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An Easy Formula To Help You Craft The Perfect Professional Summary

Formula

While we don't recommend making a habit of including a professional summary or profile at the top of your resume—that's valuable real estate and 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! For example, 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.

But how do you craft a standout summary?

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 career coach and expert:

[Adjective] [noun] with [number] years of experience in [special skill], a proven ability to [relevant, measurable skills], and a strong background in [relevant contexts in which you have worked] seeks a position as [relevant objective].

An example from the book that illustrates the formula in use:

Highly motivated nonprofit professional with three years of experience in program management, service delivery, and fundraising; a proven ability to lead groups of up to 50 volunteers, organize events with up to 500 participants, effectively raise over $100,000 in grants yearly, and streamline processes to maximize efficiency; and a strong background in youth services programs with underserved populations seeks a position as a leader in a human services nonprofit.

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

  • Highly motivated 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.
  • Effectively raise over $100,000 in grants yearly and streamline processes to maximize efficiency.
  • 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 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 should you use a summary?

In short, it depends. Heather suggests using it to highlight relevant experiences and skills that might end up towards the end of the resume if listed chronologically. Lily Zhang at the Muse suggests it’s great for seasoned professionals or people with varied work experiences who need a way to tie all of their experiences together. Amanda Augustine, career expert at TheLadders, thinks it’s an elevator pitch and useful for many professionals. If your experience is straightforward and you’re applying for similar work, consider jumping straight to your work experience and including relevant accomplishments with each job, instead of crafting a profile.

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By Victoria Crispo

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