Job Search Checklist #11: Summary Section

Oct 8 2012 in Featured, reCareered Blog, Resumes by Phil Rosenberg

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Number 11 on your job search checklist – The Summary Section.

Job seekers have been using summary sections for many years attempting to show qualifications. Candidates use summary sections to answer the employer question “Are you qualified for the job?”

And for years, summary sections provided a good way to answer this question. When resumes were printed at the local print shop, you were forced to use the same resume for each employer (due to expense and time of printing). When your resume was printed, you had to show the same reasons to all employers that you were qualified for their job, even though each employer had different needs.

Since you couldn’t customize your resume for the employer, you weren’t left with good choices. About the best you could do was to construct a summary of all the reasons you might be attractive to any employer, and hope that some of those reasons struck a nerve with the individual reading your resume. While you could customize a cover letter, you couldn’t customize a pre-printed resume.

Good thing that there were candidate shortages between the 1940’s and 2007, so employers were thrilled to get a candidate who was even close to their needs.

That was then … this is now.

Today, resume summary sections are ineffective, obsolete and harmful to your search.

Today, you submit your resume digitally, so it can be easily customized and employers expect customization to their individual needs. ATSs digitally pre-screen resumes to determine if you fit the hiring manager’s exact requirements before your resume is ever seen by humans.

So why would you think that a section, for the entire purpose of throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall, to see what sticks, would provide a great deal of help in a job market that features:

  • Job shortages
  • Employers who expect exact matches rather than just being close
  • ATS that digitally pre-screen for 7-10 criteria matching exact words and phrases, not synonyms
  • Where each employer has different needs and problems

Hopefully, the above can help you see why summary statements are no longer effective in a modern job search.

Next, let’s discuss why summary sections are harmful:

Summary sections are traditionally included at the top of your resume. This is your most valuable resume real estate, where decisions are made whether you get an interview or not, based entirely on the first impression your resume makes.

What kind of first impression would your resume make if you’re throwing a bunch of information in front of the reader, hoping that some of it is relevant? Since most of this information is likely to be irrelevant to the reader, it’s likely that you give a confusing first impression and that your reader will miss the very things that show you’re qualified for the job in the few seconds spent looking for qualifications. In addition, since a summary section isn’t customized for the specific reader, you look like a generalist – a jack of all trades, master of none. You look like someone who employers rarely hire.

Finally, here’s why summary sections are obsolete:

Summary sections are a relic of a past age, when resumes were printed at print/copy shops, when you could just get close to requirements because there were candidate shortages and before ATS pre-screening made generalist skills rarely match with requirements.

When you use summary statements, you demonstrate that you’re unaware that business has changed … so it shows your obsolete view of business processes.

If you’re a rookie, you might look a bit clueless, but if you’re an experienced job seeker, using obsolete strategies reflects on you … making you look obsolete. If you’re over 40, you’re battling ageism – so using an obsolete summary section on your resume, amplifies the negative bias you already face.

Alternatives to summary sections:

You can still include the information from a summary section in your resume. Here’s where it’s much more effective, working for your rather than against you.

  1. Personal Branding Statement: Create a personal branding statement, specific to that individual employer that is crystal clear, brands you as a superior candidate, consistent with goals and supporting information, and extremely concise. See for more details.
  2. Tack Onto Employer Value Statements: You could include portions of your summary section as part of your employer value statements. This works best for the portions of your summary section that you can monetize. For details on employer value statements, see
  3. Include In Skills Inventory: For portions of your summary section that you can’t monetize, include them in your skills inventory. This won’t brand you as a jack of all trades, since your skills inventory is at the end of your resume. See for details on skills inventories.

Summary sections are one of those traditional parts of job search that are still recommended today by job search traditionalists. Since you’re used to them and you still hear career resources recommending them, they become a tough habit to break.

But once you start to look at summary sections from today’s employers’ point of view, you should be able to see why they don’t work well today, why summary sections are obsolete and how they can hurt your job search.

So, you can hang onto tradition, or adopt a better way …

Which makes sense for you?


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