The Resume Summary Statement: When You Need One and How to Do It
Depending on who you ask and how you’re using it, summary statements can either be a complete waste of space or a total game changer. For those of you who don’t know, a summary statement (also known as “Summary of Qualifications” or just “Competencies”) essentially consists of a few pithy and strong statements at the beginning of your resume that help summarize your skills and experience in order for a prospective employer to quickly get a sense of the value you could offer. Here’s a sample:
- Expert communicator with 10+ years of experience dedicated to community development and advocacy within the field of education
- Strong public speaking, teaching, and facilitating skills for diverse student, professional, and general audiences
- Extensive involvement in all levels of relationship building, marketing, and program development
- Proven ability to manage multiple projects while meeting challenging deadlines
Sounds great, right? Minus the part where you have to give up valuable resume space for information that’s already on your resume. So, the big question is: Do you really need one?
The short answer is, it depends. Summary statements are usually best for more experienced professionals with years of experiences to tie together with a common theme (read: brand). Or, alternatively, they can be used to tie together disparate experiences with a set of key transferable skills. On the other hand, if you have a pretty linear or straightforward career path, the space is probably better used for additional bullet points in each role.
If you do decide that a summary statement is right for you, get ready to do some digging and some introspection. You only have a limited amount of space for your summary statement (think four to six bullets, give or take a couple), and you don’t want to a) regurgitate your resume bullets or b) sound like a list of buzzwords.
Once you have these two cardinal rules down, the real fun begins. Here’s a three-step plan to help you craft the perfect summary.
Step 1: Figure Out Where You’re Going
Since you need to be concise, it’s important to figure out what you want in your next position, so you know exactly what skills and experiences to highlight. If you are not absolutely clear about what you want, envision an ideal position that will value you for the main characteristics and experiences you want to be hired for.
- What skills do you most enjoy using?
- What accomplishments are you most proud of and can best illustrate your abilities?
- What issues, topics, or areas are you most passionate about?
Step 2: Analyze Your Target Industry
Once you know what you want to do, your next step is identifying where you want to be—think industry, city, and companies. Then, research your industry and key trends affecting it now: Read relevant industry news articles, research companies, and analyze job descriptions you’re interested in.
- What is most valued in your target industry?
- What experiences, skills, and characteristics matter in your target jobs?
- What would you look for if you were the hiring manager?
Step 3: Find Your Fit and Condense
With your knowledge of your target industry, it’s time to figure out how you fit in (or want to). Identify, describe, and refine your key selling points with your end goal in mind. Then, craft them into 4-6 bullets, shooting for statements that are vivid and that clearly illustrate what you bring to the table over anyone else.
- What are your most impactful selling points?
- What critical problems are you well positioned to solve?
- What is the intersection of you want and what your target industry needs?
A summary statement can be a powerful branding tool the helps send the message that you’re the right one for the job. The best thing about taking the time to put one together (whether you decide to actually use it or not) is that it not only helps hiring managers get a clear sense of what you have to offer, but also helps you better understand what you bring to the table. So, you get the added benefit of knowing exactly how to sell your skills the next time you’re networking, interviewing or presenting yourself online.
Photo of notebook courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author