, resume statements are a way to help make your resume stand out in a pile of similar-looking printouts, from people who may be very much like you (at least on paper). Consider using a resume summary if you are:
- Experienced in your field
- Looking to move up in the same field
- Trying to emphasize particular stats (like sales performance, awards, or special skills that set you apart)
In these cases, the resume summary is helpful because it calls out the stars of your resume—the experience points you’ve built throughout your career. You have an advantage here over the hiring manager: you know how qualified you are for the job, and what you bring to the table. Because you already have that information, isn’t it also your responsibility to make sure it sees the light of day?
In an ideal world, every hiring manager or recruiter would take the time to pore over each resume, looking for nuances and details that show how qualified the candidate is. In reality, these are busy professionals just trying to move things along so they can fill a position. They may be juggling all sorts of other duties with the hiring process, so there just may not be enough time and attention to give each resume what it deserves. Or your resume isn’t being read by human eyes at all, but rather a screening program—and in that case, a resume summary offers you an extra chance to cram in some high-quality keywords to help bump you up to the next round.
Consider skipping the resume summary if you are:
- Seeking an entry-level job with little experience
- Changing careers without much experience in the new field
In those cases, where you don’t necessarily want to call attention to the experience you don’t yet have, an objective statement might be much more effective. So it’s really your own judgment call. Think about what you’re applying for, what your on-paper strengths are, and decide accordingly whether you really need to include a resume summary.
Writing a Resume Summary
Once you’ve decided that a resume summary belongs on your own resume, let’s talk about how to craft one. Here are three strategies to use while writing your sentence.
- Keep it short. Include a few sentences (usually 4-6), either as bullet points or a brief narrative paragraph. These points should outline what makes you most qualified for the job at hand.
- Use strong, concise writing that gets right to the point. Action verbs are definitely your best friends here. You want your words to pack a punch, without taking up too much space in your valuable resume real estate.
- Target the information directly to the job for which you’re applying. Your whole resume should be targeted and edited accordingly for each job opening, but this is especially true in your resume summary, given that it’s your attempt to get noticed for all the right reasons. And this is where proofreading your resume becomes extra important—you don’t want information applicable to Job X sneaking into your resume for Job Y, especially in a high-profile spot like the resume summary. That’s almost like putting the wrong company name in your cover letter (which I’ve seen done—and it’s not pretty).
And what should this information be, you ask? It can actually be anything you think is important to convey about yourself for the job opening: skills, experience, honors, direct qualifications. To figure out what you want to include in your summary, ask yourself some key questions:
- What are my top selling points as a candidate here?
- What were the high points of my career so far?
- What are my key strengths?
- What is my greatest value as a potential employee?
- What certifications or achievements do I have that can set me apart?
- What can my strengths do for this company?
At this point, feel free to brainstorm. Write down what you think should be included, then take that bigger list and wrangle it into the 4-6 bullet points you think are most essential.
Let’s look at some different examples of resume summaries, from different fields.
Seasoned project manager with 10+ years of completing large-scale projects on time and on spec. Excellent written and verbal interpersonal communications skills, with a focus on managing client relationships and communicating with stakeholders at all levels. Proficient in JIRA and Basecamp project management tools. Expert in leading diverse teams to timely and successful outcomes.
This summary hits several key points in a very short amount of time. Right away, the reader knows that he has 10 years of experience, is good at working with team members, and is focused on results.
SALES QUALIFICATIONS SUMMARY
- Sales director with a 15-year track record of team leadership and surpassing sales goals by an average of 5%.
- Innovative approach to sales and customer data analysis to generate more/better leads.
- Increased customer base by more than 10%.
- Adept at coaching and developing talent to build teams and enhance company performance.
This summary goes for a very direct, bulleted approach. This sales director wants you to know that she gets results, and provides snippets of sales and customer performance stats (which can be fleshed out later in the resume). She also emphasizes team-building and leadership, instead of just saying, “I have leadership skills.”
Registered nurse with more than 12 years of providing end-of-life care in a hospice setting.
- Extensive experience and thorough understanding of pathophysiology of terminally ill patients.
- Work extensively with patients and families to ease the transition to hospice care, and educate patients on what to expect.
- Currently lead a team of charge nurses to provide comprehensive, seamless care for hospice patients.
- Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse (CHPN®) since 2005.
This nurse uses her resume summary to do two things: show her experience and certification, and also to call out her patient care skills, mentioning how she relates to patients and their families in the hospital setting.
Remember: your summary shouldn’t be a complete rundown of your resume. You just want it to be the greatest hits, so that the reader can read it and think, “Hmm, this person sounds great from these introductory bits. Tell me more!” You can go more in-depth with your experience bullet points, or your skills summary later on. The summary is a chance up front to set the narrative for your own resume, and let the reader know that the time they spend reading and considering your resume will be worthwhile.
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