The dreaded professional summary. A good one is the Holy Grail of resume writing. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve seen a ton of resumes. And I’ve seen very few with really strong professional summaries. My philosophy is if it’s not stellar, why waste the space? Professional summaries that focus on fluff or soft skills take up precious space on a resume that could be used to highlight your results and accomplishments. A stellar one, on the other hand, can make an already strong resume even stronger. Caveat: Generally, I only recommend professional summaries for individuals with 10+ years of work experience. They can be especially helpful in summarizing varied careers that have encapsulated different industries, sectors, or position types.
Here are a few tips that may be helpful:
1. Take a step back. If your resume is your dissertation, what would the abstract say? If your resume is a novel, what does the inside cover say? How would you thoughtfully summarize your career? Think about themes, highlights, and creating context.
2. Balance. You don’t want to repeat what is already on your resume but you also don’t want to be too vague (read: fluffy). You have to strike the right balance of high level and detailed. Instead of a 50,000 foot view try a 25,000 foot view.
3. What makes you different? People who apply for the same job will most likely have a somewhat similar background and education. How does the combination of your skills, experiences, and training set you apart?
4. Stick to 4 to 6 statements or bullets and start with the number of years of experience in your field. For example, X professional with 10+ years of experience in Y. Include profession, areas of expertise, types of organizations/environments you have worked in.
5. Ask a colleague or mentor. Find someone who knows your work and industry well and ask them to summarize your work to get you started.
6. Tailor to fit. Depending on what you are applying for you may have different professional summaries. I know, that means two Holy Grails. Chances are once you get the first one down, though, the second will come easily – it’s just a matter of rearranging and slightly varying your emphasis.
7. Avoid things that should be obvious. Respected. Enthusiastic. Motivated. Prove these in an interview, not on your resume.
What is your biggest obstacle in creating a strong professional summary?
Did you know? Alumni Career Services offers free resume and cover letter reviews for alumni. Send your resume electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will reply with feedback.