There is no more important space on your resume than that first section after your name. Alas, I rarely see it used to good effect.
Although cover letters allow you to “cover” matters perhaps not easily “covered” in your resume, more often than not your cover letter isn’t sent to the decision maker. In a very real sense, your resume stands alone and needs to be done in such a way that it gets the job done.
If you agree that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, that first section sets the stage for what follows. By taking the time to really focus on your value added, the summary section can allow you to do things that many folks try to do by using a functional resume. (A functional resume, as everyone knows, is used to hide problems in your work history. Therefore if someone is using a functional resume, they must have something to hide. I wonder what it is?)
In very much the same way you need to build your 90-second announcement, the summary is a place to stake out your territory and make some claims that are supported in the information which follows.
No resume is perfect, but Rich Wieland whose resume appears in our document download site has a pretty good overall resume, but I also like most of the sentences in his summary.
He begins with: Increasingly responsible financial and operating management positions including CFO, COO and President. – With this sentence, Rich highlights in clear language that he has had general management experience. Not a bad beginning for a CFO resume.
He next turns to his work history: Successful in service, manufacturing, private, public, domestic and international environments. I think you would agree that this is a strong sentence and covers the nature of the firms at which he has worked in easily understandable terms.
Money makes the world go around, so he follows with: Strong experience in raising capital through private and public offerings as well as working with the life science investment community. Most of Rich’s background is in the life sciences where an ability to raise money is essential, so Rich covers it. No details, just a statement which he supports in his resume.
He is also a “Mr. Fixit,” so he follows the above with: Accomplishments in organization restructuring, financial and strategic planning, and operation improvements, through a total team approach. Notice he didn’t say he was a “team player.” Everyone is or better be.
Lastly he ends with: Extensive experience with high-growth situations, Wall Street and outside Board of Directors. In spare words he ends with high impact issues for most firms.
Understand that the “promises” contained in his summary are supported by his resume. What he has done is provide an overview so you will know what to look for in the information that follows and more importantly so you will know whether you have interest in reading further.
If you are “all things to all people,” you are not providing a summary that will generate interest.
Ordinary course of business statements such as “I do budgeting and planning” or “I close the books every month” have no place in a summary. Think about what makes you special and build on it. If cost accounting is your thing, come up with your very own “environmental impact statement” about how you perform this magic.
Unfortunately, there is no formula you can use to build your own summary. Models exist and you should read and reread the sentences used in ones you like. It is rare that I see a totally great summary, but there are always “glimmers of genius” sprinkled here and there. Use what you like and ignore that which doesn’t work for you.
Just try to make sure your “argument” about why I should hire you as compelling as possible.