Reeling ’em in with your résumé headline – Twin Cities

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One of the least-optimized sections of a résumé can be the very precious real estate near the top of the page. Not only do candidates sometimes “rattle on” with five or eight lines devoted to their contact information, but then they often jump directly into their last job or training experience, entirely without preamble.

That’s like walking into a room full of strangers and starting a conversation mid-sentence. Without context or introduction, no one knows what you’re talking about or even why you’re there.

Amy Lindgren

Luckily, there are several introductory sections you can use to welcome the reader to your document while also directing attention to key points in your experience. Professional profiles, career objectives and bulleted skills sections all fall into this category.

For the best impact and greatest flexibility for future revisions, choose any or all of the sections named above. Then, add a headline to provide the context and introduction all in one.

The options are endless, so you’ll want to consider the message you need to convey. To start, ask yourself: If someone reads only the headline, what do I want them to know? Conversely, you could ask: What phrase or sentence best summarizes me as a candidate?

Following are just a few sample headlines to get you thinking.

• “Delivery Driver: Safe, courteous, detail-oriented”

• “Project Manager experienced in new product development”

• “IT professional with strengths in AI and cybersecurity”

These examples cut to the chase by defining the desired work and one or more key skills. But what if you don’t want to commit to a specific role? You could try a headline that uses noun phrases to describe key skills instead of a fuller sentence structure. For example:

• “Project Management  *  Team Leadership  *  Budget Oversight”

Another option is a compound headline, which might feature an industry or profession on one line, followed by noun phrases on a second line:

• “Corporate Training Professional

Curriculum Development  *  Remote / Classroom Sessions  *  ROI Evaluations”

As you experiment with headline content, you can also try different visual presentations. It’s common to simply center a headline, but you can put them on the left or right margin instead, or try placing them between two thin lines for added emphasis.

While résumé headlines can be quite flexible, there are still a few rules to follow:

• Don’t name your document. Starting the page with the words “Curriculum Vitae” or “Résumé” is like putting a sticky note on your forehead that says “Candidate.” The nature of your document will be evident, so there’s no need to label it.

• Don’t use subjective, self-focused statements such as “Seeking a key role where I can make a difference.” Not only is this impossible to measure or catalog by someone else, but it also fails the reverse-meaning test. As in, if it sounds ridiculous when you create a reverse version of the headline, it probably doesn’t need to be said at all. In this case, “Seeking a lowly position where my contributions will be unneeded” is a classic fail of the test.

• Don’t shout your headline with all-caps or giant bold type. Simply placing the headline at the top of the page, perhaps in slightly larger type than the rest of the document is enough to get it noticed. Using bold or italic or both can be a good idea, as long as the end product doesn’t overwhelm your document.

Once you’ve organized your résumé headline, consider adding it to your LinkedIn page as well. You may not have realized that LinkedIn defaults to a headline that combines your most recent employer and most recent education experience if you don’t produce a headline on your own. That might not be terrible, but it’s always better to control your own narrative. In most cases, your version will have more power and relevance than the one selected by the system’s artificial intelligence.

If you’re on the fence about using a headline, no worries. It’s not a standard résumé element, so no one is going to wonder why you didn’t use one.

On the other hand, watch for circumstances when your résumé won’t make sense without this added context. Take career change for example. If your most recent work is from a different field or industry, the manager in your desired position might not see the relevance of your résumé without some added nudges. A well-strategized headline can provide that nudge, becoming the critical factor in a successful résumé for the role.

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