To include a resume summary, or not to include a resume summary? The nagging question that has plagued many a job seeker.
Well, here’s some advice to clear the matter up: yes, you should include a summary. Unless you are really pressed for space, have a significant amount of description writing in the body of your resume, or you’re specifically directed not to include a summary, it’s an essential addition to a professional resume. “Most people should have a summary,” says Lynn Carroll — a career coach who writes about authenticity in the job search, gender equity in the workplace, and inclusion — who we reached out to to learn how to create an eye-catching resume summary.
Carroll distinguishes between a resume objective, which she says is what the jobseeker is looking to find in a company or position, and a resume summary, which tells a recruiter what the jobseeker can uniquely offer to a company or position. “The objective is now considered by most recruiters as an out-of-date function because it focuses on the jobseeker… The summary is considered more current and a better way to describe the relationship between the jobseeker and the company because it talks about what they can offer,” says Carroll.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind for your summary:
Keep it Short
There are plenty of opportunities to expound on your qualifications and experience in the job search process, like in your cover letter or the interview. The resume summary is a place to make the resume a bit more personalized, and to frame your resume in terms of the type of candidate you believe the company is looking for. For this reason, it’s important to keep the summary short. Carroll recommends writing a full paragraph at first, and then gradually whittling it down to two or three sentences full of powerful, important words. “By condensing — rather than on the very first pass have a short summary — sometimes you give a lot more thought to what the most important pieces really are,” she advises.
Tell a Story
A resume summary isn’t a place to re-hash your professional experience, or to list out your soft skills. It’s about giving the reader a brief, vivid taste of what kind of person you are in the workplace, what drives you and makes you tick, and what kind of environments you thrive in. Keep this in mind as you write your summary: tell, don’t list.
Use Relevant Keywords
Keywords are important for several reasons. First of all, they can help you stand out in applicant tracking systems, a type of software that companies use to digitally sift through job applications. Second of all, you can show that you know how to speak the same language as the company. “If you were using the word ‘customer’ for example, and they were using the word ‘client’ in their job description, the idea is the same but they don’t see that you are using their same lingo,” Carroll says. “They might feel like you’re not in touch with where they’re at.”
Use Vivid Language
Carroll says she always encourages her clients to use vivid, descriptive language, that brings their experience and skills to life. “If I describe a meeting I ‘organized’, that seems like I set the conference call up. If I describe a meeting that I ‘envisioned,’ or I describe a gathering that I ‘developed’, that sounds like I had more input into the content,” she says. Using verbs that have active connotations rather than passive connotations can help this, Carroll adds.
Match the Tone to the Occasion
There’s no one tone to strike in a resume summary. It all depends on the type of job you’re applying for and the kind of company you’re sending your resume off to. Carroll gives the example of someone applying to a job at a more traditional, hierarchical Fortune 500 company versus someone applying to a job at a Silicon Valley startup. At the Fortune 500 company, she says, the applicant might want to use phrases like “solid foundation” and “excellent skills” to imply stability and reliability. At a startup, however, one might want to use phrases like “creative,” “innovative,” or “dynamic.” It all depends on the job you’re applying for, and also – don’t forget! – what describes you as a candidate the most accurately.