This article is about how your professional summary of qualifications can make (or break) the effectiveness of your executive CV.
I love using the shopping metaphor when I run CV-writing workshops. (It works quite well to explain the anatomy of a value proposition like I do in this article.)
In speaking to numerous recruiters, I realized that hunting for talent is not so different than shopping for something you really need. Just as the thoughtful design of a window display is key to getting customers through the door, the professional summary is a place to convey your value, hook readers and encourage them to read on.
Your Executive Summary is your Window Display
Your Executive Summary (professional profile section) has the exact same role for your CV. This is your showcase to recruiters that synthesizes your “wow” factor and tells them in a clear, organized way (there should never be clutter in a store window) with words that hit the nail on the head what you can do for them. There are no rules, just like with the entire resume, but a few guidelines which I explain below. If you follow these tips, you will ensure that your executive summary quickly expresses your value and hopefully will lead to a phone call from the recruiter:
►Content: Tell recruiters how you can solve their specific problems (or their client’s problem if it is through a headhunter).
Remember, a recruiter knows exactly what she is looking for. For example, if it’s a business developer with a strong track record of contributing to strategic growth in the oil and gas industry, then these are the key talent areas that the job candidate will emphasize in the summary. In this case, my client decided to express her ability to solve this kind of “problem” doing the following:
She has plenty of other areas of expertise, but we don’t want to put clutter in the shop window, so she only included what is explicitly relevant to her target audience.
► Format: Express Value at a Glance
Now you might be thinking, wait a minute, shouldn’t the summary be a statement in paragraph form? Traditionally, this was the case. But as you may notice, you yourself don’t like to read long blocks of text unless you are leisurely reading a novel. And neither do executive recruiters. A paragraph could be a great way to communicate value, so long as it is to the point and hopefully, no more than three lines in length. If you choose this format I recommend you bold some of the keywords for readability. In certain cases, bullets are easier to read and you can always do a combination of sentences/paragraph and bullets.
Another option is to integrate a short section with your key areas of expertise. These would be a list of keywords that are relevant to your objective, but not a repetition of what you have emphasized with the supporting examples. (See the bottom “Expertise Snapshot” from my Oil & Gas client above.)
►Pull your relevant “wow” factor up from anywhere in your job history. For seasoned professionals who may have a major professional milestone that falls to page two, the summary section allows you to bring that front-and-center and not risk that it be overlooked.
Notice above where my client says she “Generated 5%-30% increase to client’s bottom line.” This is how she shows she really is a good business developer, strategist, etc. because her claims are linked to a concrete example. (Always follow the show do not tell rule; anyone can claim to be a great team builder and innovative thinker, but the statement has no impact for the reader unless there is evidence of it. And if that evidence is quantifiable, all the better.)
Some of the examples were from over 10 years ago at a company that is on page two. If the executive recruiter isn’t engaged by the top part of the document, he or she won’t make it to the second page. In other words, the shop window allows you to bring “merchandise” that you have displayed in the back of the store to a place where your target customers are sure to see it.
►Remember the F shape. Because in our European languages we read from left to right and top to bottom, we tend to linger a bit longer on information at the top and left of a document. And since we read more and more online, we don’t dig as deep into the body of text as we used to.
Therefore, key information should be located especially at the top of your resume, exactly where you place your executive summary and headline. Normally we retain more information in those first two horizontal lines and whatever is emphasized towards the left. That means when choosing a resume format, be sure your summary is where it engages the reader the most, at the top and not in a column to the right.
► How to develop your executive summary:
- Always start with a headline and be sure you highlight and center it.
- Identify the key skills your audience is looking for and the corresponding keywords. Go through the inventory of your achievements and identify instances where you have demonstrated these particular abilities.
- Brainstorm how you will incorporate these keywords into your “pitch” at the top. Some possible ingredients are:
- Branding statement.
- Brief paragraph with keywords in bold.
- List or bullets highlighting your target audience’s essential needs and showing evidence of how you have tackled similar challenges.
- At least one or two key career milestones relevant to the objective.
- A list of other key competencies or areas of expertise that are connected to the objective.
► No one-size-fits-all formula
There is no one-size-fits-all formula, so any of these are valid options, depending on your profession and objective. Most importantly, please remember: The recruiter is shopping for talent, so use the summary as the window display of your most relevant “wow” factors to ensure they continue reading.
Be sure you give your professional summary the time and effort it deserves. It really is the first impression, so make it count!