As a jobseeker it is your task to read each job listing carefully enough to discern what problem the employer is looking to solve and then to convince them you are the exact right person to solve that problem. Your argument begins with your resume summary.
A resume summary consists of three to five sentences at the top of your resume that communicate who you are and what you have to offer. The following guidelines can help you craft a resume summary that will convince potential employers you are worth a closer look. (If you think you’ll need help writing yours, consider putting a free, reputable, easy-to-use resume builder to use.)
- Assess What Employers Want
Gather together 10 to 12 job ads for positions that appeal to you. Read through them and make notes. Do they use similar language to describe the desired skill sets and educational background of the ideal candidate? Make note of similarities and shared wording. Incorporate all that apply to your summary.
Effective summaries adhere to some basic best practices: they don’t use pronouns (I, me) or articles (a, an); they convey what the candidate has done and can do using third-person point of view; and they use strong present-tense verbs.
- Start Strong
If you think of your resume as a marketing tool and your summary as the opening sales pitch, then the opening line of your resume summary can be thought of as the slogan or tagline. It is the most important sentence in your summary, and therefore in your entire resume. It needs to catch your reader’s attention, assure them that you are a bona fide candidate, and make them want to learn more about you.
Use the research you’ve already done to help you craft this sentence. If there is a most common job title among the job descriptions you reviewed, then use that title to describe yourself in the first sentence of your summary. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this because you have never held that particular job, then describe yourself a bit more generically using some of the same language. For example, if the position is looking for a “media and marketing manager” and you have never had that exact title, then you can describe yourself as a “media and marketing professional.”
- Hit the Right Note
A good resume summary should be conversational, but also professional and impactful. It should highlight your best qualities, those that make you a good fit for the job at hand, as well as one or two that are likely to make you stand out from the crowd.
Professional recruiters often advise jobseekers to think of their resume summary as their 30-second elevator pitch. With this in mind, consider reading your draft summary out loud. Does it express what you’d want to say if you were asked in the opening moments of an interview, “Tell me a little about yourself?” Would a hiring manager scanning through the top third of your resume feel compelled to read further?
Next, research sample resumes for your field on industry-specific job boards and professional association websites. Do summaries in your field tend to be narrative or are they more likely to consist of bullet lists of qualifications and accomplishments?
- Add Keywords
Today’s jobseekers have to craft their summary with two audiences in mind – a human one and an automated one. Automated applicant tracking systems (ATS) scan through resumes and select the most qualified candidates for human review. Most ATS search for keywords that match the description from the job ad.
Your summary needs to be flexible enough to incorporate at least some keywords from each new job description. Most ATS cannot distinguish between synonyms so you will want to use the exact same keywords the job ad uses to describe your skills. The more keywords from the job ad that appear in your resume, the more likely it is that your resume will make it into a hiring manager’s hands.
- Effective Summaries, No Experience Required
Those new to the job market should use their resume summary to highlight projects completed during internships or in professionally focused academic activities, such as student government, media, philanthropy or an on-campus job.
Did you work with faculty on a research endeavor? Create an app or start a blog? Earn an academic award or scholarship? Start, plan or manage a fundraising campaign? Any of these accomplishments can be incorporated into your professional summary to differentiate you from your peers, especially if you highlight the skills you used in these settings in a way that connects to the needs expressed in the job listing.
- Leave Them Wanting More
Most recruiters and hiring managers will spend six seconds looking at your resume, about enough time to skim the top third to see if they want to read further. The most important task you need to accomplish with your resume summary is to make sure any recruiter or hiring manager reading it will want to keep reading past it.
You can do this by drawing their attention to examples of accomplishments that are further illuminated later in your resume. You may even want to try to craft your summary in a way that compels your reader to start asking questions about you, or even wanting to meet you in person.