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Career Advice

From Marc Cenedella
Marc Cenedella

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Resume

Trade Up to an Executive Summary

Employers already know your goal is to get a job, so ditch the objective statement and instead write a summary that compels them to read on.

By Lisa Vaas
FILED UNDER: Results-Oriented Resumes.
Resume

Are you “looking to obtain a challenging position that will facilitate your work ethic”? “Seeking to obtain this challenging position in,” oh, let’s say the music industry? Perhaps you want to win “this challenging position that will utilize your expertise and education.” In other words, your objective is to get a job.

The recruiters and hiring managers who received your resume already knew that. That’s why you sent them your resume. Professional resume writers call this the “Duh! Factor.”

Unfortunately, it’s also the core of an old-fashioned objective statement.

Besides being self evident, an objective statement focuses on the farthest thing from hiring managers’ minds: your personal satisfaction. Instead of telling employers what’s in it for them, you’re telling them what you’ll get out of the deal (a job). That’s just bad marketing. Good salespeople don’t sell cars by telling customers how much fun they’ll have spending the commission; they sell cars by figuring out what will satisfy those customers’ needs and desires.

“The days of including an objective stating what you, as the job seeker, want in a career are long gone,” said Adriana Llames, a career coach and the author of Career Sudoku: 9 Ways to Win The Job Search Game. “Instead, a summary statement or executive summary serves as an introduction. It’s almost as if there’s a colleague introducing you to the reader and talking about who you inherently are as an employee, what you’re really skilled at, and what you do better than your peers.”

Employers reject most of the resumes they receive, and most of the recruiters and hiring managers who do the rejecting read only the first few lines of a resume, Llames said. Don’t waste that precious real estate on a self-serving objective statement; instead, take the initiative with an executive summary section that focuses on the quantifiable results of your past projects and positions, your accomplishments, and what you can offer your potential employer.

A good executive summary will comprise four to six sentences that define your unique talents and demonstrate you’re superior to the competition. When it works, your executive summary will grab a reader's attention and carry that attention throughout the entire resume.

Don’t bore them

Lauren Milligan of ResuMAYDAY received this resume from music industry professional who came to her for help.

Before:

OBJECTIVE—To obtain a challenging position in the music industry that utilizes my expertise and education.

Milligan said a resume that leads with an objective like that gives her zero sense of excitement to talk to the person.

“It’s like going to a party and meeting someone and they barely shake your hand and barely answer your questions,” she said.

After meeting this job seeker, however, Milligan said she quickly appreciated him and his talents. “He just loves the business behind the music and has done some quite amazing things,” she said. “He told me story after story after story about putting out fires caused by rock stars. Because he was there, keeping the lid on these big egos, he got invited on tours because he handled things so well. He had real talent behind him, but he wasn’t putting it out initially in the objective statements he handled.” Milligan was able to capture that sense of accomplishment in a new executive summary.

After:

MUSIC INDUSTRY PROFESSIONAL KNOWN FOR PERFORMING 'BEHIND THE SCENES' MIRACLES. Worked effectively with bands, record labels, managers, tour managers, publicists and venues as Production Coordinator and Booking Agent for a rock TV show and production house. Passionate about music and always on top of trends and industry news. Adept at filming concerts and interviews, and Final Cut Pro editing. Excellent at planning, coordinating, focusing on details, taking initiative, and resolving problems before the VIPs know problems exist.

The new statement builds excitement with specifics about the music industry niches and venues where this job seeker applied his talents. Milligan added a passage about the client’s Final Cut Pro editing skills to build on a strong keyword that will make the resume attractive to applicant tracking system (ATS) software that automatically parses resumes before human staffers ever view them.

Assume that the first eyes on your resume will be electronic, in that your resume will very possibly be scanned by an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) application; the right keywords in the executive summary will raise your ratings with the computer.

Keywords are also a good way to shift the focus onto what an applicant can bring to the job in question, as opposed to what they’ve brought to jobs in the past, said Mary Alice Franklin, founder of YouCanDoWhatYouLove.com.

(For an in-depth look at keywords and how to find them, check out “Tuning Your Resume to the Right Keywords.”)

Don’t confuse them

Specifics count when crafting an executive summary. Consider this example from a first responder at a crisis center and former 911 operator who wanted to become a victims’ advocate. She brought Milligan a vague executive summary:

Before:

Self-motivated individual with strong communication skills, providing efficient and detailed information in the law enforcement field. Excellent in problem solving, organizing, relating to people, and multi-tasking. Looking to obtain a challenging position that will facilitate my work ethic, integrity and professionalism.

With the exception of including “law enforcement field,” this job seeker could have been applying for any job, at any level, at any company in the United States, Milligan said. The summary included nothing that told the employer who she is, what she’s interested in doing, what exactly she’s skilled at doing, and what she’s better at doing than any other candidates.

After:

Non-Profit Victims Advocate: I am a Crisis Management Specialist with formal education in Psychology, and extensive experience handling emergency situations and providing victim advocacy. I maintain a level-headed demeanor during crisis situations and am able to engage victims and their families to provide the necessary support for recovery. I also have excellent organization and communication skills, can keep necessary parties well-informed of critical situations and direct multiple resources to work as a unified team.

The revamped executive summary describes this person before she walks into the interview room, Milligan said. “I’m not only confident that this is someone who will handle emergency situations but that she’ll do it not only with a level head but also with a solid background in procedure.”

Steer clear of boilerplate phrases such as “results-oriented,” “hardworking,” “on-time and under-budget,” “innovative” and “motivated.”

“Any of these terms can be used by any job seeker at any career level, which is why they don't impress employers,” Milligan said. “They've lost their meaning. My cute little mutt is ‘results-oriented’ because he knows he'll get a treat when he does a trick. Candidates have to take the time to identify how they are better and different than their peers.”

Don’t lose them

An executive summary is just that: a summary. A “major mistake” many professionals make is that they “throw everything into the summary,” said Bettina Seidman, career management coach for SEIDBET Associates Career Coaching.

A good summary must be concise but give HR a reason to read further, said executive recruiter and resume writer Edward McGoldrick. “I'm not saying you need to give them a novel they cannot put down, but give them something they can sink their teeth into,” he said.

McGoldrick cited an executive summary he recently put together for a project coordinator with core strengths in lease administration for the real-estate industry. McGoldrick needed to fill the temporary position quickly; his client had no time for phone screenings or face-to-face meetings, so the resume would make or break the candidate’s bid. Here’s the executive summary McGoldrick created:

Project Coordination ▪ Lease Administration ▪ Real Estate
Versatile, bilingual professional with more than five years of commercial real-estate operations and management experience. Keen ability to manage and evaluate lease risks as well as oversee all payable functions. Experienced in maintaining multi-million dollar, high profile property invoices as well as ensure timely and accurate payments. Outstanding hands-on leader who motivates, trains, and provides guidance to teams to ensure consistent results well beyond expectations. Organized self-motivator who’s earned fast-track promotions through a proven record of achievement. Strategic problem-solver with ability to work across all levels of an organization and uncover ways to cut company costs and produce new sources of revenue.

After McGoldrick presented his top three candidates, his client picked this professional and cited the executive summary as “the key determining factor.”

Don’t miss your chance

Candidates who lack experience in a particular industry are particularly prone to sell themselves short by leading with objective statements that summarize their backgrounds but omit the transferable skills that would make them a worthy candidate for the position at hand, Franklin said. She cited a past client, a teacher applying for a position as a training supervisor.

OBJECTIVE:

High School Teacher, with excellent control of student conduct, seeking a rewarding, challenging position with potential to grow in a dynamic company as their new Training Supervisor.

The professional focused on his work with children instead of using an executive summary to show his transferable skills as a trainer, Franklin said.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

“Looking to leverage performance analysis expertise and in-depth knowledge of behavioral studies to transition from secondary teaching profession into Training Supervisor position. Implementation of successful rewards and incentives program reported 20% increase in above-average grade performance. Experience in tracking and analysis of trainee development and performance progress. Strong communication skills contribute to the building of collaborative relationships to benefit company objectives.”

Lisa Vaas covers resume writing techniques and the technology behind the job search for TheLadders.

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