As HR professionals, we all know that recruiters and hiring managers spend only a few seconds initially reviewing each resume they receive. So if you're seeking a new HR opportunity, your challenge is to make those few seconds count by instantly communicating who you are and the value you bring to an organization. One effective way to accomplish that is to create a powerful headline for your resume.
Resume headlines allow you to:
- Clearly communicate who you are and what you do.
- Position yourself for the types of jobs you are pursuing.
- Integrate keywords that are essential for both human and electronic resume readers.
- Instantly communicate your brand.
- Showcase the "career extras" that make you a unique hire.
- Stand out from the competition.
- Maximize your use of prime resume real estate.
- Speak the language of the hiring company by showcasing relevant skills and qualifications.
Position your headline immediately after your name and contact information at the top of your resume and before the summary section. In fact, your headline might also serve as the introduction to your summary, depending on which summary format you select.
Resume Headlines vs. Objectives
It's important to note that many people confuse headlines with objectives, but they are not the same. In an objective, you're writing what you want from an employer. For example:
Seeking a position where I can utilize my extensive background in corporate training and development.
As far as objectives go, the above statement is fine. However, today's modern resumes don't usually include objectives. Instead of writing about what you want, it's best to state who you are. Using the above example, a resume headline for that same job seeker might read:
CORPORATE TRAINING & DEVELOPMENT PROFESSIONAL
That headline communicates two things at once. First, it tells readers who you are, which is the headline's primary objective. Second, and just as important, it communicates what you've been responsible for in your career. Pay close attention to that last point since it is critical that you be completely honest about everything you write on your resume.
In this example, if you didn't have any corporate training and development experience, it would be misrepresentative to put that headline at the top of your resume. But you might be ready to move into a position for which you do not have on-the-job experience. For those cases, I'll share a format (Blended Headline-Objective) later in this article that will allow you to include that headline while remaining completely above board.
As you're reading this article, take a close look at your resume and ask yourself if someone can tell who you are within a few seconds of seeing your resume. If so, you've done a great job with positioning yourself. If not, pay close attention to the various headline samples in this article and select the format that will work best for you and your career.
Resume Headline Styles and Strategies
There are an unlimited number of ways to write, format and design resume headlines. Your decision will be based on how you can best communicate—in an instant—who you are and how you want to be perceived (e.g., HR professional, benefits and compensation professional, HRIS specialist). In addition, you'll make your headline decision based on how the rest of your resume is structured so that the headline both blends with and complements everything else.
You also must decide how you want to use your headline. Your options vary widely—from the typical single-line headline (which often appears as a job title you are pursuing) to a number of other styles where you can share additional information about what makes you uniquely qualified.
Here are some of my favorite headline styles, formats and strategies that I hope will help you craft your own powerful headline:
- Single-Line Headline
- Multiple-Line Headline (with multiple options)
- Branded Headline
- Blended Headline-Objective
Let's explore each one in more detail and with examples.
Easy to write and appropriate for almost all job seekers.
EMPLOYEE RECRUITMENT & HIRING MANAGER
The most flexible headline format. You can focus on skills/qualifications, industry expertise, companies you've worked for, advanced degrees, certifications, awards and other notable professional credentials.
To best demonstrate all of these options, consider this HR manager who's looking for a new opportunity in a more senior-level position. Depending on what's most important, impressive and related to her current job targets, she might highlight different things in her headline.
- Skills Focus—when core competencies matter most.
HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGER
Recruitment & Staffing | HRIS Technology | Succession Planning
Training & Development | Employee Relations | Benefits & Compensation
- Industry Focus—when experience in select industries and types of companies matters most.
HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGER
Consumer Goods | Pharmaceutical | Health Care
Startup Ventures | Turnaround Companies | High-Growth Corporations
- Company Focus—when the companies you have worked for matters most.
HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGER
22-Year Career – Bayer, J&J, Pfizer, Merck
- Credentials Focus—when educational and professional credentials matter most.
HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGER: US & INTERNATIONAL
Harvard University MBA Degree & Columbia University BBA Degree
Professional Certifications: SHRM-SCP, PHRi
States your personal brand. This type of headline focuses on your unique value proposition, the single thing that you do best, the information that's going to instantly capture a reader's attention and set you apart from other candidates.
CHIEF HUMAN RESOURCE OFFICER (CHRO)
Understand the value of human capital to drive organizational growth, strong financial results and performance excellence.
Branded headlines are not just for executives. They can be used by HR professionals across all disciplines and areas of specialization. To demonstrate that point:
HRIS TECHNOLOGY SPECIALIST
Designing Robust Next-Generation Solutions to Meet the HR Needs of
Global Manufacturing Organizations and Multinational Workforces
Represents the job you are targeting. If you're one of the many job seekers whose current objectives do not align well with your past experience, consider using a blended headline.
Objective: Corporate Training & Development Professional
Use Headlines to Convey Your Value
With a powerful headline, you make it easy for a hiring manager (or HR recruitment and staffing specialist) to know who you are and understand your value in the workplace. If you can accomplish that with just a quick flash of your resume, you will instantly position yourself ahead of other candidates whose resumes are more cumbersome in content and presentation. You never want someone to have to figure out who you are. Tell them!
Always remember that resume writing is marketing. You're the product to be merchandised, and your resume is your advertisement. How can you best formulate a headline that will capture readers' interest, demonstrate that you have the necessary skills and experience for the positions you are targeting, and help you land an interview?
Here's a resume writer's trick: When I begin writing a resume, I always make notes about the headline I'll be using. These almost never end up being the final words I'll use, but it keeps me focused when I'm writing the rest of the resume. I want to be certain that what I'm writing and what I'm emphasizing throughout the resume fully aligns with the headline.
Try this tactic and you'll find that it really is easier to decide what achievements to highlight, projects to showcase, and key skills and responsibilities to share.
Wendy Enelow is a Master Resume Writer (MRW), Job & Career Transition Coach (JCTC) and Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), working with professionals and executives worldwide for the past 30 years. She has written more than 20 books on resumes, cover letters, keywords and career management.
Have a question for Wendy about writing resumes, e-notes, LinkedIn profiles and other career communications? Please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org.