Crafting a resume is stressful. It’s tough to convey so many things in the space of one document: your skills, qualifications, aspirations, potential, and more. And an employer has to decide not only whether you’re qualified, but whether you might be a good cultural fit, and a good investment for the company over the long term.
What is a career summary?
One way give potential employers a good sense of who you are is to use a career summary. This is a brief introduction that provides an overview of your standout skills, and how you have used them, to tell employers what you bring to the table and what makes you unique. They are sometimes known as a professional summary or a summary of experience. What they are not is a resume objective.
Career summaries are great opportunities to stock your resume with additional resume keywords. Resume keywords are important because they help your resume rank more highly in applicant tracking systems (ATS), a type of database most companies use to receive, filter, and select the best resumes.
Resume keywords can include skills, tools, educational credentials, experience, job titles, and more. Examples include “Ruby on Rails” and “registered nurse.” For career summaries, you can also include specific terms that encompass broader ideas. Think “sustainability” or “start-up environment.” Terms such as these can give an employer a clearer picture of your experience.
When it comes to crafting a career summary, there two top sources for resume keywords. One is the original job posting. This is where the bulk of your keywords will come from. The company’s online presence—their own site, plus any corporate social media profiles such as LinkedIn or Facebook—is a great place to find keywords to use in your career summary. Look for words that are used frequently. This is how a company brands itself. Your career summary is your chance to create your own brand. And if you want to make an employer think you’d be a great fit, try to find (subtle!) ways to align your brand with the company’s.
One thing to avoid: business buzzwords. These are a waste of space because they don’t tell an employer anything about you as an individual. Calling yourself a “bleeding-edge thought leader” or a “best-of-breed guru” only tells an employer that you want to sound impressive, but can’t think of specific accomplishments, traits, or experiences to back it up.
Career summary vs. resume objective
One of the main differences between a career summary and a resume objective is that a career summary is written in active voice. This highlights your strengths and achievements and keeps your statement clear and to the point.
Another main difference is that a career summary is focused outward. A resume objective is focused on what the job seekers wants. “Seeking a role where I can utilize my knowledge and skills” is a pretty typical resume objective. It tells the employer what the job seeker wants. But an employer wants to know why a candidate is right for their role and what that candidate can bring to their company. In the words of President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
As you no doubt noticed from the sample resume objective above, they are bland statements. Your career summary should express what makes you distinctive. Successful brands speak for themselves— take a look at the photo below.
The best way to achieve this to understands the patterns in your resume.
- Work history: Are there patterns in the types of businesses you have worked for? Fast-paced, family-owned, start-ups, established global corporations? If you have only ever worked for huge companies with long histories, you might have trouble selling your brand to a small, nimble start-up.
- Skills: Which of your skills have you used most frequently in former jobs? Which of your skills are most mature, and which are still new? The job description should make it fairly clear which skills that role will use most.
- Achievements: These do not have to be formally recognized. Any steps you took to improve a business—reducing production downtime by improving maintenance systems or finding a new avenue for generating sales leads—should be noted.
Once you read through the job description, browsed the company’s online presence, thought about the patterns in your work history, and phrased things in active voice—while avoiding buzzwords—you should arrive at a career summary that paints a clear picture of who you are and how you’re different from everyone else. This is your personal brand, and it’s far more effective than a resume objective.
Jobscan is an online resume analysis tool that helps job seekers by giving them feedback on ways they can change their resumes to be ranked higher by an ATS. Just like an ATS, one of the main things Jobscan looks at is keywords. Enter the text of your resume and the job listing you’re targeting into Jobscan’s tool for personalized feedback that can make your resume, including your career summary, even better.