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How to Write a Better Career Summary (for your résumé)
by Brian Konradt

(It is proper to spell resume without the accent marks or with the accent marks. In the U.S., most writers prefer "resume." In this article we use résumé (with accent marks) because it emphasizes the word better.)

Writing a résumé is one of the most important tasks any of us will do in our working careers. A résumé has one key purpose – to win an interview. If it succeeds, it has done its job. If it does not, it represents a missed opportunity. When writing a résumé many writers mistakenly slant their focus towards their work history, spending vast time and effort detailing chronologically what they have accomplished and when. While this is a necessary step, it is the introductory career summary that will make or break your résumé’s success.

Writing a results-driven career summary is more important than ever in today’s competitive job market. Here we have answered 10 common questions about writing a better career summary for your résumé:

1. What is a career summary?

A career summary briefly highlights your career and qualifications in list form. It is the first item that the employer will see on your résumé. Consider this line the most important element to catch the eye of the employer. No matter how well you write your summary, you must have experience to support what you say. For example, if you are applying for a job as a nuclear physicist but failed college math, you are very unlikely to get the job--but you may make the employer laugh before he throws your résumé away. As long as your qualifications meet requirements of the job for which you are applying, your career summary should separate you from the competition and land you an interview.

2. Should a summary be generic?

A common mistake is to produce a one-size-fits-all résumé that you mail, e-mail and post online to hundreds of prospective employers. Be clear about your objectives and tailor your summary to each and every position to improve your chances of employers noticing you. Remember – writing a résumé is essentially like writing advertising copy. Focus on the employer's needs and showcase the benefits you can bring him.

3. What information should you include?

Of course you will need to customize your career summary so that it relates to the job for which you are applying. As a rule, you should summarize your skills, accomplishments, relevant experience, specific expertise relating to: 1) the role, 2) professional and career highlights, and 3) additional skills and accomplishments that will set you apart from your peers.

4. What is a proper layout for a career summary?
  • Start with a short phrase, or headline, that describes what you do
  • Include a brief statement of expertise – either broad or in one specific area
  • Insert two further statements as appropriate to the role, focusing on: your breadth, depth or unique mix of skills; relevant areas in which you have experience; and any relevant accomplishments or commendations.
  • Highlight a characteristic, professional or personal, that is relevant to the role
  • State your professional objective or interest
5. Write a winning headline

Think of the headline of your career summary as the subject line of a letter. Faced with a pile of 200 or so résumés, a busy hiring manager may bypass (accidentally or purposely) your introduction--so make your first line count.

6. How long should it be?

You should present your career summary in a single paragraph. As a general rule, do not exceed 100 words, or around four to six lines. This is your chance to select the most relevant, prominent highlights of your career. Select the best, and omit the irrelevant.

7. What if I am changing career or am just starting out?

If you feel you are the right candidate for the job but you lack industry experience that the employer might expect, you can tweak your career summary accordingly. This is the perfect spot to reveal that 1) you possess transferable skills, and 2) your skills and expertise will provide value to the company. If you are changing careers, demonstrate HOW your past accomplishments make you a strong candidate to add value to the company. If you are in the beginning stages of a new career, use your career summary to spotlight your competencies or personal achievements. Your goal is to convince the employer that you have the appropriate attributes for the job.

8. Always write in the third person

Always write your summary in the third person and in the present tense. Think of writing your career summary from the point-of-view of a best friend. What would your best friend say about you to your prospective employer?

9. What you should omit
  • Never allow a single error to appear in your summary--or anywhere else in your résumé. The employer will rejected it immediately.
  • void general statements. Leave out anything irrelevant to the job position. Remember, this is a summary of your best and most relevant personal and professional achievements.
  • Do not include hundreds of words of text. Keep it short and punchy.
10. A sample summary

Marketing and Business Development Manager with over 10 years’ experience in the professional services sector. Specializes in client acquisition and retention and worked across four strategic business groups within the legal sector managing an annual budget of $3.5 Million. A proven track record in managing cross-disciplinary teams. Recently completed an MBA and is seeking a director-level role in professional services marketing.

Follow these simple guidelines to create a career summary that sells, and you will enjoy professional success in no time.

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