Here is some of the most straightforward advice I provide clients, and yet sometimes I hear differing opinions. I have written on this topic before.
Your resume is an encapsulation of your experience, and is a sales tool. It should be designed to attract employers to you because you are perceived to have the experience, exposure and skills that they need. The only exception is if you have been in one field for years, and you are seeking a job in that same field–then you may be able to get away without a summary. Everyone else: You need a summary! Here are some specific examples of why a summary is crucial.
You need to package yourself
Hunting for a job is a marketing exercise, and you are the product. In order to attract the right audience, you must promote the qualities and abilities that are valued in specific roles and sectors. In other words, you need to declare to the hiring world that you are skilled in a particular role for a particular type of organization. This is your brand.
The onus is on you to brand yourself. If you are clear about what you can do and who you can do it for, and you understand why someone should hire you, you will get hired. Generally speaking, if you remain “open to ideas” and are hoping that someone will see your great qualities and hire you, you are unlikely to get a job.
The summary on your resume should explain your background and skills and what you can do for whom. It is a way to synthesize the experience you have, even if your experience is varied.
You are a new college grad
If you’re just graduating, or have graduated in the past couple of years, your resume is likely to contain a lot of disparate experience. After all, internships and early jobs are designed to offer exposure to different fields, so you can test things out and see if you’ve found a good fit.
Hiring managers will typically spend just a few seconds on your resume, which means the salient information about whether you fit with their needs must be clear and easy to digest. They will be looking for some keywords in your resume, and if they can’t quickly make the connection between your experience and their needs, they won’t look any further.
I’ve been told that some college career offices tell students they don’t need a summary, and I find this baffling.
You want to change careers
If you are looking to do something other than what you’ve spent your career doing, your resume should focus on transferable skills. Those are the skills you have from one career that you want to apply to another one.
If an employer sees a resume with all non-profit jobs and no summary, and you are interested in the private sector, you will not get a hearing. You may be ideal for that job, but it’s up to you to do the work to communicate why that’s the case, in a clear, succinct way.
If you think about your job search as a marketing exercise, you will quickly conclude that the right packaging and promotion will make all the difference in your search. Your goal should be to make you easy to hire: clear about what you’ve done and what you can do for employers. Try asking yourself why they should hire you as a starting point.