In this post, we’ll show you how to write a resume summary that lands the interview along with some tips and examples to ensure you capture the attention of a hiring manager.
Regardless of whether you’re looking for an entry level job or larger career advancement, you probably already know how important your resume can be in your quest to find that perfect job. The problem is, though, that few resumes these days seem to have that special touch that truly makes them stand out from the crowd. If you’ve agonized over your own resume and still feel like there’s something missing, there’s a good chance that the problem is that you’re not making good use of your resume summary.
The one thing most people fail to understand as they create resumes filled with facts, figures, and lists of accomplishments is that today’s companies are inundated with tons of resumes that follow that same approach. And if your resume is as dry and dull as all of those, it’s not likely to receive the attention that it needs to earn you a second look.
That’s where your resume summary comes into play. Writing a powerful and compelling resume summary can dramatically increase your chances of being called in for in interview, so it is vitally important that you know how to make yours stand out from the crowd. We’ll show you how to write an awesome summary no matter where you are in your career.
How Long Should Your Resume Summary Be?
When writing any resume summary, it can be tempting to simply fill it with every major point you want the reviewer to know. That would be a mistake, though – and for several reasons. First, no recruiter wants to read a summary that just rehashes every point made in the body of the resume. That sort of summary will simply be ignored. That would defeat the purpose anyway.
The reality is that your summary should be a “hook” that captures the recruiter’s attention and gives him reason to read the rest of the resume. To do that, you should write a resume summary that contains between four and six lines of text that highlight key points that will invite further reading.
A summary for someone with little to no experience will of course be shorter. You can check out our post on writing a resume summary for an entry-level position.
What to Include in the Summary
Every truly powerful resume summary contains some very vital elements. If yours doesn’t manage to relay the following critical information, chances are that the person reading it will be less than impressed.
Now, you don’t want to get into a lengthy dissertation describing every position you’ve ever held, but you do need to at least briefly note the type and amount of experience that you have in the specific area of expertise relevant to the job you’re seeking.
- Personal traits. Again, no one wants to read your entire psych-profile in your summary. However, you should be able to take a handful of personal and professional attributes that you possess and summarize them in a way that shows the recruiter why you are the right person for that job and the firm.
- Notable achievements. Can you think of a few truly notable achievements that you managed to accomplish in your past employment? These can be new projects that you helped to launch, new departments that you brought to life, or similar things that had a dramatic impact on your previous employers’ businesses.
- Your Expertise. Include some information about your educational qualifications and any experience that you might have that separates you from other candidates for the job.
- Your skill set. You also need to include some highlight detailing your strongest and most relevant skills – with an emphasis on those that are most relevant to the job you’re seeking.
Examples of Good Summaries that Work
To get an idea of how this all looks when it is put together, consider the following resume summary example:
In that example, the candidate led with experience and education first, since that was what the job posting emphasized. She also included known prestigious awards and media features to demonstrate that she was already a recognized expert in her field – something that she knew this company was looking for. In other words, she did her homework and tailored her message to meet the company’s needs.
This next example came from a sales and marketing manager applying for a managerial position. He too focused on his experience, but also highlighted his prior accomplishments within specific companies to show what he could bring to the table (pun intended):
Resume Summary Example:
Again, this sales and marketing professional tailored his message to the employers stated needs, by highlighting the experience and specialties that he knew would be relevant to that job.
Organizing the Elements for Maximum Impact
The strongest impact can be created by organizing your information in a way that highlights the most relevant details first. As a rule, you should always focus on putting your most powerful information first.
So, if your educational qualifications are perhaps at the lower end of the qualification spectrum, lead with your experience or relevant skills first. The idea is to organize all the information in a way that immediately captures the reader’s attention, to ensure that the entire summary gets reviewed.
Writing a Resume Summary for the Reader
The best writing is that which speaks to its audience in understandable terms that they can immediately identify with. When it comes to your summary, that means including the job posting’s requirements in your finished product.
While you certainly don’t want to simply regurgitate the job posting’s requirements in your summary, you should try to incorporate the terms used in that posting as you describe your own qualifications.
If the company is looking for a Director of Marketing and your former title at a different firm was Head of Marketing, use the “Director of Marketing” title when you’re describing your former position. That helps to ensure that your prospective employer recognizes that you’ve done the same job in the past. Do this for specific skills and experience as well. Simply identify terms used in the job posting and use those terms when describing your own skills, attributes, and experience.
By focusing your attention on the specific needs detailed in the job posting, you can avoid the mistake of making assumptions about the employer’s needs. In addition, you can ensure that your resume is properly read by any computer software that the recruiter might be using to sift through resumes as the company narrows its candidate search to determine who to interview and who to ignore.
The Elevator Pitch
If you’ve ever heard of the “elevator pitch” then you understand the need for brevity and clarity when you’re trying to capture someone’s attention. The elevator pitch is a short, concise summary of your resume that articulates the value that you can bring to your prospective employer’s company. It emphasizes your strengths, quickly connects them to the specific job you’re applying for, and showcases how you can meet the company’s needs.
Here is a good post from Forbes.com on crafting a good elevator pitch.
Writing a Resume Summary When You Have no Relevant Experience
Now, the above examples are obviously of the more common variety when it comes to how people pursue careers in their chosen fields.
Most people will at least try to have some relevant experience in the job field they’re trying to enter. But what happens when you’re trying to break into an industry for the first time, or want to switch career paths and have no actual experience with the position you’re trying to secure?
That happens more than most people realize – so if you’re trying to write a summary and have no direct experience to list as a job qualification, just know that you’re not alone. The bad news is that your inability to list any relevant experience deprives you of one key resume summary feature that might have enhanced your “hook” and helped to get the recruiter to give your resume a deeper inspection.
The good news is that this doesn’t have to be a fatal weakness. There are ways to work around a lack of experience, just as there are ways to work around a lack of relevant education. As fate would have it, this scenario is one of many reasons why your summary is so critical!
Stressing Other Qualifications
When you have no relevant work experience to highlight, you need to stress other relevant qualifications. That would include everything from your relevant skills and educational coursework to specific accomplishments you’ve achieved in prior jobs that are at least somewhat relevant to the job you’re seeking. For example:
- Focus on skill sets that you possess that would be relevant to the position. These can include things like budget management, marketing research, conflict resolution skills, and even familiarity with critical software or hardware systems. (For more on using the right skills you should check out this post).
- Emphasize educational achievements that demonstrate that you have the knowledge needed to do the job.
- Highlight accomplishments from previous jobs that demonstrate the value you can bring to the organization.
- If necessary, list relevant outside interests that demonstrate an ability to meet the employer’s needs.
- Don’t forget to incorporate the job posting keywords into these qualifications. That’s important for ensuring that your resume still gets past the software used for initial resume reviews.
An Example of a Resume Summary with No Experience
In this example, our engineering grad – who finished school while working in an entirely different industry – can highlight not only his educational achievements, but specific accomplishments that he achieved in his previous employment. All the while, he presents himself as someone with the proven commitment to bring that same level of value to his new employer.
Keywords in a Resume Summary
Most companies use an applicant tracking system to scan your resume. These ATS look for keywords in your resume and send forward the ones it feels are a good match for your job. A resume summary is a good place to throw in those keywords. You should state your occupation as well as some common keywords in your industry.
Here is a good article regarding keywords on a resume.
Top 5 tips when writing a resume summary
- Qualifications – Stress the most relevant qualifications to the job you’re targeting. Look at the job description and edit your existing summary to each position.
- Benefit – Remember that your summary should show the employer what you can bring to the table. Word your summary in a way that says this is who I am and this is what I can do for your company. Don’t tell the employer what your objective is, tell them how you benefit them and their objective.
- Length – Keep your resume summary at 4-6 sentences. Many job seekers write only a sentence or two or go on for too long. Find a good balance and stress the important points – no fluff!
- Quantify – You should include quantifiable results and achievements in the summary. Number have been proven to psychologically capture attention over plain words. It also allows you to portray yourself as an “achiever” rather than just a “doer”. For example: “Decreased overhead expenses by 40%” sounds a lot better than just “decreased expenses”.
- Active Voice – Many often resort to “responsible for” or “in charge of.” These are weak and overused terms. Instead your summary should read in active voice where possible. This conveys that you are a self-starter and that you can connect the “why” with the “what” in your previous positions
The bottom line here is simple: you need a powerful and informative resume summary if you want to ensure that any recruiter’s attention is captured within the first few seconds of reading your resume. Remember, you only have a matter of seconds to garner interest before your resume ends up being dismissed out of hand. The right resume summary can help you to avoid that fate and enhance your chances of getting that job you want!
Good luck with your job search!
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