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Resource Center / Job Seekers / How to write a professional background summary that gets you noticed

How to write a professional background summary that gets you noticed

 | Updated
by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

Studio shot of a group of corporate businesspeople waiting in line against a gray background

To succeed in today’s tight job market, you need to be able to quickly communicate the highlights of your work history (and the things that set you apart from your competition) to those who matter. A great way to do this is by creating a professional background summary—otherwise known as a career summary or a professional summary.

Read on to learn:

  • The definition of a professional background summary
  • Why a professional background summary is so important
  • How to create an effective professional background summary
  • Where to use a professional background summary
  • What a powerful professional background summary looks like

What is a professional background summary?

A professional background summary is usually a brief paragraph or five to seven bullets at the top of your resume that sum up your qualifications for a job opening. However, this section is much more than just a list of all the jobs you’ve had. Instead, it is a carefully crafted overview of your career accomplishments that is designed to convince recruiters and hiring managers that you are the perfect fit for a particular position.

A good professional background summary should tempt busy recruiters to read the rest of your resume. 

Why you need a professional background summary

A professional background summary can help you make a strong impression in a short amount of time. Eye-tracking studies show that recruiters only spend an average of 7.4 seconds screening each resume. This means that you don’t have any time to waste when it comes to grabbing the reader’s attention and selling yourself as the best person for the job, especially when you’re competing against hundreds, if not thousands, of other candidates.

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Additionally, a well-constructed professional background summary is a solid demonstration of your organizational and communication skills, which are in high demand with employers.

You can also leverage the clarity and insights you’ve gained from all the time spent composing your professional background summary to help you express yourself better during interviews.

How to create an impressive professional background summary

Follow these steps to ensure that your professional background summary boosts your chances of getting hired:

1. Scan the job listing to find the most important keywords—Look for the words or phrases that best describe the position, the ideal candidate, and the job’s required skills and try to match them with your own experiences and abilities. Using these keywords in your professional background summary will increase your odds of making it through the company’s applicant tracking system. 

2. Write down all your important achievements—Go beyond just your job titles and include everything you’ve done that shows off your abilities, with a special focus on statistics and numbers. If you hit 93% of your sales targets four years in a row, for example, then you should put this at the top of your list. Be sure to be as specific as possible. For example, instead of saying that you’re a published writer, you should state that you’ve had articles published in The New Yorker and Fast Company. (Don’t worry if this list gets really long. You will trim it in the next step.)

3. Narrow down your list—Review your list and keep only the items that are most impressive and most relevant to the position you’re applying for. This may take some time. The goal is to make the biggest impact with the smallest number of achievements. 

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4. State how you can add value—This is your opportunity to sell yourself to the person reading your resume. Explain how your skills and experience will benefit the company.

5. Hone your wording—Now that you’ve picked out which items to write about, it’s time to craft your sentences or bullet points. Make sure to use as few words as possible and carefully proofread for typos and spelling/grammatical errors. When you’ve completed your first draft, let it sit for a day and then look at it again with fresh eyes. You’ll be surprised what jumps out at you after your brain has had a chance to rest.

Where to use your professional background summary

In addition to putting it at the top of your resume, you can use your professional background summary in a variety of places to gain credibility and improve your reputation.

Some smart places to use it include:

  • Your LinkedIn profile—The same recruiters who are scanning your resume are also scanning candidates on LinkedIn. In fact, over 90% of recruiters use LinkedIn to find candidates. To ensure you’re making a good first impression on this audience, you can post a generic version of your professional background summary, along with a bulleted list of your key skills, in your profile’s About section. 
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  • Your personal website’s About Me page—The About Me page is often the first place potential clients and employers go to learn about you and what makes you special. As such, it’s also the most important vehicle for defining and promoting your personal brand. To make sure you don’t accidentally leave out any of your key qualifications, you can use your professional background summary as a jumping-off point when creating this page. If you don’t have a personal website, we can help you get started with our ReputationGrower service.
  • In conversation—If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve probably heard about the value of preparing a 30-second elevator pitch about your company. The same applies to people looking for a new job. For example, if you are attending an industry conference and someone says “Tell me about yourself,” it’s important to have a well-thought-out and rehearsed answer ready to go.

Professional background example

The best way to learn how to write a professional background summary is to see what a great one actually looks like.

Here is one that does everything right:

  • 5-7 sentences/bullet points
  • Uses numbers and percentages
  • Gives specific examples that prove the candidate’s qualifications for the position
  • Makes the reader want to learn more about the candidate

“Accomplished marketing CMO with a demonstrated ability to create and implement strategies that advance financial and business goals. Have led decisive initiatives that lowered advertising costs by $500,000 while driving a revenue increase of 40%. Industry authority in content marketing, brand storytelling, and customer engagement.

Collaborative leader, able to assemble winning management teams focused on achieving KPI goals. Hones skills and learns about industry changes through continuing professional education (completed an MBA in marketing).”

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Now that you’ve learned how to write a compelling professional background summary, you should get started creating your own. If you have any questions during this process, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We are happy to offer free advice.