Is Your Resume Missing an Executive Summary?

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Businessman figuring out puzzle pieces with piece missing on grey wall As hiring managers receive more and more applicants for fewer positions, it’s more important than ever to capture their interest within the first five seconds of reading your resume. The space at the very top of the page is crucial, so put your best foot forward with a dynamic executive summary.

Objective vs. Summary

Trends in resume writing change over time. Objectives used to be the must-have accessory for your resume, but their popularity has gone the way of pet rocks and slap bracelets. Old-fashioned objectives focus on you—your needs and wants for your new job. Competition for jobs is fierce in this economy, so instead of focusing on how the company can benefit your career, demonstrate how hiring you will help the company. Let’s take a look at an example objective statement:

Detail-oriented, results-driven accounting professional seeks a position to utilize my organizational and communication skills.

The objective above is vague, full of clichéd statements —everyone thinks that they’re “detail-oriented” and “results-driven”—and, aside from the word “accounting,” it could be written on anyone’s resume for any industry. Compare it to the following summary:

Accounting executive in search of the next challenge after four years of progressively responsible leadership at a busy college campus. Lowered campus expenses by 50 percent above mandated goal in FY 2012. Scored highest rating in company-wide internal audit of 29 campuses for the same year. Dynamic, civic-minded, and proficient in both Works and Lawson systems.

If you were a hiring manager, which applicant would you rather interview?

The Qualities of a Good Executive Summary

Your statement should be two- to four-short sentences. The goal is to summarize your experience, education, competencies, achievements, and personal attributes in as few words as possible. Sound challenging? Don’t worry; it’s not as difficult as it seems.

First, jot down a list of your most impressive accomplishments (winning a pie-eating contest does not count, unless the job you’re applying for involves competitive eating). Be as specific and measurable as possible; if you increased production efficiency, state the percentage of improvement. If you’re proficient in any relevant software, list those programs as well, but don’t bother with “email” or “Microsoft Word.” At this point, all employers expect a baseline level of computer skills. Finally, write down a few of your best qualities as an employee. If you’re uncomfortable tooting your own horn, it may help to imagine that you’re introducing a valued colleague to an acquaintance.

Next, highlight keywords in the vacancy notice. If they’re looking for an “executive chef,” don’t call yourself a “lead cook.” Often, your resume will need to pass an automatic computer scan, and including keywords that correspond with the original job posting can help you land on the hiring manager’s desk. Work the keywords into your statement as organically as possible. For more help with resume keywords, check out this article from The Wall Street Journal. 

Writing the Summary

While the summary should be grammatically correct, there is a distinctive style to these statements. You should avoid referring to yourself in the third person or using the pronoun “I”; instead, structure the sentences with an implied subject. The reader will know that you’re talking about yourself.

Here’s a Mad Libs-style template:

Adjective, adjective job titlewithexperience.Accomplishment.Accomplishment.Quality,quality,quality.

If you were a party clown looking for work, this is what your summary might look like after filling in the template:

Gentle, friendly clown with more than twenty years of experience as a children’s entertainer. Winner of the National Balloon Animal Award in 2007 and 2009. Performed for the Governor of Louisiana’s children and their guests in 2012. Dependable, hilarious, and a proven hit at parties. 

While your summary might be organized differently, the important thing is to make sure that it tells the reader, as succinctly as possible, who you are and what you do.

By Allison VanNest