Resume writing has finally reached the point where almost all professional resume writers, and many job-seekers, realize the futility of old-fashioned objective statements like the following:
OBJECTIVE: To secure a full-time position with opportunities for advancement in a nonprofit organization that prides itself on excellent public service.
Telling the reader what you want instead of what you have to offer was a failed formula from the start. Now common practice is to use a headline at the top of your resume followed by a profile paragraph. This is a much better approach to introducing your resume, as it projects confidence and provides the reader with a snapshot of what you have to offer. However, not everyone makes the best use of it.
Having reviewed thousands of resumes, I have seen summary paragraphs like the following far too often:
Consummate nonprofit executive with an impressive track record of operational and fiscal success and the proven ability to elevate organizations to the next level. Highly visible in the national nonprofit sector with an established reputation as a dynamic and results-oriented leader who has demonstrated significant expertise in all aspects of nonprofit management. Masterful communicator with a flair for cultivating and managing complex relationships.
This type of cotton candy rarely impresses the reader. Employers want to know who you are, not how great you think you are. They want facts, not opinions. A good rule of thumb: If your summary is likely to make the reader think “Sure, prove it!” then you may want to consider a rewrite.
Instead, focus on actually summarizing your resume. In this world of smartphones and 140-character tweets, readers want relevant information presented clearly and concisely. Ask yourself – if they had time to read your summary but not the rest of your resume, what do you want them to know?
The following attributes can help summarize who you are to a reader, and should be considered for the top of your resume:
- Job function. What exactly do you do? Are you a well-rounded leader in nonprofit management? Or do you specialize in revenue development, volunteer management, event coordination, communications, administration, or something else?
- Job level. Are you considered an executive or senior manager (in your industry’s opinion, not yours)? Or are you a middle or junior manager? Maybe an analyst or consultant?
- Years of experience. How long have you worked in your chosen field? Do you have a record of quick advancement?
- Industry. What industries or sectors have you worked in? What products and services do you have experience with? Remember to consider what is relevant to your targeted employers.
- Specialty. Have you achieved noteworthy success in one or a few particular areas that are relevant to your job target?
- Language skills. Fluency in multiple languages may be important enough to include in your summary.
- Higher education. If you believe your advanced education may set you apart from most candidates, it may be worthwhile to highlight up top.
The following summary eliminates the long-winded hyperbole used in the previous example, and instead focuses on the candidate’s most relevant attributes:
- Senior nonprofit leader with more than 20 years of progressive experience in the health and environment sectors, including 11 years as an executive director. Managed both established organizations and small start-ups, with annual budgets of up to $25M.
- Provided leadership, guidance, and support to teams with up to 45 employees and 120 volunteers. Recruited and trained specialists in revenue development, volunteer coordination, event planning and management, and community relations.
- Master’s Degree in Nonprofit Management. Member of the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) since 2000. Fully bilingual; fluent in both English and French.
A targeted and fact-based summary like this provides the reader with an effective snapshot of the candidate. Since most resumes don’t get fully read, including a profile such as this at the top will give your resume a far better chance of succeeding.
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