A professional summary is a brief section at the beginning of your resume that outlines your primary qualifications for a role. It's a very helpful section when used correctly, but it can also get you into trouble if you don't need one or don't use it properly. Here's a breakdown by career-level of whether you should include this section in your resume.
Entry-level: Entry-level resumes almost never need a professional summary. Very often, an entry-level resume will lead with the education section, which gives the reader enough context that the applicant is a recent grad and looking for an entry-level role. Since most entry-level candidates don’t have a proven track record of achievements in the industry, there’s not much to call out in a professional summary that's not obvious from the education, experience, or skills sections. If you're tempted to use this section to wax poetic about your perspective on the arts or to state an objective, don't do it! Your resume should be 100% focused on tangible, provable skills. Plus, your objective is obvious -- to get the job you're applying for. The only time we recommend an entry-level candidate include a professional summary is if they have previous work experience in another sector and are making a career transition – in this case, a summary could be used to indicate the desire for a transition and to call out transferable skills.
Mid-level: Mid-level candidates can sometimes benefit from a professional summary, especially if they have had a lot of varied experience and need a quick blurb to tie it all together. For instance, if you've spent several years in development, followed by a few in distribution, and are hoping to leverage both skillsets for a role in content strategy, a professional summary can help tell that story. Freelancers may also want to add a summary to the top of their credits lists to call out specific areas of expertise (i.e. a lot of experience in one particular genre) or to highlight awards or achievements. Additionally, if there's a very specific piece of information that showcases your unique capabilities for the role -- like a history of volunteer work with an organization that's aligned with the company's content mission or a track record of working across multiple genres -- you may want to highlight it in a summary to make sure the hiring manager doesn't miss it. However, if your career trajectory has been very linear, and it’s obvious from your experience section that the role you are applying for is a natural next step, you don’t need to bother with a professional summary -- your experience will speak for itself.
Senior-level: Most of the time, we recommend that senior executives include a professional summary in their resumes. Because senior executive resumes are often two pages long, a summary can give the hiring manager a quick overview of the candidate's main selling points without forcing them to read too much text. It’s also a good way to get the most important information at the top -- for example, if a very notable achievement (like an Emmy award) is buried three entries down in the experience section, a call-out in the summary will make it clear from the get-go. It can also be helpful to include some leadership capabilities in this section, like your passion for mentorship or your background supervising crews of over 100 people. However, if your experience is really straightforward, and your most important accomplishments are in your most recent role, you might find that this section is redundant. In that case, we recommend adding a core skills or areas of expertise section to the top of the resume to highlight some specific keywords in bold. This will help frame your experience without overwhelming the reader.
One thing to remember about professional summaries is that they must be tailored to the job posting. If you're applying for multiple very similar roles, you can likely have one summary and make minor tweaks, but if you are applying for different types of roles, you will want to make sure you are calling out the most relevant pieces of information in the summary for each one. If you choose to include a summary, always take the time to cross-reference it with the job posting at hand. If you don't have the bandwidth to revise this section for each application, a core skills section or even a simple headline under your name might be a better bet.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
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