5. THE JUICE: YOUR ASSERTIONS SECTION
In most cases, a great resume has two main sections. In the first, you make assertions about your abilities, qualities, and achievements. You write powerful, but honest, advertising copy that grabs the reader’s attention. (Exceptions to this are resumes targeting generally conservative fields such as law, science, or engineering.)
The second section, the evidence section, is where you back up your assertions with evidence that you actually did what you said you did. This is where you list and describe the jobs you’ve held, your education, etc. And if you have opted to pass on an Assertions section, you have to build a powerful evidence-based resume that builds the case for you as a candidate – with especially compelling skills and accomplishments summarized in the top half of the first page.
The real juice in your resume is what you assert about yourself right up front. This is where you shine. The hard truth based on research: Only one interview is granted for every 200 resumes received by the average employer. Research also tells us that your resume will be quickly scanned, rather than read. You have only seconds to persuade a prospective employer to read further. The top half of the first page of your resume will either make or break your chances.
Ask yourself: What does the employer really want? How would you fill those shoes? What would set a truly exceptional candidate apart from a merely good one? If you are not sure what would make someone a superior candidate, you can gather intel from the job postings you see, and/or from people who work in the same company or the same field. You could even call the prospective employer and ask them what they want. Don’t make wild guesses.
Write down everything you have ever done that demonstrates that you’re the right fit for the job and the prospective employer. You don’t have to confine yourself to work-related accomplishments.
TIP: Use your entire life as the palette to paint with. The point is to cover all possible ways of thinking about and communicating what you do well. What are the talents you bring to the marketplace?
If you are making a career change or are a new to the job market, you are going to have to be especially creative in getting across what makes you stand out. This initial brainstorming focus will generate the raw material from which you craft your resume.
So many resumes we see make a gallant effort to inform the reader. But we don’t want the employer to be informed; we want them to be interested and curious. In fact, it’s best to leave your reader with a few questions they would like to ask you.
In your assertions section, state your Objective – your intended job. Ideally, your resume should convey why you are the perfect candidate for one specific job or job title. There is debate out there about whether to state an Objective, but generally speaking, we think it’s a good idea. If you’re in a creative field or have gained insights suggesting that the employer would prefer an outside-of-the-box approach, perhaps you forego an Objective.
Keep it to the point, and keep the employer front and center as your write. Consider this example. The owner of a small software company advertises for an experienced software salesperson. A week later they have 500 resumes. The applicants have a bewildering variety of backgrounds, and the employer has no way of knowing whether any of them are really interested in selling software.
Then the employer spots a resume that starts with the following: “OBJECTIVE – a software sales position in an organization seeking an extraordinary record of generating new accounts, exceeding sales targets and enthusiastic customer relations.” This is a fit. Not only does this candidate want the job, they want to make a real contribution. Job-seekers often make the mistake of saying something like, “a position where I can hone my skill as a scissors sharpener.”
Examples follow. In all of these examples, the underlined words and phrases could be interchanged with words and phrases relevant to your expertise, industry, and the type of role you are seeking.
In this example, the statement is not preceded by the word “Objective.” Experienced IT professional offering more than five years of hands-on experience in programming, web development, and IT trouble-shooting, and seeks leadership role in leading digital organization.
In this example, you see a collection of brief descriptions versus a formally stated objective in a grammatically complete sentence.
Strategic thinker and communicator. Expert storyteller. A decade of deadline-driven on-air reporting. Ready to pivot to executive producer role.
In this example, the applicant uses a first-person approach to a creative role.
“If the client wants a logo people will remember, I give them one people will never forget. If they want their brand to communicate, I make it sing.”
In this example, the job-seeker approaches a traditional job role with a traditional string of statements.
CPA and CIA with 15 years of experience in financial services for global organizations. Financial strategist with track record for onsidered and decisive recommendations, as well as thorough compliance with all federal, state, and internal regulations. Excels at individual as well as collaborative efforts. Known for work ethic and integrity.
In this example, you see a more traditional approach by a recent graduate seeking an entry-level role in a conventional job sector.
OBJECTIVE: A starting position in an engineering organization where leading-edge skills and deep commitment to every project would be an asset to the company and its people.
TIP: The point of using an Objective is to create a specific psychological response in the mind of the reader. If you are making a career change or have a limited work history, you want the employer to immediately focus on where you are going, rather than where you have been. If you are looking for another job in your present field, it is more important to stress your qualities, achievements and abilities first.
It is sometimes appropriate to include your Objective in your Summary section rather than have a separate Objective section.
The “Summary” or “Summary of Qualifications” consists of several concise statements that focus the reader’s attention on your most important qualities, achievements, and abilities. (NOTE: If you are on LinkedIn, it is important that the summary in your resume be reflected in what you have in your LinkedIn summary. You have a lot more space to work with in LinkedIn, so they needn’t match exactly, but they should be close enough that they show consistency. You should be recognizable as the same person!) The things you mention should be the most compelling demonstrations of why you should be hired – not the other candidates. This is your brief window of opportunity to highlight your most impressive qualities – the spiciest part of your resume
In fact, this may be the only section fully read by the employer, so it must be strong and convincing. The Summary is the one place to include professional characteristics (highly energetic, a gift for solving complex problems in a fast-paced environment, a natural salesperson, exceptional interpersonal skills, committed to excellence, etc.). Gear every word in the Summary to your goal: getting that interview.
Here are the most common ingredients of a well-written Summary.
- A short phrase describing your profession
- Followed by a statement of broad or specialized expertise
- Followed by two or three additional statements related to any of the following:
- breadth or depth of skills
- unique mix of skills
- range of environments in which you have experience
- a special or well-documented accomplishment
- a history of awards, promotions, or superior performance commendations
- One or more professional or appropriate personal characteristics
- A sentence describing professional objective or interest.
You would not necessarily use all these ingredients in one Summary. Use the ones that highlight you best.
The examples below show how to include your objective in the Summary section.
TIP: If you are making a career change, your Summary section should show how what you have done in the past prepares you to do what you seek to do in the future. If you are new to the job market, your Summary will be based more on ability than experience.
A few examples of Summary sections:
- Highly motivated, creative and versatile real estate executive with seven years of experience in property acquisition, development and construction, as well as the management of large apartment complexes. Especially skilled at building effective, productive working relationships with clients and staff. Excellent management, negotiation and public relations skills. Seeking a challenging management position in the real estate field that offers extensive contact with the public.
- Over 10 years as an organizational catalyst/training design consultant with a track record of producing extraordinary results for more than 20 national and community based organizations. A commitment to human development and community service. Energetic self-starter with excellent analytical, organizational, and creative skills.
- Financial Management Executive with nearly ten years of experience in banking and international trade, finance, investments and economic policy. Innovative in structuring credit enhancement for corporate and municipal financing. Skilled negotiator with strong management, sales and marketing background. Areas of expertise include (a bulleted list would follow this paragraph.)
- Health Care Professional experienced in management, program development and policy making in the United States as well as in several developing countries. Expertise in emergency medical services. A talent for analyzing problems, developing and simplifying procedures, and finding innovative solutions. Proven ability to motivate and work effectively with persons from other cultures and all walks of life. Skilled in working within a foreign environment with limited resources.
- Commander – Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Navy, Atlantic Fleet. Expertise in all areas of management, with a proven record of unprecedented accomplishment. History of the highest naval awards and rapid promotion. Proven senior-level experience in executive decision-making, policy direction, strategic business planning, Congressional relations, financial and personnel management, research and development, and aerospace engineering. Extensive knowledge of government military requirements in systems and equipment. Committed to the highest levels of professional and personal excellence.
- Performing artist with a rich baritone voice and unusual range, specializing in classical, spiritual, gospel and rap music. Featured soloist for two nationally televised events. Accomplished pianist. Extensive performance experience includes television, concert tours and club acts. Available for commercial recording and live performances.
SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
In this final part of the assertions section, go into more detail. In the summary, you focused on your most special highlights. Now you tell the rest of the best of your story. Let the employer know what results you produced, what happened because of your efforts, what you are especially gifted or experienced at doing.
TIP: Don’t tell them everything you’ve ever done. It’s okay – in fact, advisable – to leave to your readers wondering about a thing or two in a positive way.
Sometimes the “Skills and Accomplishments” section is a separate section. In a chronological resume, it becomes the first few phrases of the descriptions of the various jobs you have held. We will cover that in a few minutes, when we discuss the different types of resumes. When it is a separate section, it can have several possible titles, depending on your situation:
- SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- SUMMARY OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- SELECTED ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- RECENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- AREAS OF ACCOMPLISHMENT AND EXPERIENCE
- AREAS OF EXPERTISE
- CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
- PROFESSIONAL HIGHLIGHTS
- ADDITIONAL SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
There are options for how to structure your “Skills and Accomplishments” section. Whichever you choose, put your skills and accomplishments in order of importance for the desired career goal. If you have many skills, the last skill paragraph might be called “Additional Skills.”
TIP: Be sure to use action-oriented words. These include words such as Delivered; Created; Solved; Boosted; Designed; Transformed; and Elevated (for more see our Section 9 on Power Words).
Here are a few ways you could structure your “Skills and Accomplishments” section:
- A listing of skills or accomplishments or a combination of both, with bullets
SELECTED SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- Raised $1,900 in 21 days in canvassing and advocacy on environmental, health and consumer issues.
- Conducted legal research for four Assistant U.S. Attorneys, for the U.S. Attorney’s office
- Coordinated Board of Directors and Community Advisory Board of community mental health center. Later commended as “the best thing that ever happened to that job.”
- A listing of major skill headings with accomplishments under each. The accomplishments can be a bulleted list or in paragraph form. The material under the headings should include mention of accomplishments which prove each skill.
National Training Project / Conference Management.
- Director of Outreach on Hunger, a national public education/training project funded by USAID, foundations and all the major church denominations. Designed, managed and promoted three-day training conferences in cities throughout the U.S. Planned and managed 32 nationwide training seminars and a five-day annual conference for university vice-presidents and business executives.
Program Design: Universities.
- Invited by Duke University President Terry Sanford to develop new directions and programs for the University’s Office of Summer Educational Programs, first Director of Duke’s “Pre-college Program,” first editor of “Summer at Duke.” Designed and successfully proposed a center for the study of creativity at The George Washington University.
- A list of bulleted accomplishments or skill paragraphs under each job (in a chronological resume).
Director of Sales and Marketing
DELAWARE TRADE INTERNATIONAL, INC. Wilmington, DE
- Promoted from Sales Representative within one year of joining company to Director of Sales and Marketing. Responsible for international sales of raw materials, as well as printing and graphic arts equipment. Oversaw five sales managers. Was in charge of direct sales and marketing in 17 countries throughout Europe and the Middle East.
- Recruited, trained and managed sales staff. Developed marketing strategy, prepared sales projections and established quotas. Selected and contracted with overseas sub-agents to achieve international market penetration.
- Negotiated and finalized long-term contractual agreements with suppliers on behalf of clients. Oversaw all aspects of transactions, including letters of credit, international financing, preparation of import/export documentation, and shipping/freight forwarding.
- Planned and administered sales and marketing budget, and maintained sole profit/loss responsibility. Within first year, doubled company’s revenues, and produced $7-9 million in annual sales during the next eight years.