Maximizing the First Page – The Summary

Previously, I discussed the importance of the accuracy and appearance of the header of the resume. The header is not the most important part of the first half of the first page of a resume; the most important part is the summary of expertise. These five to seven lines of the first section of the resume serve to sum up the job seeker’s background, expertise, and “perfection” for the position. Flub the summary and the rest of the resume is a waste of space.

Several years ago, the first section of the resume was usually the Objective. When most job seekers’ career paths were fairly set and sequential, an objective was a useful tool. It told the reader of the resume what type of job, even what job title, the candidate was seeking. The objective was helpful in categorizing the candidate with just a glance.

Now, with careers taking all sorts of unusual paths, a Career Summary is a better choice for the first half of the resume. A summary creates a powerful word-picture of the job seeker’s abilities and current career position. It tells of both hard skills and soft skills, with emphasis being on the skills that are most in demand by employers. A summary also can mention specific, top-seller skills or career achievements like “Fulbright Scholar” or “Holds Top Secret security clearance.” The summary grabs the reader’s attention and makes him/her want to read further.

It is interesting that most professional resume writers say they choose to write the Career Summary last when composing a professional resume. The summary is such an important part of the resume, it is important to be very familiar with career strengths and strategies in order to craft the summary. Just as it is easier to write a summarizing final paragraph for a research paper, it is easier to write the summary last.

The summary also takes longer to write than any other portion of the resume. To capture the essence and most marketable points of a career in five to seven lines of text takes more word-crafting and thought than the rest of the resume. Expect to spend at least half the amount of time writing the resume summary as was spent writing the rest of the resume.

Many people stress over what to call that first section. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve called it the career summary here, but it can be named lots of different things or even not named at all on the resume. Some possibilities are:

Executive Summary
Career Highlights
Highlights of Expertise
Summary of Abilities

There really is no “right” thing to call this particular section. In fact, if you choose not to give the section a heading at all is perfectly acceptable. Remember, there are few hard rules in resume writing. As long as the value of expertise and career is outlined well in that first section, most of the battle is won.

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