The Importance of a Summary Statement on Your CV

July 13, 2012

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by Amy Lindgren, president of Prototype Career Service

Imagine walking into an interview, meeting your potential employer's eyes and barking out: "Tufts University School of Medicine, May 2012," and then following with a serious, "Neurology Resident, two years."

Doesn't sound very warm or engaging, does it?

With only a little exaggeration, that's what you're doing by sending out a CV that starts with a "just the facts, ma'am" attitude. The tradition of a facts-only CV goes back a long way and is a hard habit to break.

In fields like medicine and law, this no-nonsense style can seem like the approach preferred by busy hiring committees until you consider these two points: 1) all the CVs look virtually identical and 2) employers actually do want to know your story as well as your statistics.

Employers also want to know your personality, your approach to your work, and what motivates you. You can argue that those things will come out in an interview but that forces the question: What interview? Are you sure you'll be getting that opportunity if your CV doesn't demonstrate some of the things that would set you apart from other candidates?

Adding a personal tone

If you've been using a facts-only CV, it's time to hit the reset button. One very easy way to introduce a more personal tone is to include an introductory feature, such as a Summary. This top-of-the-page entry can also be called a Profile, Overview or Narrative, or probably a half-dozen other titles that indicate its purpose.

The elements of a summary statement can vary, but typically include an overview of your work and training, something that differentiates you, and often something personal, such as your motivation for entering the field.

It can also incorporate a job objective, although that's best done in such a way that the resume doesn't have to be adjusted for each situation. So ending the summary statement with "Seeking a position in a teaching hospital with a dual focus on patient care and research" is a better strategy than "Seeking a position in ABC hospital under the supervision of Doctor XYZ." That kind of specificity can be handled in a cover letter where you can discuss your fit for a particular role in more detail.

One more word on the topic of job objectives in a resume or CV: In most cases, resist the urge to use a separate category titled Objective. As a rule, they are unnecessary because the person holding your resume will usually know before they begin reading which position you are applying for.

Here's an example of a summary statement:

"Outgoing, dedicated neurologist with a combination of clinical and teaching experience and research in Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases. Strengths include patient care, diagnosis and follow-up, with a particular skill in communicating with families and caretakers. Bilingual in Spanish and English; motivated by a genuine desire to improve neurological care to underserved communities."

That sounds warm and competent, doesn't it? You feel as if you know this person a bit from reading that paragraph, which is exactly the goal. When reading a sample such as this one, it's important not to imagine that it represents the best or only way to write the entry. Your takeaway won't be the exact wording, but the structure itself. Note that the length is about five typed lines, or three to four sentences. Note also that it begins with an overview statement, moves forward into more specific detail, and ends with something personal. This structure is not a formula, per se, but can be used as a guideline to help you build a statement of your own. Probably the best rule to work from is this: How would you want someone to summarize you when describing you to a hiring committee?

To get started on your own summary statement, write down a few items in each of these categories:

  1. Overall experience and training
  2. Specific strengths, specialties or talent
  3. Unique ability or background
  4. Personal descriptors or approach or motivators

Now simply start writing and editing until you have a short paragraph that introduces you to your reader. Or, if writing is not your strong suit, engage a talented friend to create the summary from your lists.

If you have any doubt about the overall strategy, or feel that it departs too much from CV models you have seen, then go with your gut on whether to use a summary. But if you're on the fence, here are three final arguments in its favor.

First, it's a viable method for bringing important information to the top of the page that might otherwise be buried deep in the document. Second, it's a powerful tool for candidates who might not be overly impressive on paper. That is, candidates whose GPAs and credentials are not stellar will be able to craft a more persuasive story as the lead-in to their document.

Last, and by no means least: Your summary will serve as your introduction to the reader, much as a personal greeting does in an in-person setting. Now, instead of metaphorically walking into the room and delivering name, rank, and serial number, you'll be welcoming your reader with the written version of a handshake, smile, and greeting.