The resume summary describes a person’s top credentials for their target job. Appearing at the top of the resume, it’s the first section hiring managers read and therefore has the most influence on whether they consider you for a possible interview.

You may feel lost when trying to develop your summary, especially if you’re just starting work on your resume. The first thing to know about the resume summary is that you should write it last. Only begin work on the summary after you’ve already drafted the text for your professional experience, education, training, and other relevant areas. By writing all the different resume sections beforehand, you’ll then be able to develop the summary with a broader understanding of your career experiences so far.

Summaries vs. Objective Statements

For a long time, the standard resume intro was an objective statement, which would appear above or in place of the summary. Rather than describing an applicant’s key qualifications, the objective would state their end goal for their job search, such as “Seeking a sales role where I can work on building win-win relationships with clients.” In recent years, the objective statement has fallen out of favor since it speaks to the jobseeker’s needs rather than the hiring manager’s. For this reason, you should avoid using an objective and instead begin your resume with a summary of what you bring to the table.

The Six Steps to a Summary

When you’re ready to start your summary, follow these six steps:

Step 1. Write a simple statement of your job title and years of experience

For example, say you’re a sales manager who has risen through the ranks over 10+ years. You can simply kick off your summary with a line like

Resourceful Sales Manager with 10+ years of advancement and experience.

However, if you’re making a career change, you’ll need to use a more general intro statement that’s still relevant to your goals and accurate to your background. For instance, say you’d like to stay in sales but no longer in a leadership capacity. In this case, using a broader statement like “Resourceful Sales Professional with 10+ years of experience” helps position you for the switch back to a direct sales role.

Step 2. Choose five career highlights

Your summary’s core purpose is to show your very best qualifications for your target job, drawing on the resume content that appears below it. Think of your resume as a cake and the summary as its icing: a concentrated topping of what follows, making the overall package more appealing.

To top off your resume with an excellent summary, first look over all the points and details you’ve written about your experience and locate five that strike you as especially impressive or relevant to your target job. These details could come from your professional experience, but they could also come from your education or any other section of your resume. (In fact, one of the beauties of the summary section is it lets you single out key degrees, certifications, or other details that might otherwise get lost toward the bottom of your resume.)

Step 3. Pinpoint a common work theme

Once you’ve chosen your five highlights, look them over together. Does a common theme start to appear? Do the highlights somehow point to a key professional strength or attribute? If so, write a summary sentence speaking to that theme or strength. For instance, if the highlights you chose point to you being an expert at engaging and collaborating with clients, that’s a great area to write about further.

Step 4. Avoid clichés by way of action verbs

At this stage of the process, you may run into the problem of summary clichés. For instance (continuing the above example), you might describe your collaborative streak as “Excellent communication and collaboration skills.” But you’ll find many resume advice articles warn against phrases like this, arguing they’re overused and make for dead weight in your summary. This advice is correct but unhelpful. Correct in that phrases like this have become cliché and won’t add value to your summary. However, they are unhelpful in that, unless you’re a recruiter or professional resume writer yourself, you won’t know if any given phrase you settle on is a cliché or not.

A better approach to making summary language fresh is to convert your work themes into complete sentences with action verbs. Verbs are the heavy lifters of the English language. Without them, it’s nearly impossible to write a correct, complete sentence. Since no verb appears in “Excellent communication and collaboration skills,” it is a noun phrase, not a proper sentence or fully developed thought. That grammar issue poses a bigger problem than the fact that the phrase is cliché.

To get around this problem, think not only about your professional skills like “collaboration” (which is a noun) or qualities like “excellent” (which is an adjective) but what you actually do at work. The actions (or verbs) you take to generate results. This line of thinking can turn a static word like “collaboration” into a much more specific, verb-powered statement like “Collaborate with clients to find win-win product solutions, driving consistent revenue and profit growth.” Now you’re talking.

Step 5. Mention one specific achievement

If one or more of your highlights is a quantified achievement from your work history, you can repeat it in your summary to make the description that much more compelling and specific to you. Say one of your chosen highlights is “Surpassed quota by 10% in 2013, 18% in 2014, 20% in 2015, and 22% in 2016 and 2017.” Consider adapting it to your summary with a slightly less detailed phrase, like “Achievements include surpassing quota by 18%+ on average for five consecutive years.”

Putting together the steps so far, we have the basis for a strong summary already:

Resourceful Sales Professional with 10+ years of experience. Collaborate with clients to find win-win product solutions, driving consistent revenue and profit growth. Achievements include surpassing quota by 18%+ on average for 5 consecutive years.

Step 6. Plug in other key credentials

You can then round out your summary with one or two more statements on your other top qualifications. If one of your other highlights is an advanced degree or certification in your field, that can give your summary a strong outro. Also, note that foreign language ability is often viewed as a key asset by employers, so if you have it, feature it in your summary.

Tying It All Together

After following these six steps, you should have a viable resume summary of your own, something on par with this finished example:

Resourceful Sales Professional with 10+ years of experience. Collaborate with clients to find win-win product solutions, driving consistent revenue and profit growth. Achievements include surpassing quota by 18%+ on average for 5 consecutive years. Offer well-rounded business acumen and expertise, drawing on a recently finished MBA degree. Bilingual: fluent in English and French.

But then ask yourself: Am I missing anything important? Have I left out a work highlight or skill area that’s key to my next job? If your answer is yes, add a sentence or two on those missing areas and take heart that you’re gaining an ear for the type of information a winning summary calls for.

Many resume experts give strict parameters for summary length; three or four lines of text is the standard order. But summaries are more flexible than that. Don’t worry if your own summary comes in shorter or longer than some outside standard, as long as you’ve followed this process. And never try to add fancy language to your summary just for its own sake. As British prime minister David Lloyd George once said, “The finest eloquence is that which gets things done.” Your finest, most persuasive summary will get the job done in demonstrating your greatest work assets to employers, so they move forward in contacting you for an interview.

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Jacob Meade

Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW, ACRW)

Jacob Meade is a resume writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience. His writing method centers on understanding and then expressing each person’s unique work history and strengths toward their career goal. Jacob has enjoyed working with jobseekers of all ages and career levels, finding that a clear and focused resume can help people from any walk of life. He is an Academy Certified Resume Writer (ACRW) with the Resume Writing Academy, and a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) with the Professional Association of Resume Writers & Career Coaches.