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6 Mistakes People Make When Writing an Executive Summary

executive summary mistakes

The executive summary at the top of a resume is just as critical to your resume’s success as it is difficult to write.

“How am I supposed to summarize a 10, 15, even 20+ year career into a handful of lines and make a meaningful and effective impression?” This is a question I often field when speaking with clients. Some clients try to incorporate far too much information in their summary, essentially producing a short essay. Others are so painfully brief that they might have been better off having written nothing at all. There are many pitfalls to avoid along the path to writing a successful executive summary (ES) – here are some of the mistakes to avoid.

  1. Overuse of Clichéd, Character-Driven Adjectives

This is by far the most common error in most ES’s. People feel the need to describe the type of professional they are, choosing from a seemingly finite definition, leading to the average summary reading like this: “Results-oriented, self-motivated and analytical ___ professional…” Regardless of the combination, we tend to focus on the same set of descriptors, which has rendered them meaningless. I have it on good authority that recruiters do not search these as key words in applicant tracking systems and they do not make an impression when being read, despite their inclusion in many job descriptions.

  1. Conflating a Summary With an Objective

In the past, the objective was a common and expected feature of the resume, stating your desired job target, environment etc. The problem is that objectives tend to be generic in nature (by default) and are completely self-serving. A resume is not about what you want, but rather, what you can do for the employer. The emphasis in the ES should be on how your skills/experience can benefit the employer, rather than how the employer will help you achieve your personal goals.

  1. Composing Laundry Lists of Skills and Experience

Though you can do a lot and have a breadth of functional and industry experience you are more likely to distract the reader with volume versus drawing attention to what fits. Narrow your background to what is most relevant functionally/skill-wise (marketing + business development) and industry (pharma/healthcare). Though you can also do technical requirements gathering and have worked in the aerospace industry, that doesn’t necessitate their inclusion. More is not necessarily better. Relevancy should be your key criteria.

  1. Using Bullet Points Instead of a Paragraph

Though bullet points are easier to read, your summary should present as a cohesive story that affirmatively and informatively directs your reader’s attention to the most relevant aspects of your background, all framed within how it might benefit them. Bullet points put the onus on your reader to create your story. A narrative paragraph ensures that your meaning and emphasis are carried through.

  1. Name Dropping Your School and/or Highest Level of Education

“Stanford MBA with 15+ years’ experience…” The further out you are from your last degree, the less important the institution that conferred it becomes. It is more than likely your peers attended similarly reputable institutions, but even if you or they did not, your real world, professional track record is far more important than classroom theory.

  1. Offering a Set of Claims Without Evidence

“proven track record of __,” “demonstrated ability to __,” “consistently exceed goals,” “superior relationship management and leadership skills,” etc. There may be truth to all of these, but without evidence, they are hollow superlatives that everyone writes. Can you link these claims to direct results or evidence that might intrigue your readers? If so, why float claims when you can provide hard evidence?

Ultimately, you should treat your executive summary like an elevator pitch. It should be clear, concise, and precise, in illuminating to your audience why your candidacy matters. It should frame how your skills and experience fit in to their business and will help them achieve their goals. In case your cover letter does not get read, which is not beyond the realm of imagination, an effective executive summary is your second and last chance to introduce yourself and guide the reader’s understanding of you as you see yourself, creating the impression that you desire.


Want to craft an Executive Summary that will catch the reader’s attention and sell you as a top candidate?

Join our upcoming online class on Tuesday, March 20th, 2018 – 12:00 PM EST:

“How to Tell a Powerful Story in Your Resume With a Winning Executive Summary”

About the Author

Nii Ato provides day-to-day career and resume advice to Ivy Exec's members. He strives to make our members feel heard and supported in their job search. If he wasn't at Ivy Exec, he'd be playing left mid-field for Arsenal.