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by Maria Onyango September 06, 2011

This is a point that seems to confuse a lot of people. Do I need a summary (or personal statement, or whatever you want to call it) at the top of my CV? Do people even read it?

I have just read a very interesting article by Elizabeth Bacchus on the online Guardian, which is well worth giving a read. Bacchus makes a compelling argument for taking the time to write a good personal statement:

“Your CV should be a self-marketing document aimed at persuading the recruiter to want to interview you and your personal statement is a critical part of making this happens.”

She mentions that a personal statement should typically be 50 – 200 words. Visually, I think that four lines are enough. You shouldn’t be aiming for a paragraph. Recruiters and HR professionals are likely to have a finite amount of time to peruse your CV: make it easy on them.

You should be avoiding words such as ‘motivated’, ‘hard working’ and ‘enthusiastic’. I’m sure you are all those things, and more. However, everyone will write these things on their personal statement. As a recruiter, those esoteric words wash over me. What we are looking for are words and phrases that are concrete. For example: “experienced researcher”, “two year strategy consultant”, “VBA modeller” or “project management” and similar. These show what your previous experience was and give valuable insight into your skill set.

But have I ever, realistically, made the decision to interview based on a summary? No, never. Even the busiest recruiter should take the time to look at your actual experience, and to understand your background. I admire those who can write a succinct, commercial summary. However, these do not make the decision, so I would recommend that candidates focus on making sure their CV includes their skills and experience, rather than packing them all into a sparkling summary.

Maria Onyango is a candidate manager on the Interim team at FreshMinds Talent

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