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Who Are You? Tell Resume Readers Fast

The other night I helped a young friend with her resume by phone and email. I have known “Alicia” for many years, so I know her story–her job and education history, her strengths, and her accomplishments. I know the essential Alicia.

But her resume readers–potential employers–would know nothing about her at first glance, and Alicia needed to fill that information gap instantly. But instead, her resume draft went from contact information to Work Experience, then Education, all in the typical bullet point format. Readers would not have a clear picture of who Alicia is until the very end of the resume–if they got there.

The resume was missing an opening summary. And Alicia was missing an opportunity to shape her readers’ first impression of her.

Variously labeled Summary, Summary of Qualifications, Professional Summary, Skills Summary, and Professional Profile, it’s a section that appears after the name and contact information. It helps readers see the whole picture in a quick snapshot. And it helps them avoid having to create a picture on their own, pulling together all the resume pieces.

Notice in these examples how the writer presents a clear picture of his or her qualifications:


Summary of qualifications

  • Significant experience in a print production environment.
  • Strong mechanical aptitude and trouble-shooting skills.
  • Excellent attendance, with years of perfect attendance on the job.
  • Reliability, focus, inventiveness, and good common sense.



Award-winning communications manager with proven ability in project management, strategic planning, business writing, and mass communication. Strong background in communicating corporate messages through wide-ranging media, including social media, publications, films, exhibits, conferences, and special events. Expert in Word, Excel, and InDesign. Fluent in Spanish.


Professional Profile
An accomplished manager and individual contributor with solid experience in corporate and educational settings, providing management and information technology solutions.

  • Systems and software experience: Solomon, Ceridian, and CAMS; Paradox, object PAL, Crystal Reports, SQL, HTML, ASP, and MS Office.
  • Traits: Resourcefulness, adaptability, optimism, empathy, and calm under pressure.
  • Satisfiers: Facilitating the work of others, simplifying processes, solving problems, establishing good relationships, and providing high-quality reports and information.


Summary: Warehouse and Shipping Professional
Over 11 years in warehouse and shipping. Experienced training and supervising seasonal workers. Accustomed to working in fast-paced, high-volume environments focused on first-class customer service. Recognized for reliability, safety, and excellent attendance.


Summary Statement

10+ years of experience supporting the success of individuals, groups, and organizations. Notable achievements as a non-profit director, project manager, and consultant. Excellent presentation, writing, and relationship-building skills developed through working with diverse groups. Methodically organized yet energized by change.


When adding an opening summary to your resume, consider these tips about its content:

  1. Include words and phrases your readers will be looking for: manager, project management, trouble-shooting, training design, non-profit, diversity, MS Office, Arabic.
  2. Use words that paint a positive picture: award-winning, achievements, success, significant, strong, excellent, expert, proven, accomplished.
  3. Use phrases that summarize: “warehouse and shipping professional,” “10 years of experience in,” “experience handling large portfolios,” “background in operations, sales, and customer service.”
  4. Choose words that describe you precisely while avoiding clichés. For instance, rather than calling yourself a “results-driven self-starter,” use words that uniquely describe you.
  5. Consider a maximum length of about 75 words. The examples above range from 33 to 69 words, including their headings.
  6. Include areas you want to highlight, and omit others. For example, if your resume includes five years as a kindergarten teacher but you are looking for a job as a technical writer, do not mention kindergarten in the summary.
  7. Tell the truth. Do not exaggerate or mislead in the summary or anywhere in your resume.
  8. Write your resume first. Then create your qualifications summary.

Yesterday Alicia sent me her revised resume featuring a summary of qualifications. The summary transformed her resume from lists of details to a powerful strategic document. It packaged her six years of experience (some of it in college) as a solid professional background.

Now readers of Alicia’s resume can know her as I do in just a glance. That’s the power of a professional summary.

Do you have comments or questions about qualifications summaries, including the ones above? Please share them.


Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

6 comments on “Who Are You? Tell Resume Readers Fast”

  • An excellent and valuable post. I’m not in the market for a new job, but will bookmark this for when the day comes.

  • I always enjoy reading your posting especially this one: practical and clear tips, easy to understand and follow, and using a perfect English language.

    Thank you very much and please continue sharing

    Best, Le Lan

  • Thanks you for this, My resume which I tend to brush up on a yearly basis was about 900 words!! Yikes! I always thought the more information you pack in the better.

  • Hi Lolly,

    How smart of you to brush up your resume each year! Many people let theirs go too long.

    Because I was discussing only the summary in this blog post, I didn’t cover word count. Yes, 900 words SOUNDS a bit long, but if you have had a long career, you may need 750 or so. My friend Alicia’s resume is about 450 words, and she is only a few years out of college.

    Focus on communicating your strengths, accomplishments, and relevant experience clearly and concisely. Then the number of words should not matter so much.

    Thanks for commenting.

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