When you introduce yourself to someone at a conference or a networking event, you want to pique their interest without overwhelming them with information. The right balance can lead to more career opportunities in the future—but an approach that’s too aggressive or vague will be unproductive. The career summary at the top of your resume is just like the pitch you deliver at a networking event. It’s a snapshot of your employment history and a way to introduce yourself.
Most recruiters and hiring managers only spend between 7 and 10 seconds skimming a resume the first time they review candidates. This moment is crucial if you want to get to the interview stage. Unfortunately, many job seekers don’t know how to earn the reader’s attention. They mistakenly believe they need to use bright colors and graphics. Their career summary might be paragraphs long and stuffed with elaborate details—or so short and abrupt that it doesn’t communicate any valuable insights.
There are many ways to go wrong in the first paragraph of your resume, but, fortunately, this is also an opportunity to create a positive and lasting impression on a potential employer.
What Is a Career Summary?
Before we explain how to write the best possible career summary, let’s talk about the difference between a career summary and the outdated objective statement. Resumes used to begin with applicants stating what they are looking for in a position. Given that so much information is available online in the form of job descriptions and company mission statements, employers now assume that if you are applying to a listing, the position aligns with your goals. Therefore, they don’t need to read about your interest in the open position—it’s already clear from your application.
A career objective won’t give the hiring manager information about your candidacy, and, ultimately, it won’t help you get hired. Instead, use the valuable page space to give a summary of your career. In this paragraph, you can showcase your communication skills and explain your industry, areas of expertise, and work style. In a way, the career summary replaces traditional cover letters. They’re easier to read and more direct than a formal letter, which is falling out of popular usage. A career summary is also a convenient place to insert keywords and highlight skills that you think will be screened for with an applicant tracking system (ATS).
6 Tips for Writing a Career Summary That Leads to a Job Interview
1. Identify common themes within your work history.
The first step to writing an outstanding career summary is to spend some time reflecting on your own career history and what you feel sets you apart from other applicants. You might want to write all the other parts of your resume first to help you develop your ideas and identify common themes across multiple positions.
2. Think about the big picture.
In the career summary, you should highlight your soft skills, like leadership and communication, instead of recounting your technical abilities, like which software programs you use proficiently. Start with a broad focus. If you’re struggling to think of what to say, ask your colleagues to describe you as a professional. They might have a different perspective about how your actions impact an organization as a whole.
3. Be forward-thinking.
Research trends in your industry that you can relate to your experience. Maybe you were responsible for implementing cutting-edge technology that helped your previous company generate new revenue. Relating your experience to the broader landscape helps provide context for the hiring manager to understand your role within an organization and your familiarity with new developments in the field. It’s especially important to demonstrate what you do to stay informed about breakthroughs in your industry.
4. Write with a compelling voice.
Avoid using tired, overused descriptors like “results-oriented” and “problem-solver” in your executive career summary. This paragraph should explain why you alone are uniquely qualified for a position—and you won’t stand out if you use the same language as everyone else. In a similar vein, avoid words that have a negative connotation, such as “customer-obsessed” or “workaholic.”
5. Give specific examples.
If you have a successful track record, support this idea in the career summary and throughout your resume. Clear and specific examples are more persuasive than making general statements about your performance. Show don’t tell.
6. Edit and revise.
Refine your resume so that it matches your professional caliber. Look for spelling and grammatical errors and make sure the tone is appropriate for the role you’re applying to. Ideally, your finished product will be about 5 or 6 lines long. You might need to go through several drafts to perfect your message and reach the right length. Ask for feedback to get an objective outside perspective.
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What Does a Successful Career Summary Look Like?
It’s tough to know how to write a career summary if you don’t regularly review resumes. Here are some examples of successful career summaries for different positions and levels that you can use as inspiration for writing your own:
Marketing and Branding executive recognized as an expert in the industries of healthcare and insurance for a proven ability to identify and solve complex issues through cutting-edge innovations. Respected as a leader having built a 30-person team from ground up through strategic goal setting and proactive recruiting. Led key initiatives to implement a software upgrade resulting in a 10% increase in web traffic.
Business Development Director
Business Development leader with previous experience in both Fortune 100 and startup companies. Able to utilize analytical and strategic perspectives to provide insight and direction within the technology and financial industries. Led teams of 30 individuals to reduce operational costs by 2MM while increasing revenue by 5% in the first 6 months.
Consultant with 10 years of industry experience in Change Management and Organizational Structuring. A driven thought leader with excellent communication skills and a focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Respected in startup spaces and established companies alike for the ability to implement effective strategic changes leading to revenue increases, higher employee satisfaction, and lower operating costs.
Remember that you alone are qualified to speak about your experiences. There aren’t any one-size-fits-all templates for resumes. If you want to maximize your impact but have limited time to spend on your resume, it pays to work with an expert.
If you’d like to discuss your resume with an expert, make a complimentary appointment with Amber Crow, a Career Advisor at Ivy Exec.