Tuesday, April 24, 2012 by J.M. Auron
There’s an old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” That’s why the first section of your technical resume is so critical. This initial resume content is known by several names, including the Professional Profile, Executive Summary, Career Summary, and many more. But regardless of title, the importance of this segment of the resume cannot be overstated.
Is it to define who you are professionally? Demonstrate what you can contribute to a new organization? Show what makes you a better fit for a new opportunity than your competition? Yes. And no.
All the above are certainly true. But there’s a more immediate – and critical – purpose to the professional profile.
That’s to ensure that the reader – the hiring authority – continues to read the rest of your resume.
I think that, like many moviegoers, I’m pretty tired of the 20-30 minutes of previews that may be played before we get to the film we’re interested in. But even among all those previews, one or two may catch my eye, and lead me to think, “I need to see that one.”
So it is with your resume. It’s a truism these days that hiring authorities look at a large number of resumes. When I was recruiting, my partner would routinely go through 300-400 resumes for every job – and that was back in 2006, when the economy was much stronger. The number now is a good deal larger
So it is absolutely critical that your professional profile give the right information – presented in the most effective manner possible – to ensure that the hiring authority will go farther.
This may seem counter-intuitive; after all, the summary is usually no more than six to eight lines, and perhaps 100-150 words.
Writing a concise, compelling professional profile. How hard can that be?
There’s a quotation – attributed to Mark Twain, though it’s probably older – “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Writing a page – or two – about who you are professionally may, surprisingly, be much easier than condensing the most crucial aspects of your career into only a few lines.
But that’s precisely what a strong professional profile is. Your career. In 100-200 words or less.
Don’t panic. It’s doable. I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss the strategies I’ve developed in my technical resume writing service to create professional profiles that are strong, clear, and compelling.
Every career is different. So – similar as they may appear – every resume is different too. But here are some general strategies that I use in creating a strong career summary.
1) Write the career summary last
Write the career summary after completing the meat of the resume – the professional experience.
I realize that this may seem a bit counter intuitive, but it actually makes good sense. The career summary is just that, a concise summary of a candidate’s career, skills, value proposition, and personal “brand.”
That’s why I tend to wait until I have the whole career picture in front of me before I work on the summary. After writing the details of a career – focused, as always, on accomplishments – it’s much easier to clearly see the broad themes that define the career.
2) Focus on differentiators.
Your entire resume needs to tell your story – the story of what you do better, differently, more efficiently, or more creatively than your competition.
But while differentiators need to be clear throughout every section of your resume – from initial branding statement through education – differentiators are the sole focus of your career summary. These 4-8 sentences need to clearly state your professional value proposition. I will often take an hour or more to hone the professional profile. Because if it doesn’t catch the hiring authority’s attention, it’s unlikely that the rest of your resume will be read.
3) Avoid fluff.
While I believe there’s a place for “soft” skills in the professional profile, clichés are never a great idea. So “Proactive self-starter” adds very little value. “Excellent verbal and written communication skills” takes up a full sentence – but says nothing about what sets you apart. Every word should matter.
4) Ensure that each sentence flows from the next.
As I’ve said in other blogs: your resume needs to tell a story – your story. So it’s important to make every sentence in the career summary flow cleanly. In other words, don’t just give random thoughts on what you do well. Tie those thoughts together into one clear paragraph.
5) Keep it short – but not too short.
This should be pretty obvious from what I’ve said above. But keep the career profile to a reasonable length. A good rule of thumb is 4-8 sentences and not more than 8-10 lines. I’ve seen career profiles that take up half or more of the first page – and that’s asking more patience and interest from the hiring authority then is reasonable. So again, the challenge is distilling your experience to discuss only the most salient features of your career value proposition.
Of course, the opposite is also a problem. If your professional professional is only a couple of lines, it looks way too thin – and that’s not a positive initial impression.
One of the most common misconceptions about a resume is that it’s about the past – what you’ve done. There is one – and only one – primary goal for every resume.
Here’s an example of a career summary that was way too long – but gave very little information on what the candidate can actually deliver:
SUMMARY OF QUALIFICATIONS
What are the problems here?
1) Length. This takes up half of the first page of the resume.
2) Vagueness – there’s very little here that actually defines the candidate.
3) The candidate is a natural leader with a powerful sense of the strategic value of technology. But that doesn’t come through.
And here’s the revision:
I hope this post has given you a better on handle on why the professional profile is so critical to your IT resume, as well as a few useful ideas. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me via our contact page.
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