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What Goes at the Top of a Resume?

on February 1, 2016 by Proofreading Pal in Resumes facebook in twitter

There are three types of resume headers. Choose the one you need carefully.

Like most everything, resumes are subject to trends and fashions, and when fashion is involved, some changes will be durable and useful while others will be embarrassing fads. One change in the last couple decades has been the addition of what I’ll call a header. Originally a magazine editor’s term for a subtitle for an article, the word here refers to the introductory material before the start of your work history, just below your contact information.

Only twenty years ago, a header was uncommon on a resume. Now it’s ubiquitous. It’s hard to say why. It may have begun as a way to add a personal touch to an otherwise straightforwardly factual document. And it certainly does so, but not always in an appropriate way. Let’s look at some common headers and consider them from a recruiter’s perspective.

The Goal Statement

This takes a couple of forms, and is sometimes labeled “Objective” or “Position Sought.” It’s basically a brief summary of the job for which you’re applying, couched in general and very flattering terms: “Seeking a challenging and fulfilling position in financial services with opportunities for learning and advancement.”

Using this seems like a good bet, right? It certainly demonstrates your enthusiasm when you note that the job for which you are applying just so happens to be the job of your dreams! But flattery, as the saying goes, will get you nowhere. Just because it’s your dream job doesn’t mean that you are the employer’s dream candidate. As noted in a previous article, your application materials should all be focused on the needs of your employer.

Worse, a goal statement doesn’t actually tell a recruiter anything about you, except that you want a job, which she could have guessed, and that you understand the expectations of the position for which you are applying, which should go without saying. If your goal statement should inadvertently reveal that you do not understand the nature of the position, then that would be useful to the recruiter but bad for you.

Just about the only circumstance in which a goal statement header is appropriate is if you’re not applying for any specific job, but simply putting a resume on file with the company in case a position opens up, a job-hunting strategy that is in today’s era of hyper-specialization is pretty much obsolete.

The Inspirational Quote

We’ve started seeing this innovation only recently. It seems to show up mostly on the resumes of recent college graduates, so it might be something that’s pushed in career centers and placement offices, or it might be the narcissism of youth, assuming that an employer will be wowed by an invocation of The Little Prince or Kahlil Gibran or even, heaven help us, Dr. Seuss.

Friendly advice: Don’t do this. Not only does the inspirational quote look unprofessional, it wastes both time and ink. You may think you’re conveying something important about your personality or your approach to work and to life, but remember the recruiter will typically scan your resume for only a few moments. It’s better to devote your limited time to information that’s relevant to the position, rather than to your love of The Princess Bride. You can decorate your cubicle with your New Yorker cartoons after you get the job.

The Summary

This serves the same function as the abstract on an academic paper or the executive summary on a business report by presenting the essential facts of a document in abbreviated form. On a resume, that means boiling down your work history and qualifications to just a handful of words, preferably a single phrase: “A decade of experience in Web-centric B2B and consumer marketing initiatives,” for instance, or, “A trusted name in the financial community, with award-winning customer service.”

Now, this is a header that actually serves a purpose for a recruiter facing a time crunch. Just be sure that the work history and accomplishments you list deliver on all the promises made in your summary. The recruiter will want to see that decade, those B2B initiatives, that consumer marketing, that trust, that community, those awards. Make sure she can find them.

Jack F.

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