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Exploring the Professional Summary

Some time ago, I was invited to speak for the San Francisco Professional Career Network (SFPCN) a Meetup group that has been around for a couple of years now. This group was organized to provide support and advice to job seekers and career changers in San Francisco, and the efforts of the group have been quite successful. I was thrilled to be invited to speak to the group (for the second time) on the topic of résumés.


One of the questions that I’m asked quite often, and one that was echoed by the participants of the SFPCN Meetup, concerns the Professional Summary as a key section of a well-written résumé. In previous columns, I’ve addressed the Professional Summary as one of the three key elements I consider important in an effective résumé, the other two being summaries of core competencies and career highlights. I have not, however, written about why I think the Professional Summary is so important or what purpose it serves in the résumé.

First, let me say that the Professional Summary replaces the Professional Objective, which was once the opening statement of a résumé. The problem with an objective statement is that such a statement tends to be heavily focused on what the candidate wants, what he or she is “seeking.” Quite frankly, the employer doesn’t care what the candidate wants; the employer wants to know what the candidate can do and how well he or she can do it. The Professional Summary, on the other hand, is focused on what makes the candidate unique. In essence, the summary answers the age-old first question of the job interview, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” It is the opening statement of the résumé and might be thought of as an expanded elevator pitch. The following is a sample summary:

Results-oriented, team-focused HR professional with more than 10 years of management and operations experience. Solid business acumen and ‘big picture’ outlook paired with understanding of the value of dedicated HR departments. Proven ability to promote visibility, approachability, and availability of HR. Exceptional interpersonal skills. Great sense of humor and professional attitude. Capable of displaying a sense of fairness and openness in coaching and counseling employees. Strong communication skills, organizational skills, and documentation skills. Proven effectiveness in increasing reliability of HR files. Accustomed to managing multiple time-sensitive tasks.

Comprised of seven to five lines of block text, the Professional Summary is the place to introduce the prospective employer to who you are as an employee. This is the place for outlining your “soft skills”—your ability to build consensus within a team, your problem-solving and troubleshooting skills, and your ability to cultivate and leverage relationships with strategic partners. In the summary, you might consider highlighting a unique combination of education and skills. Essentially, the summary is like the blurb on the back of the book jacket, compelling the reader to dig deeper and invest in reading the entire novel.

A good Professional Summary will define the job seeker’s career objective, but in a much more organic way. In fact, I would be remiss if I did not mention the importance of writing a résumé with a clearly defined career objective in mind. It is always of paramount importance to know what you hope to accomplish with the résumé. Having a career objective front-of-mind during the writing process ensures that your résumé has focus, and it will, indeed, inform the creation of the summary.

As always, I wish you the very best of luck in your career search. And, I highly recommend checking out the San Francisco Professional Career Network on Meetup.com. Groups like SFPCN are one of the very reasons I love living and working in San Francisco.

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