How long will recruiters spend on your résumé before deciding to toss it in the recycle bin? Six seconds, says online job search site The Ladders. That’s about 20 to 30 words.
So how do you write those first few lines of your resume—the summary section—to compel the recruiter to keep reading? How do you make sure you get the call—and not the toss? How do you make your summary memorable?
Here’s a checklist:
Tailor your summary to each job application. Highlight your areas of expertise most relevant to that position.
Then focus on specific results you’ve achieved in those areas of expertise—how other organizations have improved because of you.
Note the types of organizations and industries you’ve worked in.
Include years of experience.
Avoid generic terms such as results-driven, proven track record, excellent communication skills, team player.
Let’s look at a few examples of powerful summaries:
“Pharmaceutical marketing executive with 20 years of experience creating commercial infrastructures, growing brands, and optimizing product value throughout launch, re-launch, and sunset life cycles across all customer segments—payers, physicians, and patients. Lead global marketing and commercial operations teams with P&Ls up to $2B.”
“EHS director with 20 years of experience driving regulatory compliance and employees’ health and safety across industries—manufacturing, retail, and healthcare. Develop award-winning, injury-reducing ergonomic equipment. Launch LMS training programs and engaging websites to inform thousands of employees.”
“Online ad sales director with 12 years of experience leading sales teams in start-up, rapidly growing, and established companies. Maximize profitability of ads across all platforms, including games, mobile, social, and web. Consistently exceed revenue targets—even when battling Facebook and other relentless competitors in crowded markets.” Now let’s look at how these summaries followed the checklist: Tailor your summary to each job application. Make a list of the three or four most important responsibilities of each posting and then highlight those in your summary. This immediately tells the hiring manager that you’ve solved the same types of problems she’s dealing with. And it’s worth her time to keep reading and then interview you.
Focus on specific results. How have other organizations benefited from your work? And which of your accomplishments distinguish you from other candidates? The marketing executive (above) built commercial infrastructures from scratch, made drugs profitable from launch to sunset, and managed $2B P&Ls. The EHS director invented award-winning ergonomic equipment—quite a distinctive accomplishment within his more general health and safety achievements. And the sales director broke into the online game market with sponsored ads. He also left the reader eager to know more by noting his David and Goliath-like confrontation with Facebook.
Note the types of organizations and industries you’ve worked in. The marketing executive began her summary with “pharmaceutical”—the one industry she’s worked in throughout her career. The EHS director highlighted his work across three industries–retail, manufacturing, and healthcare. And the sales executive noted his accomplishments across media companies at three stages of development—start-up, growth, and well-established.
Now, if you’re applying for a position in an industry different from the one you’re currently in, here’s an example of an alternative structure for your résumé summary. This person was applying for a senior project manager position at Disney, but her most recent work was in children’s museums:
“Project manager with 18 years of experience leading cross-functional teams to deliver children’s technology products and family museum experiences to international audiences.
Strategy leader for brands with complex and diverse product lines.
Communicator skilled at exciting audiences at conferences, online, and in products and exhibits.”
She called attention to the three areas of expertise most important to the Disney position—project management, strategy leadership, and communication–using bullets and bolding.
She then followed this summary with a Selected Accomplishments section documenting her achievements in each of those areas. The second page of her résumé used the more traditional Experience format to describe her positions in descending chronological order.
Avoid generic terms. Rather than simply claiming to be results-driven, all these summaries state the results the applicants achieved. Eschewing overused terms enables recruiters to immediately see what you’ve done, pique their interest, and encourage them to learn more. A note about LinkedIn: Unlike three- or four-line résumé summaries, you have up to 2,000 characters in the summary section of your LinkedIn profile to highlight accomplishments and connect them to what you want to do next. For much more detail about how to write a LinkedIn summary, read How to Use Your LinkedIn Profile to Power a Career Transition. The other sections of your resume are, of course, also important. But it’s a rich, accomplishment-focused summary that will stop the reader in her tracks and keep her from passing you over for the next candidate. Make it immediately clear that you have what it takes to excel in her position. Distinguish yourself from other applicants. And expect the phone to start ringing. Jane Heifetz is the founder and principal of Right Résumés and a contributing editor to HBR. She was HBR’s Product Development Director and Executive Editor for many years. Here’s her LinkedIn profile. July 28, 2015