How to Write a Resume:  The Summary Section

Beginning your resume with a summary section is a good way to attract attention.  Employers and recruiters, faced with reading dozens of resumes, spend little time evaluating each one thoroughly.  Instead, they skim over each resume very quickly or they put a clerical worker in charge of making the first cuts.   Therefore, if your resume offers a summary section that tells the reader immediately that you are qualified for the job, your resume is much more likely to make the first few cuts and hopefully wind up in the "call for an interview" pile. 

How to Write a Good Summary Section

The first rule to follow when writing your summary section is to avoid fluff language.  Fluff language consists of unsubstantiated, over-used phrases that have made employers roll their eyes since the 1950s.  Examples of these phrases are "highly-motivated self-starter" or "excellent communication skills".  These phrases are so overused that, if your summary section contains them, your résumé is probably going to wind up in the garbage.

Every statement made in your summary section should be backed up with proof somewhere in your resume.  For example, the fact that you are the founder of two highly successful companies and have three degrees makes you a "highly-motivated, self-starter".  The fact that you have "ten years experience training new recruits and writing instructional materials" gives you the right to claim you have "excellent oral and written communication skills" in your summary section. If you don't have such experience to back up these overused phrases, then leave them off of your resume.

The Summary Format

There is not one summary format that works for everyone.  Your summary section can be a brief paragraph consisting of a sentence or two, or it could be lengthy and consist of your major selling points organized under 3, 4, or 5 different functional headings with bulleted sentence fragments under each of these headings.  How lengthy it is depends on the following factors:

(1)  Are you trying to enter a new field?  If so, you will need an expanded summary section to overcome your unrelated work history.
(2)  Do you lack a work history?  If so, you have no choice but to offer a lengthy summary section to feature your skills since you don't have a work history to offer.
(3)  Do you seek a promotion in the same field you've successfully worked in for years?  If so, you probably don't need a lengthy summary since your work history and past promotions will do most of the selling.  Your summary section need only tell the reader that you have a lengthy and successful work history in X field and have excelled at doing A, B, C, D and E.
(4)  Have you been working in the same field for years without a promotion?  Then an expanded summary section might help you finally get the promotion you want.
(5)  Does your resume reveal something negative, like employment gaps or no clear career path?  If so, featuring your selling points in an expanded summary section can help de-emphasize the negatives and highlight the positives.

How to Write a Resume:  Summary Section Examples

The first sample is a short and simple summary section in paragraph format that someone who has worked steadily in the same field might use:

"Office manager and supervisor with ten years experience preparing payroll for a medium-sized corporation.  Thorough knowledge of payroll procedures and regulations, and highly proficient in popular business spreadsheet and word processing software applications.  Graduate, Acme Business College."

You might choose to use bullets in your summary section to better highlight your information.  For example:

  • Ten years of publishing and information services experience for a major publishing firm
  • Extensive background in project management and new product development, including recruiting and motivating authors on diverse projects
  • Designed and implemented dozen of innovative and award-winning publications and marketing plans
  • Master's degree in Marketing

The above summaries are designed to pique the reader's attention enough so that he will want to read the work history section.  It is the work history section that will do most of the selling.  Use this type of summary if you have worked steadily in one field and have moved upward.

A general rule of thumb to follow:  If you have a very powerful work history section and are seeking employment in the same field, you probably don't need an expanded summary section.

Expanded Summary Example

An expanded summary section can take up the entire first page of a resume and consist of four or five functional sets with bulleted information under each subheading. People who offer such summaries generally have a weak or damaged work history and are trying to compensate by offering all of their best selling points in an expanded summary section.  Those who might use this type of format are those trying to enter a new field, get promoted, hide employment gaps, or get that first job.

For example, suppose that your work history can be described as "meandering."  You even worked for yourself for awhile.  You have all sorts of skills and a good bit of experience, but you can't apply it to one field.  You are an ideal candidate for the expanded summary.

You can organize all you have to offer under categories called functional sets.   Under each function, you will list your top selling points as briefly as possible using sentence fragments set off with bullets.  If you decided you have good management, supervisory, and communication skills, then you might organize your summary section as is illustrated on the next page.

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