4 Easy Wins: How to Write a Professional Summary That Gets Results

By Monday, September 24, 2012 21 Permalink 15

how to write a professional summary

There’s a big difference between an objective statement and a professional summary. Unfortunately, a lot of people still go with the former. They lead with an objective like “To contribute to the company’s bottom line by applying knowledge gained through coursework and struggle,” or “To continue developing professionally and to apply what I’ve learned as a professional in my profession to drive organizational bliss.”

Let me tell you an obvious secret…

Objectives like the examples above are tired and trite. In fact, most objective statements just take up valuable space. They don’t make the hiring manager or recruiter any more likely to contact you. They don’t make you pop up in a candidate search on Monster, CareerBuilder, or in an organization’s applicant tracking system. They just make you look like everybody else. You don’t want that life. You want the one where you get calls or emails about phone screens and in-person interviews. You know? A life where you’re surrounded by pixies waving wands that make it rain offer letters and start dates. At least I hope that’s the life you want, unless you’re an entrepreneur at heart and wanna bypass working for The Man all together. Anyway, let’s talk about the professional summary.

The professional summary is exactly what it sounds like: a summary of who you are…professionally. That means you shouldn’t include stuff like your love of LoLCats and guilty pleasures like the Real Housewives of South Dakota. But you knew that already.

There are four elements that you should always try to have in your professional summary:

  • Desired or current profession and years of experience
  • Relevant skills
  • Certifications or professional memberships
  • Industries

They don’t have to go in this order, but let me tell you why each part is important.

Desired or Current Profession and Years of Experience

When you’re crafting anything on your resume or job search profile(s), you always have to think about it from the perspective of a recruiter searching for the diamond in the database. Stating your current or desired profession gives you a keyword/phrase that’ll show up early in your resume and confirms that they’re on the right track with reviewing your application. Years of experience just needs to be there. Employers want people with experience. It’s that simple. Tell them how much you have.

Relevant Skills

Every job description lists key skills and responsibilities required to succeed in the role. You should take this opportunity to let the employer know you have a few of ’em — if even in a roundabout way. Give them reason to read your resume in more detail. You’ll see what I mean toward the end of this article.

Certifications or Professional Memberships

This depends on the type of job you’re going for. But if you’re in a profession where there’s a recognized certification available, having it could be the difference between getting an interview and getting overlooked. With so many college graduates seeking work, certifications give employers an easy way to screen people out. If you don’t have a certification, but you’re actively studying for one, you can make that known in your professional summary. You at least get that keyword in there, which might bring you up in a search. It could be a line at the end of the summary as simple as “Studying for Series 7 certification. Sitting for exam in December 2012.”

Professional memberships are particularly relevant for folks with little experience or in the midst of a career transition. They show your commitment to the field, which can sway a recruiter enough to reach out to you…provided they like everything else in your resume.


I don’t care if you only did stints at Chipotle, Best Buy and some call center where you had to push credit card promos. Those are three separate industries: restaurant, retail and financial services. Employers like applicants with diverse backgrounds. The more industries you’ve been in, the more well-rounded your perspective (in most cases). This is definitely true for experienced professionals that have done similar jobs for completely different types of companies.

So Rich, what about an example?

No problem. Here’s a forward-looking one that I’d use if I were looking to take another HR gig. It’s important to note I’d tailor this for any job I’d apply for. But for the sake of an example, let’s say the company is an international nonprofit looking for an HR Generalist with experience managing a Human Resources Information System (HRIS), an understanding of performance management and compensation, and experience as a recruiter.

Certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR) with 4+ years of combined experience in the staffing and nonprofit industries as a recruiter and HR Generalist. Currently responsible for (but not limited to) managing the organization’s HR Information (HRIS) and Performance Management Systems, as well as recruiting process management and annual compensation analysis.

See what I did there? Let’s say the recruiter is using an applicant tracking system to find candidates. Here’s how my resume would look to him or her if he or she did a good keyword search for the ideal candidate and my application popped up:

search string: phr AND generalist AND hris AND “performance management” AND (recruiting OR recruiter) AND compensation

Certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR) with 4+ years of combined experience in the staffing industry as a recruiter and the nonprofit industry as an HR Generalist. Currently responsible for (but not limited to) management of organization’s HR Information (HRIS) and Performance Management Systems, as well as full life-cycle recruiting process management and annual compensation analysis.

If he or she sees all that red (or yellow highlight), they’re going to stop and look at my resume in more detail. That’s when I’ll hit them with a flurry of specifics and quantify where possible. Since my cover letter will be on point, they’ll shortlist me for a phone screen, then it’s on me to make the magic happen.

I love restauranting (my made up word for dining out) so the following is a food metaphor. Just know I don’t want to eat you.

You really have to think of yourself as a restaurant and your resume as the menu. The menu doesn’t guarantee an order, but anything you can do to keep the potential patron (recruiter) there increases the likelihood of them trying a dish (an interview). What better way to peak curiosity than an attractive list of appetizers (the summary)? That worked in my head, so I hope it works for you. If not, just keep in mind the points I highlighted above as you develop your professional summary. The longer you can keep them on your application, the higher the chance of being shortlisted for a screen.

Happy Huntings!


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  • It’s amazing how you write posts that speak directly to where I am in my job hunting process. On the search for the first time in 13 years (!) and it’s a little nerve racking. S/N: if you’re looking for new topics, can you speak to how best to format your resume if you’ve been in one track forever with overlapping responsibilities? I must have read your cover letter post 3 or 4 times as I try to put myself in the best light. Off to review and revise once again. Thanks!

    • Rich

      No problem! Thanks for dropping in. I’ll definitely be talking about different elements of the resume. This post started as a list post with 5 items, then I realized I could probably expand on each and make complete articles. Formatting is a good one. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Thea

    I like your blog. It’s truly resourceful. Thanks

    • Rich

      Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any questions.

  • Nandie

    This has been very helpful. Like Alia, I will be looking after many years and have been struggling with how to sell myself. Thanks for the pointers! I love all your blogs.

    • Thanks Nandie!

  • Nicely done! This is good stuff Rich! If you’re writing a summary, it has to grab the reader’s attention with something substantive. Why not make it count?

  • wow. this is a really great article.

    good stuff! i never knew how applicant tracking systems worked. so interesting.

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    hello rich
    i am a fresh business graduate and seeking job. i have subscribed to many job websites, where there is a requirement of professional summary, since i haven’t work experience and i don’t know how to write it more effectively, if u can help!

  • Kenya

    Thanks for this article! I’ve committed myself to the job search so I am sure I’ll be reading your articles a lot moving forward.

    Question: Do you suggest that we have a professional summary on our resume?? It really does take up a lot of space :(. This may seem like a weird question given your useful article, but I have seen many resumes w/o an objective or professional summary.

    Thanks in advance for your response!!

    • Rich

      Hey Kenya,

      You don’t have to have one, but I like them and have never seen a candidate dinged for their professional summary taking up too much space. I think they are particularly useful for career transitions where it requires a bit more selling.

  • Redd

    On the hunt for a job for the first time in my adult life (last month made marked a full year of resume writing) and your articles are “spot-on” for a matured person like myself. I googled professional summary and you were the first entry. Thanks and you will be hearing more from me.

    • Rich

      No doubt. Looking forward to it!

  • haris haleem

    Hi. its me haris haleem. can anyone write my professional summary please.
    my education background is BS(Telecommunication and Networking).
    I have just one year experience in GIS Solutioners as a GIS Assistant.
    This was my work at GIS Solutioners
    •GIS mapping and analysis
    •Delivered training coursed regarding GIS and GPS for the organization.
    Thank you.
    email me

  • kervin

    This is very useful. Can you also put something together targeting us Veterans who after service completed a degree in a totally unrelated field, and how to best market yourself after a failed entrepreneurial attempt (or 2)?

    • Rich

      Hey Kervin,

      You’re not the first to ask about what veterans can do. I’ve been looking into how recruiters and hiring managers are viewing veteran applications and will put something together once I have better insights. Admittedly, this isn’t something I have much experience with.


  • probizmgr

    Rich, I can appreciate the keywords to include that recruiters may look for, but…what if you don’t have all of that education? Many people have HS Diplomas and vast experience. Where is the Summary for that?

    • Rich J.

      Sorry for the delay on this. Didn’t see the comment before. You don’t need to list education in your summary. That’s really only relevant for certifications. You can talk about industry experience and specific skills. That would suffice. Hope that helps!

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  • Anya

    This is a great breakdown of what is included in a professional summary. I have a question though, how do I include my desired position(without it sounding like an objective) while summarizing my current experience? I’m looking for an entry level position in HR, I have graduated 3 yrs ago from an HR program but I have been working in the restaurant industry before and since then. I’m just not sure how to mesh the two together. Thanks 🙂

  • Olive Parsons

    http://www.resumevalley.com is actually very nice. Thanks Linda. They have pretty cool articles as well.

  • Raymond

    Amazing article. Opened up my skewed thinking on the subject

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