Home > Tips > Resume Introduction

How to Write a Resume Introduction

by John Nicholson, Resumes That Jump
Originally published: Aug 9, 2009

Your work experience section is the heart of your resume and the place where readers will spend most of their time. But if you jump straight from your name and contact information to your work experience, you'll lose readers. To make readers want to spend time learning about you and to give them context, you need a compelling introduction.

I recommend waiting until the end of the resume writing process to work on your introduction. Writing an effective career and skills summary is all about picking out common threads and themes, and that's much easier to do after you've created your outline, identified your achievements, and bulletized your experience. Once you're ready to go, here are the steps to writing a compelling introduction:

1. Give yourself a title

You never see a book or a newspaper article without a title, but you often see resumes without them. A good resume title quickly confirms for the reader that she is looking at a relevant resume and helps provide context for what is to come. The title is also a great way to customize your resume for particular jobs -- it stands out and takes almost no time to change. If the position you're applying for is very similar to the position you have today (e.g. "Object-Oriented PHP Programmer"), you can be fairly narrow with your title. If the fit between current and sought-after position aren't as tight, choose a broader title (e.g. "Web Developer"). If there is one adjective that stands out above all others in describing you or your experience, you can include that in your title. But try to avoid using clichés ("Experienced"). You can also include a 4-8 word subtitle that elaborates on the title, but I prefer to wait until after I write the introduction summary before thinking about this.

2. Insert your skills

Copy your list of technical skills or core competencies from your outline and simply paste them under your title. If your list is longer than 15 items, cut out the least relevant ones or do some combining on the same lines (e.g. HTML & CSS). This is an easy list to adapt so you can always add back skills that are relevant to a specific job.

3. Identify your themes and highlights

Print out the work experience section of your resume, either in raw bullet form or in restructured form. Also print out the list of personal / work style attributes from your outline. Think for a moment about the types of jobs you're going to be applying for. Now take a pen or highlighter and do the following:

  • Read through your work experience and highlight or underline your most relevant responsibilities and achievements.
  • Do the same thing with your list of skills or competencies.
  • Do the same thing with your list of attributes.

Now go through what you've highlighted under work experience and circle any common "themes" you see. For instance, if "led system migration" is something important you've done at three companies, circle it.

4. Write an attention-grabbing summary

Writing a compelling summary isn't easy, but if you've done everything else well to this point, it should be satisfying. Between your title and your skills, we need to add a short but sweet summary of your experience and skills -- infused with some of your unique personal attributes. Write in paragraph rather than bullet form. We're looking for something in the range of 3-6 hard-hitting sentences.

Look back through the things you highlighted and circled in the previous step and use it as a guide to writing this section. Some repetition of what is going to come later is fine, but don't simply copy and paste. We need a well-written paragraph that flows. There is no perfect formula for doing so, but here are some tips you can follow:

  • Your first sentence should reinforce and expand on your title. If your title is "Web Development Manager", you could open your paragraph with something like "IT leader with 10 years of experience ...".
  • As with the rest of your resume, your paragraph should be composed of fragments, not traditional sentences, to enhance rapid readability ("I" should never appear).
  • Unlike your work experience section, you don't need to start every phrase with an action verb. In fact, since this is more descriptive of you than of your activities, you'll normally start with a noun or an adjective.
  • A useful test is to take whatever phrase you've come up with, and try inserting "I have (a) ..." or "I am (a) ..." in front of it. If it makes sense, you're in good shape.
  • You're going to have a separate "Skills" or "Core Competencies" section nearby, so don't simply list those same skills here. But do think about ways to incorporate the most important one or two.
  • Add uniqueness to claims by integrating your personal / work style attributes.
  • Especially for executives and senior managers, it sometimes makes sense to include a 3-4 "career highlight" bullets at the end of your summary paragraph. This is particularly useful when you have a lot of achievements and the most important ones are spread across a few different positions. This encourages the reader to spend time looking through all of your positions. If your most important achievements are all in your current job, you probably don't need these bullets.

What about your "Objective"? In the old days this is what most resumes started with. These days most resume experts agree that summaries work better than objectives. If you just graduated from school or are changing fields, you can incorporate "objective statements" into your summary paragraph and/or your resume subtitle.