As a professional résumé writer, I am always happy to offer advice and support to job seekers who are working to write a résumé that will be impactful and catch attention in today’s competitive job market. One of the questions that I am asked quite often concerns the Professional Summary as a key section of a well-written résumé.
I consider the Professional Summary to be one of the three key elements I consider important in an effective résumé, the other two being summaries of Core Competencies and Selected Career Highlights. One of the mistakes job seekers generally make in writing is a résumé is failing to leverage the top half of page one of the résumé to present a strong value proposition to the potential employer, highlighting what sets the job seeker apart from other candidates. These three summaries are key elements of that value proposition and should appear “above the fold,” as it were.
First, let me say that the Professional Summary replaces the Professional Objective, which was once the opening statement of a résumé. The problem with an objective statement is that such a statement tends to be heavily focused on what the candidate wants, what he or she is “seeking.” Quite frankly, the employer doesn’t care what the candidate wants; the employer wants to know what the candidate can do and how well he or she can do it. The Professional Summary, on the other hand, is focused on what makes the candidate unique. In essence, the summary answers the age-old first question of the job interview, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” It is the opening statement of the résumé and might be thought of as an expanded elevator pitch. The following is a sample summary:
Results-oriented, team-focused Human Resources (HR) professional with more than 10 years of management and operations experience and advanced certification (Senior Professional in Human Resources/SPHR). Solid business acumen and ‘big picture’ outlook paired with understanding of the value of dedicated HR departments. High-level emotional intelligence and proven ability to promote visibility, approachability, and availability of HR. Capable of displaying a sense of fairness and openness in coaching and counseling employees. Proven effectiveness in increasing reliability of HR files. Accustomed to managing multiple time-sensitive tasks.
Comprised of seven to five lines of block text, the Professional Summary is the place to introduce the prospective employer to who you are as an employee. This is the place for outlining your “soft skills”—your ability to build consensus within a team, your problem-solving and troubleshooting skills, and your ability to cultivate and leverage relationships with strategic partners. In the summary, you might consider highlighting a unique combination of education and skills. Essentially, the summary is like the blurb on the back of the book jacket, compelling the reader to dig deeper and invest in reading the entire novel.
A good Professional Summary will define the job seeker’s career objective, but in a much more organic way. In fact, I would be remiss if I did not mention the importance of writing a résumé with a clearly defined career objective in mind. It is always of paramount importance to know what you hope to accomplish with the résumé. Having a career objective front-of-mind during the writing process ensures that your résumé has focus, and it will, indeed, inform the creation of the summary.
One word of caution, however. Keep in mind that recruiters and hiring managers (especially the most seasoned ones) are accustomed to skimming résumés rather quickly. Technical or hard skills are best presented in a bulleted list of Core Competencies. I often see résumés in which the writer has buried some very critical technical skills (those which align with the essential job functions of the target) within the opening summary. Making a very clear delineation between soft skills (Professional Summary) and technical/hard skills (Core Competencies) will serve you very well.
Best of luck to you in your job search.
Written by Jerome Imhoff – firstname.lastname@example.org