You’ve polished your résumé, passed it around to trusted friends for input and even managed to quantify some noteworthy accomplishments, but you still may be missing out on a crucial piece of information. Creating a professional summary, or “professional brand profile,” as my colleagues and I call it, is the single most important thing you can do to improve your résumé and make yourself stand out among a sea of applicants.
A professional summary is a short paragraph at the top of your resume that highlights your skills and qualifications. Sounds simple enough, right?
But here are two reasons why a professional summary is so important:
1. Simply having one sets you apart.
Most people don’t bother to take the time to assess their unique strengths and organize them thoughtfully. Instead, they jump right into the Work Experience section or have an outdated “Objective” topping their résumé. Sitting down and writing a professional summary is a little bit of extra effort that will give you a big leg up.
2. It helps hiring managers understand right upfront what you bring to the table and why you're different from other applicants.
When people are reading your résumé, they are trying to piece together your story in a short period of time. Rather then having them fill in the blanks themselves, take the opportunity to tell them the story you want them to have.
- Visibility. Including some key words in your summary will increase the likelihood that your résumé gets through applicant tracking systems and into the hands of a real person. (Notice I said, “some.” Try not to go overboard and sacrifice readability.)
- Double duty on your LinkedIn profile. Having this succinct, well-written paragraph is just as useful for readers of your LinkedIn profile. You can use the same summary for both.
- Confidence. Drafting a professional summary actually helps you perform better when you do snag that interview. I’ve had numerous clients tell me that they felt more confident and able to clearly articulate their strengths during the interview process after we developed their summaries.
Now that you're convinced (hopefully!) that a professional summary is something you need, here are three few tips on how to write a great one:
1. Avoid industry jargon and clichés.
For example, stating that you are a “detailed-oriented self starter” is not going to wow anyone. Instead, write something more specific like, “Consistently meets deadlines by utilizing proactive communication and project-management skills.”
2. Less is more. Really.
An ideal length for a professional summary is two to three sentences. If you are truly excellent at 12 things -- great -- but pick only your favorites and leave the rest on the cutting room floor. Trying to squeeze in too much will leave your readers confused and overwhelmed.
3. Ask around.
None of us is able to be completely objective about ourselves, so spend some time asking your current and former colleagues how they would describe you. Why do they like working with you? What do they think are your biggest strengths? Get them to give examples, if possible. You should start to see some patterns emerge.
Finally, to get you going, I’ve copied an example of a professional summary I wrote for a recent client:
Accomplished senior operations professional adept at building and leading high performing teams that consistently deliver profitable business results. Known for creating a positive and fun work environment, seeking out high-profile challenges and implementing innovative solutions that address the root cause of persistent issues. Experienced communicating and partnering with senior executives.
Above all, your goal is for your readers to walk away with a sense of who you are, your unique gifts, how you accomplish your goals and what you could do for their company. Summarizing those things in a few concise sentences just might be the game changer your résumé has been needing.