Resume Writing: Cut to the Chase

Resume Writing: Cut to the Chase

Objective statements are a waste of time and valuable resume space. Don’t squander those precious resources with meaningless words. You have just a few seconds of a hiring authority’s scanning time to entice them to read further before they set your resume aside. Prospective employers want to know immediately whether you’ve got what it takes to be successful at their firm and in the position they need to fill.

The fatal error of a typical objective statement is that it focuses on what you, the job seeker, wants, rather than what you can contribute to the prospective employer. Instead, use this prime resume space to summarize your top selling points. Customize it to the job listing and the hiring organization. This is your chance to make it clear right away why you’re a strong fit.

Curate the contents

To determine what to include in your summary, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the most important qualifications the prospective employer most likely is seeking for this role?
  • What, specifically, in my experience, education, strengths, and skills (including “soft” skills or personality traits) make me a good candidate for this particular job?
  • What additional factors are likely to set me apart from other applicants, such as a specialized skill, language, advanced degree or certification, or a unique experience?
  • How have I used these qualifications to create results and provide value to my previous employers? What accomplishments best illustrate my abilities?

Make it easy to skim

With the above in mind, describe yourself in a short paragraph of three to five lines, stating the facts your target audience cares most about. Open with your title, such as “patent litigation partner”, “In-house compliance counsel”, or “corporate/M&A associate”, so the reader knows, immediately, the type of candidate you are and position you seek.

Keep it short and pithy, eliminating extraneous or overused words—such as “motivated”, “hardworking”, “detail-oriented”, or “self-starter”. Drop pronouns from the sentences (no “I” or “Ms. Smith”), thus freeing up valuable resume real estate.

You can add a few columns or rows of bullet points highlighting core competencies or experiences relevant to your target job. Quantify wherever possible. This is your chance to show your strengths and illustrate how they would apply directly to the employer. Avoid a big block of text which is difficult to skim.

Defeat writer’s block

The qualifications summary statement can stump most resume drafters and impede progress. The trick is to write it last. After you’ve tweaked the rest of your resume for a specific position, considering what the prospective employer seeks and how your educational background and professional experience fill the bill, it’s much easier to craft a few relevant sentences to position yourself as a strong candidate.

But, it’s in the cover letter . . .

Although your cover letter also should spell out the position you seek and make a clear argument for why you are the best person for the job, it’s a good idea to include a summary statement on the resume itself, as well. Often, the hiring authority won’t take the time even to look at a cover letter unless a quick glance at the resume justifies spending the additional time. Furthermore, resumes and cover letters often are separated when distributed to others involved in the hiring decision. Consequently, you want your resume, standing alone, to clearly communicate your value.

Readers love it

Legal search consultants, hiring partners, and recruiting staff all appreciate a well-written summary at the top of a resume. It saves us time and effort if we can read a few sentences and have a good idea whether you’re qualified for a particular job. By immediately highlighting how your skills, experience, and accomplishments position you perfectly to succeed in the position, you give your audience a positive lens through which to read the rest of your resume. The great benefit for you, the job seeker, is that you get to make the case why you’re a strong candidate, instead of relying on our interpretation of your history and experience. Summary statements are especially valuable for seasoned lawyers with many years or disparate experiences to tie together into a cohesive narrative and to highlight transferable skills.

Additional career benefits

The best argument for taking the time to reflect and carefully compose your summary  qualifications statement is that it not only helps recruiters and hiring authorities clearly grasp what you have to offer, it also helps you better understand and articulate what you bring to the table. You get the added benefit of knowing exactly how to sell your skills the next time you’re out there networking, interviewing, or looking to develop new business—all of which are essential to your career success.

Valerie Fontaine
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