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While I don't recommend making a habit of including a professional summary at the top of your resume (you'll almost always have an opportunity to tell that same story in more detail in your cover letter!), there are several instances in which a professional summary is just the thing to do!

When you're completing your employment profile right here on Idealist, you'll be asked to include a professional summary to make your profile more searchable for hiring managers. Instead of listing all of your past work experiences, use our formula to craft a brief summary of your skillset and ideal career path.

How to craft a professional summary that stands out

To create a summary, we love this formula in the book Jobs That Matter: Find a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service by Heather Krasna, a life coach and career expert:

[Adjective + noun] with [number] years of experience in [special skill(s)], a proven ability to [relevant, measurable skill], and a strong background in [relevant contexts in which you have worked] seeks a position in [ideal department or role].

Here are some examples that follow the above formula:

Driven nonprofit professional with three years of experience in program management, proven ability to organize large events, and track record of raising $100,000 annually, seeking a leadership role at a human services organization.

Current grad student seeking an internship role at an environmental nonprofit. As editor of my program’s online journal, I am eager to apply strong communication and research skills to gain experience in nonprofit communications.

You can also turn this into a bulleted list. For example,

  • Driven social-impact professional with three years of experience in program management, service delivery, and fundraising. 
  • Proven ability to lead groups of up to 50 volunteers, and organize events with up to 500 participants.
  • Consistently raises over $100,000 in grants yearly.
  • Strong background in youth services programs with underserved populations.
  • Seeks a position as a leader in a human services nonprofit.

Here are a few other guidelines to keep in mind when you craft your summary:

  • Keep your summary brief. Six lines or less should be sufficient. 
  • Tailor your summary to the job you're interested in by highlighting transferable skills and relevant accomplishments.
  • Aim to use words from the job description, provided they accurately describe what you want to portray about yourself in your summary.
  • The way you use a professional summary can vary by industry or job function. For example, in Heather’s book, she notes that job seekers who have technical experience may just want to have a bulleted list of software and hardware they are familiar with, whereas those in more creative fields might use lively adjectives that showcase their personalities.

When to use a professional summary

Heather suggests crafting your own career brief to highlight relevant experiences and skills that might end up toward the end of your resume if listed chronologically. Lily Zhang at the Muse adds that a summary is great for seasoned professionals or people with varied work experiences who need a way to tie all of their experiences together.

If your work experience is straightforward, and you’re applying for similar work, consider including relevant accomplishments for each job instead of crafting a professional summary.


By Victoria Crispo

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