The most powerful words in your resume—more powerful than your name blazoned across the top—are the first three lines of your summary section. This is the introductory paragraph that falls below your contact information and above your education and employment track record. The moment a hiring manager gets ahold of your resume, their eyes are immediately drawn to this section. And if they aren’t grabbed by what they find here, the entire review can take less than 20 seconds.
The F Pattern
Believe it or not, our brains are actually wired to find the summary section more important than the rest of the resume. The reason for this is twofold: Formatting and storytelling.
First, formatting. A host of current scientific studies are focused on tracking the movements of a reader’s eyes as they skim through a page of text, and the results of these studies confirm what document layout experts have known for years. In western cultures where text moves from left to right across a page, the eyes tend to follow the top line of text all the way from margin to margin. The second and third lines are also read all or most of the way across the page.
But as the eyes reach the middle of the document, they’re no longer making it all the way across. By mid-page, eye movement stops and moves down a line before it reaches the right margin. And by the bottom of the page, the eyes are barely leaving the left side, and are essentially reading only subheadings at this point, not finer print. The resulting pattern resembles a large capital F, with the most carefully-read text in the top left-hand corner.
The Power of Narrative & Storytelling
So during a first quick review, readers are paying more attention to opening lines of a writer’s message, and less attention to the conclusion of those lines and the implications, additions, subtractions and clarifications documented below.
That means job applicants need to send a powerful message in the top three lines of text. And the best way to send a powerful and memorable message is through prose—specifically, prose that tells a story.
Listing dry, bullet-pointed facts won’t get the job done (though this format will be required in the sections below). Instead, the summary section of your resume needs to offer flowing, complete sentences, or coherent, consistent phrases. And these sentences or phrases need to describe you as a relatable person on a career journey that bears significance to your reader. What kind of protagonist are you? What do you want? What can you offer? What makes you different from every other candidate?
Tell your story in this section, and tell it in a way that’s brief but compelling.
Make the Most of Your Summary Section
Since readers will pay more attention to your summary than any other part of your resume, make sure every detail of this section is readable, memorable, and relevant to the position at hand. Keep your message lean and focused and don’t waste a single word. Use LiveCareer’s award-winning resume builder for proven formatting and language help.