Custom-tailor your Headline and Summary of Qualifications to impress each employer. By Warren Simons | January 2008
Want to dramatically improve your resume's response rate, while also creating a document you can quickly and easily customize to apply for new openings? Focus on two key sections: the Headline and the Summary of Qualifications. Located just below your Contact Information, these areas occupy a resume's most valuable real estate for a reason: Used correctly, they introduce your name with a tremendous air of professionalism.  Unfortunately, many candidates still continue to utilize a bland Objective instead of the much stronger, more vigorous Headline. The Headline, which is structured as a concise one- or two-sentence introduction, gives you several competitive advantages over the standard Objective. It not only demonstrates what you have to offer a company - as opposed to just what you want from a company - it also immediately highlights your key selling points.  Whether you've shattered sales quotas, managed 25 employees, or have cutting-edge IT skills, the Headline instantly communicates why you're a great candidate in a way the Objective simply cannot. Standard Objectives might read something like, "I am looking for a sales management position in a growth-oriented environment," or "I have over ten years of experience in IT and I am seeking a position where there is opportunity for growth." Objectives like these actually say very little, and do nothing to distinguish your resume from hundreds of others. Let's revise those objectives into Headlines:

Award-winning sales manager with over 15 years of experience in outside sales and demonstrated expertise motivating and training teams

Dedicated IT professional with 10 years of experience in fast-paced, deadline-oriented Fortune 100 environments

Most hirers sit down with 150 resumes and spend 10 to 30 seconds scanning each one. (That's where the "10-second rule" comes from.) This initial, quick analysis is the first test your resume must pass, and it's essential to effectively convey your background in a succinct sentence or two.  A job posting, after all, represents an organization's attempt to solve a problem by bringing in talent. The Headline starts off the resume by proclaiming how you can be the solution.  It allows you to market yourself more aggressively, and can immediately impress a hirer - especially if you custom-tailor the Headline for each opening. Headline Construction To build your Headline, start off with an adjective that modifies your professional title.  "Award-winning," "experienced," and "dedicated" are all great openers. Next, add the function or industry that defines your position, for example: "IT," "software engineer," or "project manager." Then add a level of experience: "manager," "professional," "assistant," or "senior manager" all work. To bolster the Headline, you can add additional dimensions - such as years of experience or industry-specific skills. For a hint on what to include, review the job posting and see what the company is looking for, then target the appropriate keywords. Building the Summary of Qualifications The Summary of Qualifications consists of four to six bullets highlighting your most marketable skills, accomplishments and experiences. It's designed to directly reinforce the hirer's belief that you should be called in for an interview. Some areas to focus on include:
  • Professional and academic awards or recognitions
  • Key skills and achievements
  • Years of experience
  • Certifications or professional training
  • Skills that are difficult to quantify but are extremely valuable nonetheless. For example, "soft skills" such as communication or presentation skills
A key to an effective Summary of Qualifications is the use of strong bullets. While the points you include will depend on your personal experiences, as well as the job opening, two tips are:
    1. First, quantify your accomplishments with numbers and statistics whenever possible
    2. Second, make sure your bullets contain both a cause and an effect. So, while a good bullet might be:
  • Accomplished IT sales professional with five years of experience.
A great bullet would read:
  • Accomplished IT sales professional with five years of experience and background meeting or exceeding sales quotas 15 of last 16 quarters.
The difference might seem slight, but it can make a tremendous impact on the overall success of your resume. Remember, if you're applying directly to the company, don't blast out 150 resumes every day.  Target three jobs per day, and custom-tailor your Headline and Summary of Qualifications to impress each employer.
Warren Simons is a freelance writer living in New York City.