Danger! Danger! Your Resume Summary Makes You Look Boring

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Vladimir Popovic
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Vladimir Popovic

The man behind Epic CV. Digital Branch Manager at the top international bank. Can't live without coffee.

Hi, guys. I'm here to deliver you some great content on making your resume. If you've got any comments or questions, feel free to contact me at vladimir.popovic@epiccv.com.

Vladimir Popovic
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Intro

Oh, my God, look at this guy’s resume! He’s self-motivated a fast learner and a team player! Let’s hire him immediately!

Do you think this is the real world situation? You and I know it, it’s not. Then, why do people keep using these and similar general phrases in their resume summary (supposing they actually have a summary)? This will get them nowhere and it’s boring. Everybody writes the same nonsense they saw somewhere on the web and it came to the point that recruiters started dismissing resumes for having these overused phrases.

Lucky for you, you’re reading this article. After you finish, you’ll have all the tools you need to make your resume summary shine and differ from thousands of generic resumes.

What is a Resume Summary?

Imagine you find yourself by chance in an elevator with the CEO of the company which has an open position that would be your definition of a dream job. What would you do? Remember, you’ve got only a couple of tens of seconds. After that, the elevator stops, the doors open and the CEO is vanishing from your eyesight.

Would you be afraid and keep quiet? Would you try to start a chit chat? Would you kidnap him, take him to a lonely place and keep him in captivity until he promises to hire you? Well, if you want that job you should definitely try to make him interested in you, professionally. So, how should you do that?

There’s something called an elevator pitch. It’s a couple of short sentences that best describe what  you are talking about and that provoke interest in the listener about the topic so much that he cannot resist but ask you to meet in order to find out more. It can be used for whatever purpose you want, but it’s designed to grab attention fast.

Elevator pitch
Elevator pitch

Now, imagine you find yourself in an elevator with the recruiter who received your resume in his inbox just a couple of minutes ago. What would you say to him? Well, congratulations, you just found out what’s your resume summary.

As another analogy, you may imagine your resume summary as a shorter version of an answer to an interview question “tell me something about yourself”. Or a short version of your cover letter.

Whichever analogy you like most, keep reading and become the master of summarizing before the end of this article. Your next job depends on that.

Why Should You Use Summary?

A couple of years ago, a job matching company The Ladders conducted a study which showed that a professional recruiter spends in average six seconds in reviewing a resume. Yes, you read well. Six seconds.

Stopwatch
6 seconds stopwatch

Now, combine that six seconds average with the saying “There’s no second chance to leave a first impression”. You should figure out by now that you need something on your resume which will grasp the recruiter’s attention instantly and won’t let go until he puts your resume to a “to call” pile. That something is a Summary section (also known as Profile, Summary of Qualifications, Professional Summary, Professional Highlights etc).

Let’s see the full list of benefits that summary brings to a resume:

  1. Attention grabbing – Summary is the hook, the bite, the first full marketing message you’re sending to a recruiter. Will the resume be properly scanned and read very often depends on the quality of the summary. It would be a major neglect to miss this opportunity on your resume.
    Grabbed attention
    Grabbed attention
  2. Branding – Branding is very important in the job seeking process. If you manage to establish the level of consistency of your messages through e-mail, resume, cover letter, job interview and your live presentation, a chance for the recruiter to memorize you is dramatically increased. Of course, if you communicate that you have experience in plumbing and apply for a financial analyst, branding won’t help you. But if you present yourself as a top-notch expert in a field relevant to the job description and you handle that image well through the whole hiring process, there’s a substantial benefit in establishing your own brand in minds of recruiters. The best way to brand yourself in a resume is through the summary section where you may present yourself as an ideal candidate for a position.
  3. Emphasis – No matter if you want to divert the recruiter’s attention from something on your resume or you just want to stress out a couple of highlights, summary provides a space to do it properly. By the time the recruiter sees that you have an employment gap in your work history, he’s already hooked to your stellar achievements.
  4. “Why should we hire you?” – In a matter of three – four sentences or bullet points you should show the recruiter or hiring manager why they should hire you. If you manage to show them the key values you’re bringing to the table and it happens that these values fit their requests (we’ll see how to match these two later), everything else will be just elaborating and proving points you listed in the summary.
  5. Uniqueness – The summary allows you (and you should use that, as a must) to express your uniqueness and all the attributes that distinguish you from other candidates. This is crucial in today’s job market, where hundreds or thousands of job seekers fight for one position.
  6. Robots – The summary allows you to pack a bunch of keywords and pass the Applicant Tracking System’s barrier.
    Robot reads resume
    Robot reads resume

What Should You Include in Resume Summary?

Resume summary is the essence of who you are, what you can bring to the company, your biggest achievements and your core competencies and skills. Having that in mind, let’s list all points you can include in your resume summary:

  1. Experience – If your experience is favorable to you, be sure to include the number of years you spent in specific industry/niche. It’s important because it highlights the stage of development of your core competencies. Example: Top-ranked sales manager with 8+ years of experience in consumer electronics sales.
  2. Laser accurate relevant past key positions – If you’re applying for a sales manager role, your pizza delivery job from 15 years ago is not something you should put in the resume summary. On the other hand, your sales coordinator job where you managed 20+ sales agents is something that should give a prospective employer a good insight into what you can do for his company.
  3. Relevant core competencies and skills – Be sure to present your competencies in the resume summary as long as they are significant to a position you’re applying for. For example, for a bank teller position, you should highlight your error-free, high-speed course of FX manipulation on your previous job.
  4. Relevant accomplishments – Accomplishments gives the flavor of success to your resume summary. Make sure they are quantified and time framed. Example: Experienced sales manager, increased monthly sales by 24% in 18 months.
  5. Awards and recognitions – Don’t forget to mention your awards and other recognitions that prove what a valuable employee you were in your previous positions. This is important proof of your capabilities to satisfy company’s requirements.
    Achievements
    Achievements
  6. Education and certificates – State them in the resume summary only if they are key points for a position you’re applying for.

Of course, you don’t have to include all these points into your resume summary. This is just a list of what may go in.

The Most Important Concepts in Resume Summary Writing

In order to deliver the most powerful punch possible with your resume summary, you need to comply with some general guidelines. This is the most important part of this article as it’s going to teach you how to channel the essence of your professional engagement into something that will hook a recruiter and won’t let him go until he introduces you to the hiring manager.

Here are some principles of a successful resume summary:

  1. Concise – While this is applicable to a whole resume, it’s of special importance to say as much as you can with as little words as you can in a resume summary. This is your selling speech and if you can’t condense it into a couple of sentences or bullets, the recruiter is probably not going to read it to the end. If that is the destiny of your biggest selling point, other parts of your resume will receive even less attention.
  2. Tailored to a position – I’m sure you heard numerous times that your resume should be tailored for every job application you make. A couple of tweaks here, some emphasis there and you’re done. In contrast, resume summary should not be tweaked; it should be completely rewritten for every new application. You have to incorporate new keywords, to highlight different positions and achievements and to reflect requirements of a prospective employer. In order to succeed in all this, rewriting is a much more viable (and easier) option than tweaking of the existing summary.
    Tailored
    Tailored
  3. Keywords – Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a piece of software which screens through a pile of resumes in order to automatically reject unsuitable ones to reduce the workload for human recruiters. One of the biggest points you need to score in order to pass ATS is a proper use of keywords. So, in the process of resume summary creation, you need to pay special attention to load it with keywords found in a job description. Only by filling it up with these relevant keywords, your resume will pass robots.
  4. Relevancy – When you’re writing your resume summary always have in mind that it’s a summary. Not your life highlights or resume-in-resume. You have to include only and exclusively the most relevant points and the most favorable achievements which are related to a job description you’re applying for.
  5. Use action words – Remember, summary is there to persuade a recruiter to keep reading. Proper usage of action words can bring much to the value proposal of an applicant. Focus on words as developed, led, increased, managed etc. Those are words which ignite a flame of interest in a reader.
    Action words
    Action words make recruiter’s mind go like this.
  6. Focused on employer’s benefit – Whatever you write in a summary, be sure to be employer-focused. The company needs to know what kind of value you can bring to them and, based on that, why should they hire you. So, keep all your statements in that spirit, highly matched with desires of the employer. You don’t have enough space in a resume to tell the company what you want, so tell them how you can help them to achieve what they want.

The Most Common Mistakes in Resume Summary Writing

Writing a proper resume summary is the hardest part of resume writing but also the most rewarding. There are so many ways to make a mistake that some people decide to ditch the whole summary thing and proceed without it. Let’s see which mistakes are the most common:

  1. Usage of pronouns – Save this for your memoires. In resume, all statements should be written as if you are understood subject without using pronouns. “I led a team of 20 sales agents” or “He led a team of 20 sales agents” are incomparably worse than just “Led a team of 20 sales agents”. This one shows your resume crafting skill to a reader and a level of research you conducted prior to resume writing. Don’t be that guy.
  2. Usage of generic expressions – If you write in your resume summary that you’re a team player, don’t be surprised when you’re not called for an interview. The whole point of a resume summary is to show how unique you are and that a skill set you developed is transferable to a new position. If your summary contains the phrase team player or enthusiastic or detail oriented or any of those vague, clichéd classifications you find in most resume templates online, that will prove one of two things: you have very poor communication skills or you have a surplus of space on your resume.
  3. Mentioning specific circumstances – The summary is not a place to mention specific circumstances about your employment gap, medical state etc. Always have in mind that your resume summary is a sales pitch. You won’t find data about calories intake in McDonald’s advertisements, will you? That’s because that’s not a place to mention them. Think of a summary as of the shortest marketing message about yourself that you can convey to a recruiter.
  4. Usage of abbreviations – The summary is a great place to list your skills and achievements but never forget that the first screening of a resume is done by someone who is in HR, not specifically related to your narrow field of specialization. A recruiter may or may not know typical jargon or abbreviations used in your industry so don’t risk being rejected because of misunderstanding.
    abbreviations
    Abbreviations
  5. Describing personal characteristics – Some authors advise on stating that you’re energetic, dynamic etc in your resume summary in order to make it more powerful. Don’t do that. It’s in the same category as being a fast learner, good under pressure etc. In a word, it means nothing. You can’t prove it, the recruiter is not going to believe it, you’re wasting precious real estate of your resume summary and you’ll look as a generic online advice transcriber. Just stick with concrete facts and provable statements.
  6. Involving personal information – Racial, ethnical, marriage, age and other personal information doesn’t belong to a resume in the first place, but even more in a resume summary. It’s a place to emphasize your excellent points and if you think personal information is the best you can do, then it’s an immediate red flag. Recruiters and hiring managers are very sensitive to personal information as it can be taken as a ground for future legal actions against them on a basis of discrimination. That’s why resumes with this kind of personal info are tossed in a trash can immediately.
  7. Big block of text – Summary is there to help a recruiter or a hiring manager scan your resume faster and intrigue them to keep on reading. If the first thing they face on your resume is a big block of dense text, their eyes are almost automatically going to a next more readable and digestible piece of information. So, no matter that some authors recommend your resume summary to be a paragraph of 4-6 sentences, they obviously never had to scan a couple of hundreds of resumes at once. Don’t do that. Find out how to format your resume summary in the next chapter.
  8. Listing basic skills – If you think that your knowledge of MS Word or Internet Explorer is the best you can offer to a prospective employer, than your job search is doomed even before it began. Never list anything so prosaic in a resume summary. It should be a section of your resume that shows how unique and specifically exceptional you are. If all you can list there is something that everybody else on the planet can do, don’t write the summary at all.
  9. Exaggeration and misleading – It’s very easy to get carried away when you’re thinking about leaving the best possible impression on a possible employer. 20k of something easily becomes 30k. 12% transforms into 17% in a second. Don’t do that. Above all, be honest and don’t lie. The risk is just not worth it.
  10. Including objective into summary – Now, this is a point where a lot of authors recommend including your objective into a resume summary. I would ask all of them one big, huge WHY? Why in a section where you should present what you can do for the future company you need to say what that company can do for you? I mean, everybody knows that you want the job because of the pay and possibilities for professional development and hierarchy climbing. Don’t write anything about that, you’ll just irritate a recruiter or a hiring manager.
    objective
    Clear objective

Now, check your resume summary and tell me, did you found yourself guilty by any of aforementioned charges?

How to Format Resume Summary?

Now that we saw what kind of mistakes you should avoid in creating your resume summary, let’s see the best practices in formatting that precious piece of information on your resume. Here they are:

  1. Headline – Be sure to put a headline above your resume summary. This is one of the most important points. It should be short and sweet. A headline shows to a recruiter or a hiring manager who you are and what you can do. If you play a video game and you have a choice between a Barbarian, a Wizard and an Archer, you know on the spot which characteristics are immanent for any of these characters. The same should be with your headline. A recruiter should be able to tell what are your characteristics based on your headline. However, don’t forget to add 1-3 words of a marketing phrase (similar as in resume filename) next to your vocation. For example, don’t write just Sales Manager, but Top-ranked and multiple-awarded Sales Manager. See the difference?
  2. Use bullets and paragraph – Numerous authors (some of them even professional resume writers) suggest that you should use 3-6 sentences in your resume summary and to write it in one paragraph. Now, I ask you, if you have some 150 resumes to review, what would you think of a resume which summary is 6 or 7 lines of a dense text in one paragraph? Would you care enough to read that summary? I think not. Recruiters and hiring managers, due to the nature of their job, often skip blocks of text and concentrate on snippets of information. I always suggest people to write one or two sentences (two lines of text in total) which are followed by bulleted list. In sentences you can describe who you are and mention experience and relevant key positions. In bullets you can write about your core competencies, accomplishments, awards etc. This way, a recruiter can easily read one or two lines of text without loosing interest and then, his eyes naturally go to bulleted points without much effort. With that, you accomplish the most important goal – your resume summary is read from beginning to the end and the recruiter’s fire for you is lit.
    Use bullets
    Use bullets
  3. Strongest first – On the mere start of a resume summary, you should perform something extraordinary, something that will keep a recruiter on the edge of his chair till the end of a resume. Put your best quality first in a summary in order to intrigue a recruiter and to provide your resume a proper treatment.
  4. Three to six statements – Make it short and sweet. Don’t write your life synopsis in a summary section. Just make three to six most relevant and important statements about your previous work and a value that you’re bringing to the company. And make it stellar.
  5. At the top – Resume summary is a part of a resume which goes right under your name, at the top section of a first page. It’s the most precious part of resume’s real estate so make it count.
  6. Start and end strong – In accordance with the third point is this one. As much as it is important to intrigue the recruiter by a strong opening statement, it’s almost as important to finish your resume summary with a stellar skill or accomplishment. This will complete the impression that your resume is the one worth reading and increase its chance to be read fully. This is a very important detail and you shouldn’t miss to end your summary with a bang.
  7. Follow the style of a resume – Summary is a constitutive part of a resume and should follow resume’s general formatting guidelines. It means that bullets, margins, fonts etc. should be the same in the summary as they are in the rest of a resume.

Resume Summary vs. Resume Objective

Good, old times. A couple of years ago it was enough to make an Objective section in your resume and you were good to go.

Well, times have changed. However, it seems that not all people are aware of that. I keep seeing the Objective section in resumes all the time.

Objective is a part of your resume where you describe what your professional goal is, what you want your career to look like and what challenges are you seeking. This was all nice and fine 10 years ago when there were plenty of jobs, competition among job seekers wasn’t as tough as it is today and, in general, it was much easier to get a job.

Nowadays, however, hundreds of job seekers are fighting for one position and that evolution of competition forced everybody to use resume’s real estate in the most efficient way. That means that there’s no room for empty phrases, vague expressions etc.

Also, there’s no room for wishes. If you’re applying for a position in a company, it’s understood that you wish to work there, for a salary in order to develop your skills.

wish
The Wish.

Well, Objective section is just that. One big, nicely packaged wish. And, to be honest, nobody cares about what you wish for anymore. It’s a cruel statement, but it’s better to embrace the truth then to live in delusion.

Of course, employers are going to try to present to the community that they are very interested in keeping their employees happy. And that’s true to some extent. Employer needs to keep you happy so you could be more productive. And that’s all.

In a non-forgiving setting as today’s is, it’s all about what you can give to the company, not what a company can give to you. That is the sole reason why recruiters and hiring managers do not dedicate even a second to the Objective section in a resume when they see one.

So, in a battle for the first quarter of the first page of a resume between Summary and Objective, a clear winner by knock out is Summary section. Resumes with Objective are considered obsolete. Don’t be that person.

Who Should Use Resume Summary?

There are a couple of serious authors which actually recommend Objective section over Summary to some groups of applicants. I’ll debunk these myths right now:

  1. Career starters – If someone is just starting a career, it doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t have some highlights from their education or extracurricular activities to put in a resume summary.
  2. Career changers – If you’re changing your industry, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to clog the first quarter of a resume explaining why you are doing that. Leave it for a cover letter.
  3. People who are returning to the work force – If you’ve got an employment gap, it doesn’t mean that you should poke an eye of a recruiter with that. There are other, more subtle ways to handle gaps in your professional history.
  4. Mass e-mailers – This strategy is as if you throw a bowl of cooked spaghetti to a wall and you hope that something’s going to stick to the wall. I can see the logic of including an Objective statement if you’re emailing every employer in a radius of 200 kilometers not even knowing if they have an empty seat. Of course, you would have to explain to them what you want. However, I don’t see the logic of mass emailing companies in the first place. Always, and I mean ALWAYS tailor your resume, especially your summary section for any new application.

In the end, some authors recommend to include Objective into a Summary section. In a previous chapter we listed many reasons why you shouldn’t do that. You just don’t need an Objective. Everybody knows that you want to get a job. As far as recruiters care, that’s enough.

So, to answer the question from the headline of this chapter: everybody should use resume summary. Its benefits are immense.

Outro

Well, now you have all the information you need to create a compelling Summary section in your resume. Don’t miss this chance as it may be a difference which will determine whether you will land that interview or not.

Please, share with us your experiences with Summary sections and some practices you saw. Comments section is just below.

 

Good luck with your job search!

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Featured photo by Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

Elevator photo by Steve Snodgrass/Flickr

Stopwatch photo by William Warby/Flickr

Attention photo by Juliana Coutinho/Flickr

Robot photo by Brian J. Matis/Flickr

Trophies photo by Brad.K/Flickr

Tailored photo by Tyler Wilson/Flickr

Action words photo by Jon Bunting/Flickr

Abbreviations photo by Christophe Porteneuve/Flickr

Objective photo by Fabio Bertolotti/Flickr

Bullet photo by Ed Schipul/Flickr

Wish photo by Luigi Anzivino/Flickr


9 Comments

  1. Mike

    What an amazing article. This blows my mind. I have made much of these errors. And now I understand why one recruiter ended the interview from the moment I said I am married.

    Reply
  2. Gulab Khan

    Indeed this article is an eye opener. I’ve bin surfing the internet for resume writing for quite some time and I guess that search has paid me well. I’ve sent you my CV please have a generous look at it for professional improvements
    Regards

    Reply

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