If you are serious about a job search, you should be serious about your resume. The element I want to focus on in this post is how to write a professional summary for your resume.
What’s that? You haven't heard of a summary section in a resume? Think of the summary as the anti-objective statement. Instead of saying what you want out of a job (which is what the objective statement was so good at), you are communicating what you will bring to the table in a resume summary. If this concept sounds familiar, well, it should. You can think of the resume summary as a version of your elevator pitch.
When I am on stage talking about personal branding and using elevator pitches, one of the main messages I want to get across is that the elevator pitch, like the resume summary, is all about the value you bring to the role, or the organization (or better yet, both). You should have at least one elevator pitch memorized and in your pocket, but you’ll want to customize it based on the opportunity and audience. The same goes for your resume summary: one size is good, but you must customize it based on the role, the industry, and the company.
When thinking about how to write a professional summary, remember that you need to get it right—it is a critical part of the first impression you’ll make, as it’s one of the first things a recruiter or hiring manager will see when they look at your resume. If your summary is weak, then there’s a good chance you won’t capture the reader’s full attention. In addition to aligning the summary to the opportunity, make sure the summary is aligned with the content below it (translation: the skills, work experience, and education sections of your resume).
Here’s my best tip on how to write a professional summary: practice your elevator pitch out loud, and write it down. This is the first draft of your resume summary. How does it read? It might sound good when spoken, but does it read well? Does it make you sound like you are the right person for this job? Is it one that can be easily customized to individual job ads?
You should have at least one elevator pitch memorized and in your pocket, but you’ll want to customize it based on the opportunity and audience. The same goes for your resume summary: one size is good, but you must customize it based on the role, the industry, and the company.
When thinking about how to write a professional summary, rest easy knowing this— it’s just one part of your resume. And this particular part only needs to be between three and five sentences. That’s it! The summary should be long enough to share your compelling value proposition, but remember—you’ll have plenty of room for a deep dive on your skills and work experience in the bullet points under each role in your Work History section.
Differences Between a Summary and an Objective
If you are still stuck on the differences between an objective and a summary, let’s clear this up. Remember, the resume objective has more or less been ditched in favor of the summary—you do not need to worry about having both on your resume.
Objective: About me and what I want
Summary: About this role, and why I’m an excellent fit for it
A simple way to test your summary to make sure it isn’t an objective is say it out loud and imagine you are saying it in a job interview. I hope that you realize how bad a traditional objective statement in a job interview would sound. Instead, use the precious time you get face-to-face with decision makers to help them understand your professional capabilities, which is exactly what a resume summary does.
Of course, it is still about you. It’s just that it’s not about your career aspirations; rather, it’s about your professional strengths, and how they tie to the particular role. Communicate this succinctly and clearly and you’ll do better than a lot of others in the interview process.
How to Write a Professional Summary
First, state the role and skills you are touting.
Second, include specific experience or value that you’ll bring to the role.
Third, if appropriate, add anything that you know to be important to the hiring team or company (this comes from doing great research and having the right conversations).
Professional Summary Examples
Versatile financial services professional with 10+ years of experience representing top companies. Areas of expertise include investment strategy, asset allocation, and risk management. Possess excellent people skills that have helped maintain a client retention rate of more than 95 percent.
Video course content writer and designer, with over 50 produced courses under my belt. Conceptualized, researched, designed, and presented courses on a variety of art history subjects that have been seen by over 20,000 online learners, consistently garnering strong and positive feedback. Ability to work alone on tight deadlines or in a team environment, and across multiple time zones.
In the example directly above, the first sentence says who I am and what I do, and instead of saying for how long I’ve done it, it gives a quantification (50 courses) of my work. The second sentence includes the different steps involved in creating video courses, and states that I’ve done them all, and that my courses have been successful. The third sentence declares that I am okay to be left alone, and will hit my deadlines, but that I’m also not so obnoxious that I can’t work with others (assuming that is something important for this specific role).
There is plenty of advice about how to write a professional summary. One last thing I’ll share is this: beware of cliché (things that lose their meaning because everyone says them) or jargon (words or acronyms that most people won’t know the meaning of because they are too specialized).
In Summary (No Pun Intended):
- The summary lives at the top of your resume, underneath your header
- The summary should consist of three to five sentences, tops
- The summary should focus on the skills and accomplishments that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for
Don’t let the writing of your summary intimidate you. If you can’t write your summary then you are probably struggling with your elevator pitch. Get either one of them down, and you’ll have the other one down. Good luck!