Would you have guessed that out of three resume sections—Skills, Summary, and Education—the Summary is the least necessary? I wouldn’t have. So much has been written on how to write the Summary, how to brand yourself, keep it brief, and show your value to employers.
More than 2,000 people responded to a poll conducted on 6/29—2,236 to be exact—and 46% feel the Summary would be the one to go if given the choice between the three sections. The runner up is Education at 35% and the last chosen to be eliminated, the Skills/Core Competencies at 19%.
People of various occupations commented on their choice. They ranged from recruiters, HR, hiring managers, resume writers, career coaches, and job seekers. The people who voted ran the gamut and many of them left comments, some of which are listed below.
Why the Experience sections wasn’t included in the poll
It seems obvious why Experience wasn’t included as a choice of sections to excluded from a resume. After all, isn’t this where you tout what you’ve accomplished or at least the outstanding duties you’ve performed, what employers are most interested in? Pretty much.
And if you ask any busy recruiter, they’ll tell you that the first place they go on a resume is the Experience section, not the Summary, Education, or Skills. Well, Skills is important to some recruiters like Steve Levy, who told me during a recent conversation that this is his go-to section.
If there’s one argument for choosing Experience as least necessary, it would be if the job seeker is a recent grad and their most important section is Education. Even so, most college grads have some work experience during the summer or through internships. This was not a poll option.
Skills/Core Competencies win
I was surprised that Skills/Core Competencies was, in the minds of the voters, the more important of the three sections. Only 19% of voters chose to hack it from the resume if they had to.
Austin Belcak, founder of Cultivated Culture, agrees: “To me it’s the Core Competencies section, Bob. Simply dropping in a skill with no other context provides zero value to the reader.” He uses Data Analysis as an example of how the skill can be misconstrued between two candidates’ resumes.
Biron Clarke, founder at CareerSideKick.com, makes a good point about using skills within the Experience section: “I think you could work around having no Skills section, like Austin said. It’s more convincing to demonstrate your skills in your work experience section, anyway. (Via bullet points showing how you used each skill, etc.)”
Adrienne Tom, founder of Career Impressions, is another one who would eliminate the Skills section, albeit reluctantly: “As always, for me it depends. It depends on both the person and their application avenue. Some job seekers can share some really impactful details in a Summary to hook-and-grab a human reader. Others may need the Skills section or Education section to help with online applications. If I had to pick, I’d be okay with removing a dedicated Skills section and then weaving the skills into actual resume content.
Education comes in second
Education was a tough one for people to cut from the resume. For some, their education means a great deal to them. They attended a top-notch university and want to tout their achievement of completing their degree.
But how relevant is your education unless it is absolutely required for you to secure a position? A teacher at any level comes to mind. But many feel that it’s your experience that really matters, not the fact that you have a Bachelor’s.
Cynthia Pong, JD (she/her) puts it well: “Education would be on the chopping block for me. Where someone went to school can be a factor of many considerations – financial aid, geography, life circumstances – that have nothing to do with whether or not someone can do a particular job well.”
All too often I come across job seekers who are at the top of their game but can’t check off the education box and, therefore, aren’t offered an interview. Is this a way for HR to disqualify candidates from consideration? Perhaps. However, ask most hiring managers if they’d consider someone with experience but sans degree, they’ll take the former.
Summary would be the section to go
And the winner…or the loser is the Summary. This would be the first section to go. There are some well-respected executive resume writers who have said the Summary is no longer necessary. Some believe they add no value to the document, mainly because they’re poorly written.
Ed Han is a recruiter, and he agrees: “All things being equal: I consider the Summary least useful. There I said it. Most job seekers write their own resumes, and the ugly truth is that there’s a really good reason there are professionals who do make a living writing resumes. Many resumes are just not written particularly well, with the worst cases being little more than an excuse for keyword stuffing.”
Another career development pundit, Ed Lawrence, speaks of second-hand information: “I chose ‘Summary’ for this reason—a recruiter once told me he skipped the Summary section because it basically says we are all the best thing since sliced bread. If not for that, I would still be agonizing over Education versus Summary.”
But in defense of the Summary, this is a section of your resume that can clearly display your value statement and what you can deliver to the employer. As long as it’s brief and contains no cliches, I see the Summary as a necessary component of the resume. If done well it can capture the attention of the reader.
The problem with the Summary is that candidates treat it as a place to stick the sparkling words that ring hollow. We’re talking about words like “results-oriented,” “dynamic,” “outstanding,” etc. When someone leads with words like these, I lose all desire to read the rest of the resume.
Have we arrived again at the debate, “Is the Summary dead”? I hope not. I think a well-written Summary can be a great section in which to state your proposed value to the employer, as long as it’s brief, tailored to the position, and contains an accomplishment or two.
The people have spoken
When more than 2,000 people vote, we have a poll. As I said earlier, some of the most knowledgeable resume writers and reviewers have weighed in. Many of them gave excellent reasons for deleting one of the three sections. Some couldn’t choose, or didn’t want to. The fact is that all the three sections are required given most situations, if not all.