STEM Resume Breakdown, Part 3 of 6 – How to Write a Striking Resume Summary

This third post in our 6-part STEM resume breakdown series will cover the most challenging, yet most important element of a resume that gets results. I’m talking about the summary, sometimes referred to as a professional profile or summary of qualifications.

If you’ve been following our series, you may recall in your work from part 2 the importance of capturing the reader’s attention within 10 seconds. Remember, the average time a recruiter spends reviewing a single resume is 4-6 seconds. This same strategy applies when constructing your summary. In fact, this section essentially determines whether or not your resume will move to the “interview” pile.

By the end of this post, you’ll have learned the following:

  • A career objective and a summary are NOT the same.
  • The different types of information you can include (illustrated by samples from previous clients).
  • A simple exercise that you can do anytime to help you write your own striking summary.

The goal? Move the reader to continue skimming your resume and call you to arrange an interview!

Let’s get started!

What’s the purpose of a resume summary?

In short, a summary is a brief, informative recap of your academic or professional career to date. It is typically composed of a few short and sharp branding statements that paint a 360-degree view of your years of experience, types of problems you solve, relevant accomplishments and awards, and any important performance-specific, marketable qualities that align with what the employer is looking for.

A strong summary must position you for the role that you want. If you’re looking to advance or change careers, this could involve removing the focus off of what you’ve done in the past (or what you’re currently doing). On the contrary, if you’re looking to advance within your industry, you’ll want to emphasize how you built upon your previous successes and learned some new tricks of the trade. The goal in either scenario is the same: illustrate how your past performance and experiences will translate into future success.

This section is strategically positioned after the branded headline and supporting statement section that we covered in part 2.Since the summary is strategically placed at the top of your resume, it’s likely to get noticed within those 10 seconds the reader spends deciding whether or not they want to read on.

Is there a difference between a summary and a career objective?

Yes. A very big one actually. Many jobseekers confuse a summary with a career objective statement, which look and sound like:

R&D Laboratory Manager seeking a challenging position in a growth-oriented company to improve leadership skills.

Seeking a fulfilling position in the private sector as a Systems Engineer that will lead to a long-lasting career.

To obtain a position where I can use my strong organization, communication, and educational background.

I highly advise against wasting valuable resume real estate with these boring, vague, and self-centered statements.

These types of statement are ineffective for a few reasons:

  • They’re boring. If I were the Recruiter, I would have fallen asleep while reading all of these statements. Secondly, if you cannot invest the time needed align your skills and qualifications with the job posting, why should the recruiter invest his or her time in taking you seriously?
  • They’re vague. All of these statements make generic claims that could apply to anyone. Worst of all, they convey nothing unique about any of these candidates, which likely won’t inspire the Recruiter to continue reading the rest of the resume or call any of them for an interview.
  • They’re way too “me” focused. Each statement is self-serving. They focus only on what the candidate wants from the company (i.e. a challenging position in a growth-oriented company), and in terms of how it will help their own career (i.e. improve leadership skills).

When making that first connection with a prospective employer, it’s important to recognize that companies are looking for people who can solve their problems. They are not concerned with your desire to gain something from the employer, or for you to achieve some sort of self-fulfillment. If you’re still using a Career Objective, please stop. They have been outdated since the 90s and are a waste of space that would be better suited towards selling your skills, qualifications, and other distinguishing features to the employer.

What do you include in a striking summary?

There is no fixed set of rules that govern what information you can and cannot include in your summary. The aim is to keep it brief, but informative, limiting it to the most relevant professional details.

 Some examples that you may wish to include may be:

  • Years of overall experience and/or specific industry experience.
  • Career highlights (awards, leadership roles, industry presentations, inventions, patents, etc.)
  • Job-related skills and experiences, as well as industry certifications and training.
  • Other distinguishing features, such as foreign language skills, budget management experience, large-scale projects managed, or multiple or rapid promotions throughout your career.

Some of the suggestions above may or may not apply to you or your career situation. In the end, the content you include will depend on what will be most valuable to the employer. To help you better visualize how you can organize this information, let’s take a look at a before and after sample for an IT Project Manager client who I worked with a little over a year ago. First, I will display the original objective statement that the client was using before we began working together. Underneath the original objective statement, the new summary will follow.

Which example has more depth: the objective or the summary?

The new summary tells the reader a lot more about the candidate’s value than the initial objective statement. The summary piques the reader’s interest by including quantifiable information (i.e. savings incurred, team size, budgets, etc.) that provides justification behind why the reader should call this candidate for an interview.

Now, depending on what career stage you’re at or the industry you work in, you may not be able to claim that you’ve delivered up to 7-figures in annual savings. Yet, that doesn’t mean that you cannot write a strong summary that represents your value. In this second example, we demonstrate how to craft a strong summary as a new graduate with little experience.

Do you see the night and day difference between these before and after examples?

While this new graduate cannot claim any quantifiable results, we are able to demonstrate the value that this candidate brings to the employer, and incorporate relevant keywords that relate to the candidate’s knowledge from both education and internship experiences. Additionally, we further distinguish this candidate by including their bilingual language capabilities, something that other candidates with a similar background may not be able to claim on their own summary.

Both of these “after” summaries accomplish 3 things:

  • Nailing the direction that the candidate wants to take, leaving no ambiguity in the reader’s mind.
  • Highlighting the skills, qualifications, and experiences that specifically benefit the employer.
  • Achieving differentiation from the competition by citing other distinguishing features.

Consider the following 5 tips as you write your own resume summary:

  • Refer to your elevator pitch. How would you shape this narrative for the specific role you are applying for? Think about the strengths, experiences, and accomplishments that would be most noteworthy to the employer for the role they wish to fill.
  • Reflect on your professional career to date. Can you identify any specific patterns? What were you recognized for? What did managers, colleagues, professors, or your peers notice about you?
  • Think about your proudest achievements and contributions in your current and former roles. Can you quantify any of those achievements (i.e. increased production levels by X% after doing XYZ)?
  • Pay attention to keywords. Research job postings that match your career target. Note the required skills, qualifications, and experience. Are there any keywords that overlap between job postings? Are there any keywords repeated throughout the posting?
  • Avoid stale language and generic statements. Some common examples include hard worker, team player, great communicator, etc. Anyone can make those claims. Can you cite examples that show those traits in action?
Set a timer for 2 minutes and brainstorm the different qualities that you could include in your own summary based on your job targets. Don’t over think this exercise or filter any ideas that come up. Write down the qualities that come to mind when you think about how your background and experience match the job target(s). After 2 minutes, take a break and review what you wrote. A refreshed perspective will help you see which qualities will be most beneficial to the employer.

How did you do on your summary? There’s no question about it. Writing a summary is the most challenging section on a resume. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the exercise and which tips you found most helpful. Also, be sure to check out our next post in the STEM Resume Breakdown, Part 4 of 6 – How to Identify & Highlight Core Skills & Attributes. 

Are you struggling to figure out what to include in your summary? Scientech Resumes helps job seekers and entrepreneurs position themselves for fulfilling roles within the science (incl. medical), technology (incl. IT), engineering, and mathematics fields.

Schedule a 30-minute, complimentary career discovery session to get some real-time feedback on your current resume and job search strategy. I’d love to help get you where you want to go, with greater results!


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