How to Write a Resume Summary

A killer resume starts with an attention- getting resume summary. A resume summary is a two to three sentence paragraph at the top of your resume that highlights your skills and abilities. Think of it as a way of introducing yourself without getting into all the nitty gritty details of your resume. It can be hard to boil your work experience down to two to three sentences so let's go over how to write a resume summary.

 Do You Have to Have a Summary?

While a resume summary is not required - no one's going to send you to job search detention if you don't have one - it's certainly expected in today's employment market. If you don't have one, I can practically guarantee your resume will not get the attention it deserves.

| Scan & Toss |

Recruiters and hiring managers screen hundreds of resumes for each job and here's what happens:

They pick up a resume and quickly read through the summary or objective at the top.

If the like what they see, they take a look your job experience and work history. 

If they don't like what they see, they don't read any further and toss the resume in the "no" pile. They probably looked at your resume for less than 5 seconds.

And since you don't want them to toss your resume it's worth the 10 minutes it takes to learn how to write a resume summary.

 What Is a Resume Summary?

A resume summary is really just two or three sentences highlighting the things you think will make you stand out as a job candidate. It's tempting to overthink it and make writing your resume summary harder than it should be. It's often similar to your elevator pitch or answer to the question, "Tell me a little bit about yourself." For your core resume, create a few sentences that summarize your strengths as a candidate in your chosen career field, and then customize it for each job you apply for. Generic, one-size-fits-all resume summaries are a thing of the past. Customization is now the gold standard.

     Your Resume Summary Gets You A First Look

    You've heard that old saying, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression," right? Well, if your resume is the first impression you give as a job candidate, then your resume summary is the first impression of your first impression.

    | You Get Noticed |

    Whether the initial screening takes place with an artificial intelligence screening software or a real live person, your resume summary is what gets you through the first cut. Think of it as a way to quickly move yourself to the top of the resume pile.

    | Highlight Your Strengths |

    A resume summary that's keyword rich and customized for each job will highlight your work experience and important skills and abilities. Think of it from the hiring manager's perspective: if you were the one hiring for this position, what words or phrases would describe the most important skills and abilities you'd be looking for in a job candidate? Those are the things you want to mention when writing your resume summary.

    It's important to remember that your resume summary includes broad statements about your work experience and skills, anything you write in your summary needs to be supported by information in other sections of your resume. This is not the place to fluff up your qualifications or try to schmooze your way into an interview. It's an honest, direct short paragraph about what you bring to the table as a job candidate.

    | Mention Soft Skills|

    Your resume summary is a great place to mention some of the soft skills that are almost always listed in a job posting but are sometimes hard to work into other areas of your resume. Phrases like, "team player, "recognized leader," "problem-solving skills," or "excellent written and verbal communication skills," are often great choices for your summary section.

    | Beat The Computer|

    In today's employment market when a job is posted it's immediately visible to millions of job applicants. Companies will sometimes receive thousands of job applicants for one open position. Unfortunately for them, the vast majorities of these resumes will be from people who are hoping for the best, but don't meet the minimum qualifications of the position. 

    To manage this avalanche of resumes, companies use recruiting software programs and artificial intelligence to weed out the least qualified candidates. For each open position they enter keywords and the recruiting system weeds out resumes that do not include those keywords.

    Keywords are your best bet for beating the computer and making it to the next round of consideration.

     Resume Summary or Resume Objective?

    The purpose of a resume summary is to highlight your career accomplishments and work experience that qualify you for the open position.

    A resume objective is a statement of your job search or career goals. It's a way of telling a company what's important to you as a job candidate and what kinds of positions you're looking for.

    A resume objective is helpful if you have limited work experience. Maybe you're a high school or college graduate looking for your first job.

    A resume summary is a better choice if you have some skills, work experience, or career accomplishments that you want to highlight.

     How To Write A Resume Summary

    Now that you know what a resume summary is and what it should accomplish, let's review how to write a resume summary.

    1. List Your Most Impressive Skills & Abilities

    Begin by writing down several phrases that highlight a few of your most impressive career accomplishments. You don't want your summary to be too long so once you've got some ideas on paper, go through and pick the two or three accomplishments that highlight what you've achieved in your career. 

    And remember to consider those accomplishments from the perspective of the hiring manager. If one of your accomplishments is "experienced payroll conversion professional" but the need to lead a conversion project is not mentioned anywhere in the job description then that's not going to help you get noticed. 

    The words and phrases to include in your summary meet two criteria 1) they are some of your most impressive accomplishments and 2) they related directly to what the company is looking for in the person they hire.

    2. Include Keywords

    Keywords are the name of the game in the job market and you only need three to five keywords in your summary. Read the job description and ask yourself, "If I were the hiring manager, what would be the most important words or phrases I'd be looking for in a resume? What work experience or skills does the successful job candidate absolutely have to have?"

    Remember, the goal of your summary is to get you through that all important first cut. You're not trying to cram all of your achievements and work experience into two to three sentences. You just want to pick the ones that are most important for the position you're applying for.

    3. Make It Flow

    Now that you've got your accomplishment words and phrases as well as keywords for the job opening, it's time to put them all together in sentences that flow. The words and phrases in each sentence need to relate to each other and need to connect one accomplishment to another. 

    For example, if you're applying for a promotion to a payroll manager position, your personal accomplishments might include managing payroll for over 5000 employees, implementing a new payroll audit system, and decreasing special payment processing time by 20%.

    The keywords you identified for the open position are "government regulations," "payroll software proficiency," and "strong problem solving skills."

    Your summary could look like this:

    Payroll professional in charge of supervising 5000+ employee payroll with strong problem solving skills and experience ensuring compliance with government regulations. Led transition to new audit system based on current payroll software program, decreasing processing time by 20%.

    In two sentences you're identified a few of your most impressive accomplishments and listed keywords that are essential for getting an interview.

    4. Keep It Short

    While it's tempting to go on and on in your resume summary, that won't get you in the door. Your goal here is to make it through the first cut. You need to focus and prioritize. If you cram your resume with every career accomplishment and 10 keywords the system's going to assume you've padded your resume and spit you out.

    Keep your resume summary short. It should be two to three sentences. Anything longer than three sentences is too long.

     Resume Summary Template

    If you're in a rush and don't have time to word smith your resume you can use this handy template. Here's what you'll need:

    Your job title or the name of your career path

    3 accomplishments you want to highlight

    3 keywords from the job description

    Here's the template:

    (Job title/career path) with experience in (accomplishment/keyword), (accomplishment/keyword), and (accomplishment/keyword). (Transition word/phrase to begin next sentence) (accomplishment/keyword), (accomplishment/keyword), and (accomplishment/keyword).

    Let’s take a look at how that works for our payroll manager job candidate:

    Payroll professional with experience supervising 5000+ employee payroll, a track record of ensuring compliance with government regulations, and strong problem-solving skills. Led transition to new audit system based on current payroll software program, decreasing processing time by 20%.

    The template makes it easy.  

     Your Summary Is You

    Remember, your resume summary is the first thing the recruiting software system or person screening the resume sees about you. To them, you are your resume. It's important to resist the temptation to throw together a mishmash of words and phrases because your brain is worn out from working on the rest of your resume. It's best to create your summary with a fresh mind and a strategic perspective.

    That's how you'll get an interview.