Why Your Resume Should Have a Summary Section

A great way to start a resume is with a summary section. This section provides the primary sales pitch to get a hiring manager excited and interested in your resume. Without a summary section, it’s difficult to grab attention fast and keep it.

The resume I read today illustrated how important a summary section is.  The resume was from a sales professional with around five years of experience.  The resume started with candidate’s work experience.  Although work experience is extremely important, you are limited in your presentation if you lead off with a work experience section.

The problem with starting a resume with your work experience results from the order of the information.  You need to put your experience in reverse chronological order.  This puts the most recent position at the top. 

If your most impressive experience is listed under your most recent job, you’re in good shape.  Often, your best selling points will be scattered throughout your career and your resume.  This is where a summary section helps.  You can gather the most important elements and list them separately at the top of your resume.

To illustrate this, look at the top of the resume I received:

<Employer Name>, Account Manager Sept. ’08 to Present

  • Manage the relationships with key prospects throughout my region, to ensure that is best placed to win major contracts and associated services
  • Coordinate internal resources to respond to RFPs and secure business from both new and existing customers
  • Establish and strengthen customer relationships through developing an intimate knowledge of individual accounts and key stakeholders

The candidate has been in this job for less than a year and lists a few responsibilities, but no accomplishments.  In sales, especially a field with large proposals that can take upwards of a year to win, it is difficult to show significant accomplishments in the first few months.  This leads to an unfavorable impression of the candidate at the very beginning.  He is a sales professional who has not had any success – not the kind of sales pitch that is going to get a person hired.

The core problem is how a hiring manager reads a resume.  Hiring managers scan resumes very quickly, focusing on the top of the resume.  They also will not assume a candidate is any better than what is presented, and will not assume a candidate has been more successful than the resume presents.

In the case of the resume excerpt above, a typical reaction will be to assume the candidate has been completely unsuccessful.  Otherwise, the candidate would have listed something about his success.  This leads to an impression in the first 15 seconds that the candidate is an unsuccessful sales professional.  The resume will probably be rejected at this point.

The truth is the candidate does have some impressive accomplishments.  Unfortunately, he is unlikely to get the opportunity to tell a hiring manager about them because his resume will be rejected at the start of the process.

The solution is easy.  Write a short summary section highlighting the key accomplishments and skills of the candidate.  This will get a hiring manager excited and motivated them to give a call.