Most resume preparation books and experts recommend that the resume begin with a summary of the candidate’s qualifications. Unfortunately, that approach focuses on what the candidate wants to say instead of what they want the recipient to hear! All of us have a natural tendency to think of ourselves first. With this “standard” approach, the candidate is asking the interviewer to interpret the person’s qualifications to ensure that there is a match to the position that they are trying to fill. Sometimes the resume reviewer will make the proper interpretation, sometimes not. In any event, the candidate is asking the interviewer to do the work in translating a person’s summary to their company’s needs.

In today’s challenging employment environment, there are far more applicants than there are positions available.  Companies are inundated with job applications. For most companies, the first person to see a resume is NOT the hiring manager who has intimate knowledge of the position requirements.  Instead, the first screener is likely to be a human resources person or administrative assistant who has been coached to look for keywords only. There are dozens of software products (Applicant or Resume Tracking Systems ATS/RTS) that do the same thing.  A common tactic used by many candidates is to fill their resumes with as many buzzwords as possible, hoping that some may get someone’s or the software’s attention. It is a shotgun versus a rifle approach. Many software developers are notorious for including the alphabet soup of languages and development techniques in their resumes with little or no meaningful context.  This technique may get it past the first mechanical filter but will certainly not help to move the candidate to the top of the human screener list.

With so many job applications being submitted from so many sources, as a matter of survival, reviewers focus on eliminating “unqualified” candidates (as they determine them) before they focus on reviewing “qualified” candidates in detail. Essentially, they focus on getting to “NO” before they invest the time to get to “KNOW” candidates. All of us do this constantly. For example, when we receive postal mail, we quickly throw out the junk mail before opening the mail that may be of interest to us. We also do this every day with our emails, typically reading the subject line and the author only and then making the “open or delete” decision on this limited information filter.

An effective way for a candidate to avoid this situation is to change the focus of their top line summary statement.  

Instead of it being about themselves, the top-of-the-page statement should be written in terms of how they can help the company meet the company’s objectives. Turn the tables and make it personal, but personal for the company! If possible, make the statement as specific as possible for the division or company of interest. It is worth the effort to personalize the initial one or two sentence paragraph. The Objective statement does not have to be long and involved or use impressive sounding words that demonstrate the person’s abilities. The purpose of this statement is to gain the emotional attention of the reader so they are interested in getting to KNOW the person.

Spend as much time on the opening sentence as you do on the rest of your resume. Make it easy to understand and be aligned with where the company is or wants to be – you are available to help them achieve their goals. Through your homework, tie the statement to an issue or direction that you have discovered is important to the company. If the company has indicated that they are focusing on expansion into certain international regions, weave in how you can help. If the company has a reputation of being a market leader, weave in comments about innovation or creativity.

The goal of your opening statement is very simple: Show how you can help the company achieve their goals. After you have “hooked” them and enticed them to read past your topline statement, talk about yourself, your accomplishments, and your experience.

At the risk of being overly dramatic, follow the advice of President John F. Kennedy during his 1961 Inaugural Address: “…ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  Follow this sound advice in the preparation of your resume – make it about them, not you.