Firstly, why should anyone bother with a summary, especially when you might have already gone through the faff of writing a cover letter?
I never hear our company’s founders, talent folks or hiring managers saying: “well I read the cover letter so I’m definitely going to …” because cover letters are anachronistic, deprioritised and frankly, very few bother to read them these days.
As a Head of Talent at Golden Gate Ventures, the first thing I do the moment I receive a job application is read your CV or scan your LinkedIn profile. I want to see what you are doing right now. So, I look at your current job, relevant dates and at what company. That is the single most relevant piece of information that is likely to impact my decision whether to move you forward in the process or pass on your application altogether.
If (and this is a very common “if”) what you are doing now, where you are working or what industry you are in isn’t aligned with the opportunity you’re applying for, I need to get some context about you, before I can figure out whether a move like this would make sense.
By summarising this in a super concise way at the top of your CV, you prevent me having to read through another waffly cover letter, meaning I’ll instantly like you more. You’ll make it through to the interview stage with the simple combination of your current role and that summary. Don’t worry, we’ll still go through the rest of the CV in the interview.
Another major reason I love a good summary is that it allows you to demonstrate your ability to communicate concisely. Don’t take up too much of the page with your summary as the work experience is still the most important information on the page. In that sense, you are under pressure to keep the profile brief. This is something poor communicators struggle with and something I would take into account in the hiring process.
Also consider this…..
What if the talent team forwards your CV to the hiring manager but not your cover letter? Or what if the application doesn’t even allow you to send a second document?
In these situations, your painstakingly written cover letter will be lost and your CV won’t have captured any of it, unless that summary is there, presented clearly at the top of the page.
“I’ll put the cover letter in the same document as the CV,” I hear you protest. Doesn’t matter. As the reader and the one handling your application, I’ll most likely still scroll right past it to your actual CV, because that is still what I am most interested in, first and foremost.
(This all comes with the caveat: if a job specifically asks you to provide a cover letter, then obviously put one together, but it should follow the summary pretty closely.)
So what do you include in this summary?
Sentence 1. Describe yourself professionally in as few words possible. This must include: Current or most recent job title, years of experience, cities and industries you’ve worked in.
Sentence 2. Let me know what your current situation is, so I can understand why you are looking for a change. Has your last job just come to an end? Are you working on a project? Are you on a sabbatical?
Sentence 3. Tell me what type of professional experience or exposure you want to build in the next couple of years.
Sentence 4. Finish with something along the lines of: “I am applying for X types of roles, in Y industries, in Z geographies (where X, Y and Z pretty closely match the specific job you are applying for).
You can also use the summary to clear up awkward questions that you find interviewers might raise about career shifts and the like. Be open and honest there.
This basic model works for most people but, of course, it is not a one-size-fits-all set up so you’ll have to adjust this to your circumstances and to the specific opportunity you are applying for.
Really spend time writing and rewriting these sentences, particularly the first three, until you feel it covers everything in just the right way and that it still sounds like you. The amount of time you spend thinking about how to phrase this should correlate strongly with being able to answer some of the trickiest opening questions in the interview process.
"...the summary allows you to come across as more human..."
Unfortunately, even when I do see summaries they are rarely done well. In my next post (which should come a touch sooner than this one did), I’ll break down each of these four sentences, so you can figure out how to perfect your summary and set yourself up to write the rest of the CV.
Finally, and hopefully the nicest point to finish on, is to remember that the summary allows you to come across as more human, so a reader can relate to you before you’ve even met. By all means, spend the rest of your CV waxing lyrical about your amazing achievements, but for that brief paragraph show me who you are, what’s going on in your life and what you want to do next (which I hope I can give to you)!
A great summary is a breath of fresh air and great for getting you better prepared for your interview.
Let me know if you would like me to expand on any of these points in the comments below and remember to suggest other areas of job hunting advice you want me to go through in future.
Ollie Wood is the Head of Talent for Golden Gate Ventures, the number one valley-inspired venture capital firm in South East Asia investing in startups across many sectors, including e-commerce, payments, marketplaces, mobile applications, and SaaS platforms.
Ollie finds the best talent across the globe and provides talent advice for GGV’s 50+ portfolio companies. Ollie feels there is far too few solid sources of career advice around the globe. However, he is passionate about giving people in the early stages of their career, clear cut advice about how to progress in their career in the right way.