Resume Summaries: An Expert’s Viewpoint

Everybody knows that the most important real estate on your resume, bar none, is the top of the first page.

To put it in newspaper terminology, whatever info you choose to highlight “above the fold” is going to receive far more attention than the rest of your content.  Or more accurately, perhaps, if you FAIL to capture the interest of the reader in first three…or seven…or ten seconds of your resume (I lose track of what the latest psychological  studies tell us) it’s unlikely you’re going to make the hiring cut.  So you really need a “summary” of some kind at the top of your document that will knock the reader’s socks off!

How does one go about writing an engaging resume summary, however?  I certainly have my own thoughts on the matter, but today I’m going to yield the floor to one of my favorite collaborators, Matt Bud,  Chairman of the Financial Executives Networking Group — or FENG, for short.   As a veteran corporate leader, executive search consultant, and grand poobah of a 38,000-member financial executive networking group, Matt really knows his stuff and always provides refreshing straight talk around such matters.  So I’m reposting his latest piece, below, and encourage you all to take his words to heart!

Resume Summaries: 25 Words or Less
by Matt Bud (whose terrific blog you’ll find here!)

There is this great place right at the top of each resume that I find is not generally very well used.

Right after your name, address, telephone numbers and email address, there is nothing more appropriate to appear than a summary.

A summary, précis, or synopsis appearing in this location can save those reading your opus a lot of valuable time, and work to insure that you are included in that most desired pile of resumes to read later, as opposed to the pile that is positioned ever so close to the circular file.

Look, I don’t know anything about you, so at this juncture you have a golden opportunity to give me a clear mental picture of what you are all about. Should I meet you at some time, I don’t want any surprises.

This is not the place to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. I am sure you can do a lot of things.  But, this is the place to be brief and on point. What is it about you that makes you different? What is about you that I should find important?

“Seeking a senior financial management position in a growth oriented company” is a phrase that takes up a lot of room and does very little for you. The reason is what I call “Matt’s law of opposites.” There just isn’t anyone looking for a job at a company focused on decline.

I don’t mind summaries that begin “Over 20 years of experience.” It gives me an immediate sense that the resume before me is of a senior professional, and I think that helps. If this is a job for someone with 5 years of experience, I know that this is not you. Summaries that begin “17 years of experience” smack of our tendency as financial folks to be overly precise. I suggest you stick to even nickels whenever possible. “Almost 15 years” or “Over 15 years” are easier concepts to understand for most readers.

The next concept you want to communicate is the nature of your background. Is it Treasury, Internal Audit, Tax, Manufacturing, or Capital Markets? The list of possibilities is long, and I know you don’t want to exclude yourself from ANYTHING, but the truth is that the world is looking for experts in narrow areas. If you do the “everything but the kitchen sink” routine, you will actually be eliminating yourself from the race.

The subject I would suggest covering next is industry. Seniority and areas of expertise are all well and good, but again, folks are looking for experts, and I think you will have to agree that industry experience is typically very important. Not to worry here if you are trying to change industries. In the review process, it is most likely that the hiring company has identified several industries as important, and if you are going to represent a fit, you are going to have to come from one of the several they have selected.

As in all other parts of your resume, work and rework this most important section. Keep it brief. Keep it in tune with who you really are. And, use precise and powerful words.

This is no place for mushy ideas, soft concepts and long sentences. After all, it is supposed to be a SUMMARY not the whole story.


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