Your Resume’s Key Is a Strong Career Summary. Prepare to Write

Resumes are so much fun. Not. There are 453 tidbits that can cause your resume to get thrown into the junk pile — and half of them conflict with each other. What we are forced to do, then, is to ensure that the big themes are covered and done in a way that promotes your best work and maximizes the chances of being considered for a position.

Pad and Broken PencilOne way to do that is with the Career Summary. This is a one to three paragraph synopsis of your career. It is not an “Objective” or “Career Objective” statement.

The career summary is designed to answer one big question: What makes you a good fit for this job opportunity?

It’s a Story

People remember stories and not corporate speak. Take your one to three paragraphs and focus on the value you’ve brought to employers throughout your career. Then take that value and work it into a story about how your career has helped them.

This is not as easy as it looks. I just rewrote my resume, have a career summary, and it is still too corporate speak. It is not exciting and, at least in my opinion, doesn’t incent the reader to look further down. In other words, it needs more work. But the objective remains: Create a compelling, short narrative that demonstrates my value.

You Want to Be a Person

The rest of the resume is all about your job skills, accomplishments and results. Very academic, very bland. Seriously, whoever thought “Delivered 42 projects on time and under budget resulting in a 4.2 customer satisfaction rating” is thrilling literature? No one.

Consequently, the career summary is a great opportunity to help the reader understand the person you are and the value you bring. Write the summary in a way that personifies all that — and your point of view.

You’ll Need to Rewrite This Several Times

To be different from all the others out there, your career summary will take a couple of iterations to write. Or more. After all, we don’t think of ourselves as a story to be told, and we certainly don’t think resumes should necessarily come across as personable. Instead, they usually seem like job skill automatons, working hard to produce dry results to an unnamed entity.

We don’t have a lot of practice writing about who we are, the theme of our career and how it came about. But that is what career summaries need to do. And it will take you more than once to write it well.

Career summaries can differentiate you from the crowd. Once you get past the resume reading machines and into the hands of a recruiter, it can help make you a personable job candidate, which separates you from the rest of the pack.

Get that first sentence down and the rest will be easier. Like I said, I need to change mine. Perhaps I’ll start with “It didn’t take long to realize that I can turn chaos into structure. What took a long time was learning that chaos needs creativity to create a lasting structure….”

One Response to “Your Resume’s Key Is a Strong Career Summary. Prepare to Write”

  1. It is extremely important to understand that while you may have all the right skills, the bigger the company the less your chances are at getting in, because of the HR department at most big companies are full of incompetent people who have no clue how to match requirements to candidates. It’s unfortunate, and yes, even in the dot-com space there are incompetent HR people doing everything they can to keep you from being seen and talked to. They go by keywords and strictly by what’s in your resume, they can’t see potential or make judgement calls that since you did one thing, it might make you a perfect fit for the position or another position.

    So the career summary only works when your resume actually gets in the hands of someone who can read it. I’ve found that as you’ve pointed out, not only is a career summary important, it’s also a good idea to actually tell the prospective employer where you would be a good fit with a short list of roles that you’d be a good fit for.

    I have had a huge response to employers by also having a list of things I’ve built, separate from the career summary, and separate from the skills inventory most of us technical people put on our resume. Most of the start-ups want to know if you’re involved in open source, do you build tools, what kind of groups are you networking in. Think like an employer. Don’t be afraid to show yourself as a focused individual who has deep skills in one area, even though you have a broad skillset that includes other experiences. I’ve found that the employer that “gets you at hello” will like your focus and ability to be a subject matter expert on at least one thing, this tells them that they know you can apply yourself on other things with that kind of focus.