Resume Summary

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

The third post in my 6-part STEM resume writing series will cover the most challenging, yet most important element of a resume, the summary, professional profile, or summary of qualifications.

If you’ve been following the STEM resume series, you may recall in your work from part 2 the importance of capturing the reader’s attention within 10 seconds.

Remember, recruiters spend an average of 4-6 seconds reviewing a single resume. This section can determine if your resume moves to the “yes” or “no” pile.

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

  • A career objective and a summary are NOT the same
  • Type of information you can include (illustrated by samples from previous clients)
  • A simple exercise 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?

A summary is a brief, informative recap of your academic or professional career to date. It is typically composed of a few short, sharp branding statements that paint a 360-degree view of your experience, problems you solve, relevant accomplishments, awards, and performance-specific qualities.

A strong summary must position you for the role that you want. If you’re changing careers, you may want to remove the focus off of what you’ve done in the past (or what you’re currently doing). 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.

Resume summary vs. career objective?

Many job seekers 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.

Don’t waste resume space with these boring, vague, and self-centered statements.

These types of statement are ineffective for a few reasons:

  • They’re boring. If you cannot invest the time needed to align your skills and qualifications with the job posting, why should the recruiter invest their time?
  • They’re vague. These statements could apply to anyone. They convey nothing unique about any of these candidates, which doesn’t inspire readership.
  • They’re way too 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 achieve self-fulfillment. If you’re still using a career objective, 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 resume summary?

There are no fixed rules governing what you can and cannot include. The aim is to keep it brief, but informative, limiting it to the most relevant professional details.

 Examples of professional details can include:

  • Years of overall experience and/or specific industry experience
  • Career highlights (awards, leadership roles, industry presentations, inventions, patents, etc.)
  • Job-related skills, experiences, industry certifications, licenses, and professional training
  • Distinguishing features, such as foreign languages, budget management, large-scale projects, multiple promotions

In the end, the content you include will depend on what will be most valuable to the employer. To help you visualize how you can organize this information, let’s look at a before and after sample for an IT Project Manager client. 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 justifies why the reader should call this candidate for an interview.

Depending on your career stage or industry, you may not be able to claim you’ve delivered 7-figures in annual savings. Yet, that doesn’t mean 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 demonstrate their value to the employer by incorporating relevant keywords that reflect the candidate’s knowledge from education and internship experiences. We further distinguish them by including their bilingual language capabilities.

Both of these “after” summaries accomplish 3 things:

  • Nails the candidate’s career direction, leaving no ambiguity in the reader’s mind.
  • Highlights the skills, qualifications, and experiences that benefit the employer.
  • Achieves differentiation by citing other distinguishing features.

5 tips for writing your 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 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 keywords that overlap between job postings? Are there keywords repeated throughout the posting?
  • Avoid stale language and generic statements. 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 overthink 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 down the next day.

How did you do? There’s no question about it. Writing a summary is the most challenging section of a resume. Let me know your thoughts on the exercise and which tips you found most helpful. Also, check out our next post in the STEM Resume Breakdown, Part 4 of 6 – How to Highlight Skills on Your Resume

Scientech Resumes is dedicated to helping science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals find fulfilling work through targeted, branded, and keyword-optimized resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and other career marketing documents. Schedule a FREE 20-minute discovery session to get some real-time feedback on your current resume and job search strategy or connect with me on LinkedIn. Let’s get you where you want to go, with greater results!


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