How to Write a Standout Career Summary

Does your career summary introduce you as the best candidate? Here's how to write one that sets you apart.

It's finally happened: After scanning hundreds of job listings in the help wanted ads, you've found your dream job. Now you only have to convince the hiring manager you are the best choice out of — let's say — 5,000 applicants.

But how will you ever set yourself apart from so many excellent candidates? What do you have that they don't? The answer lays at the top of your resume — your career summary.

What is a career summary?

Also called a career objective or professional summary, a career summary replaced the outdated objective statement. Hiring managers are busy people, which means they don't want to read about how much the candidate wants the job. Of course they want the job, why else would they apply?

Career summaries, on the other hand, subtly reveal the desire for a job while showcasing the best hard and soft skill sets a candidate has to offer. It serves as the introductory paragraph to the resume, gives a basic outline for the hiring manager to follow, and explains what the candidate has to offer to the position.

The following six steps will guide you when creating your career summary and help set your resume apart from the others in the pile.

Step 1: Research, research, research

Remember those questions that tickled the back of your brain growing up? They were immediately followed by “Look it up” from your mother or teacher. The same rule applies here.

Conduct research on your ideal job. The closer your summary matches the job description, the better chance you have at winning the job. Compare the descriptions and write a list of common job requirements and preferred qualifications that can be used to inform your summary.

Step 2: What do you have to offer?

Don't be shy — it's time to sell yourself. Look closely at all abilities, skills, specialized training, etc, and write out a list. Compare that list to the research from step one. Try to shoot for at least three attributes, but no more than five. 

Your list may look similar to this one:

After deciding your five best qualities, compare them to the job description and special skills desired. Do they match? Do you have something to offer? If so, move forward with the career summary steps; if not, take another look at your abilities.

Step 3: Translate those skills

… into sentences. The next step is to weave your top credentials into your summary for a resume. Keep in mind that the summary helps the hiring manager determine if you should be called for an interview so include your achievements and abilities. 

Here is an example using the above list:

Innovative, dedicated business and finance director with multiple years' experience working with multi-functional teams and global business units. Skilled leader credited for a collaborative communication process. Sigma Six lean specialist skilled at balancing budgets, improving efficiency, and decreasing workforce costs, without the need for job cuts.

Step 4: List your areas of expertise

All career summaries include the "Areas of Expertise" section. This section uses a bulleted, three-column approach to listing your nine to 12 top skills and abilities.

First, go back to your list in step two. Choose the most important and separate those into one or two-word phrases. At this point, try to be as specific as possible. 

Here is an example of the "Areas of Expertise" list:

  • Lean Management

  • Workforce Strategies

  • Budget Optimization

  • Sales Planning & Forecasting

  • Team Leadership

  • Project Management

  • Client Relationships & Retention

  • Marketing & Sales Channels

  • Inventory Management

Step 5: Give it a polished look

Like your resume, the summary for the resume should follow a standard format and design. Easy-to-navigate styling should be the primary focus, but adding a little professional flare is also welcome.

This process is a very subjective process based on personal preference, type of job and industry, and whether the resume will be read by an ATS. These five rules will help guide the design process and make it a little easier to organize:

  1. Use either a bulleted list or justified alignment for the main paragraph text.

  2. Don't use gaudy fonts or designs.

  3. Stay away from colors and images.

  4. Always use bulleted lists and columns for the "Areas of Expertise".

  5. Be consistent; use the same format and design throughout the resume.

Step 6: Proofread, proofread, and proofread some more

After all is said and done, the most important aspect of writing a career summary is accuracy. According to a TopResume survey of former and current recruiters, hiring managers, and human resources professionals, spelling and grammatical errors are the number one worst mistake a candidate can make. That means hiring managers will toss any resume with spelling or grammatical errors into the trash because not only is this unprofessional, but it makes you look incompetent and lazy.

Read the document, without looking for errors the first time. Read it out loud. Hearing the mistakes make them more noticeable.

Next, look for any spelling, grammatical, or stylistic mistakes in the career summary. Don't trust Word's proofreader; the program works well, but it often misses crucial words. Once you have looked over the document, let it rest for a night and go back the next day to proofread it again.

Another good resource is friends and colleagues. Ask someone who has an excellent command of spelling and grammar to proofread your document, checking for errors and confusing phrases. 


Writing an excellent career summary doesn't have to be a daunting experience. 

It just takes a little time, creativity, and dedication to put together a summary for a resume that hiring managers will love. Follow these six steps, and your career summary will outshine the other applicants.

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