Do You Know the Most Important Part of a Resume?

resume tipsBeth Braccio Hering, Special to CareerBuilder

A tough job market means piles of applications for open positions, so it is no surprise that hiring managers are looking for ways to screen candidates quickly.

"Recruiters typically devote only 10-15 seconds to read any resume," says Wil Lemire, director of career services at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass. To make that precious time count, job seekers need to create concise, attention-grabbing profiles that make employers want to know more.


Things to include

"Some people refer to the professional summary as the resume equivalent of a 30-second sales pitch or an elevator speech," says Carolyn Yencharis Corcoran, assistant director of the Insalaco Center for Career Development at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa. "We recommend that our students take great care in writing this area, as it is yet another way for them to demonstrate their ability to communicate pointedly and efficiently and to exude professionalism by using industry-specific keywords in the proper context."

Experts generally favor the profile being placed right under contact information at the top of a resume. (This well-crafted skills summary also can prove useful as a networking intro or as part of an online profile.) Among the items candidates may wish to include are:

  • Keywords that match those of the job description
  • Hard skills (professional and technical experience)
  • Soft skills (personal attributes)
  • Advanced degrees
  • Years of experience
  • Interesting achievements
  • Anything that sets one apart from other candidates

"Like any other section of your resume, the professional summary requires some self-reflection, time and attention," Corcoran says. To get the creative juices flowing, she suggests:

  • Asking co-workers, family members, professors and friends what qualities they like most about you.
  • Thinking about positive comments you've received from employers or teachers.
  • Reflecting on awards received.
  • Remembering instances where you handled an emergency, presented or taught something, made something more efficient or contributed to a change.


Things to avoid

Cynthia Favre, director of career management at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minn., offers this precaution when creating a summary: "Don't include things that most everyone can do (such as use the Internet or Word). It actually makes the candidate look like he doesn't have useful skills."

Favre also cautions against using vague adjectives, such as "excellent" and "great." "Such words encourage the reader to compare the candidate with others. Take the phrase 'an excellent communicator.' Compared to whom? Barack Obama? Your college roommate? It is better to state the skills as factually as possible and let the reader determine if they are excellent and of value to him."


Putting your best self forward

While seasoned workers can use their skills summary to describe past job accomplishments, novice job seekers often worry that they will appear lacking. While it is inevitable that different candidates will bring different attributes to the table, the main thing is to focus on what you can contribute.

"It's important that the job seeker know what the job requirements are in order to properly sort and rank his own knowledge, skills and abilities," Lemire says. "Recent graduates should use skills and knowledge gained from part-time jobs and summer jobs, internships, classroom projects and activities on and off campus."

Corcoran agrees that it is up to each individual to identify and present her own strengths. "While a seasoned worker will have more hands-on experience to include in a professional summary, new grads will want to highlight the things that set them apart -- such as possessing skills in the newest and latest technology, energy and drive, openness to multiple areas and an eagerness to learn."

Remember that whether this is your first job or your tenth, you only have a bit of space to get yourself noticed. Choose your words carefully, and chances are an employer will want to hear more.


Beth Braccio Hering researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.com. Follow @CBForJobSeekers on Twitter.

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