The Top Third: How Effective is the Opening of Your Client’s Résumé?


By Cathy Milton.

Try conducting some online research about how much time recruiters spend scanning a resume, and you’ll discover lots of evidence suggesting that, on average, that time is only 5 to 7 seconds. Count out 7 seconds – it’s not long, is it?

CareerBookstore1-300x201The top third of the first page of your client’s resume is crucial. According to Sharon Graham, executive director of Career Professionals of Canada and author of the Best Canadian Resumes Series, “This section must grab the potential employer’s attention and demonstrate why your client is the right person for the job. A well-written summary will draw the reader in and motivate him or her to read the rest of your client’s resume.”

As a Career Professional, how can you ensure your client’s resume immediately grabs the attention and interest of that recruiter? Analyze these essential elements of the top third to determine if your clients’ resumes are effective.

Client Identification and Contact Information

Obviously, there are some things you can’t do without. Your client’s name and contact information should be clearly presented at the very top of page one. Include educational credentials if they are relevant to the targeted position. A professional looking email address is essential. In many cases, it is best not to use a Hotmail or Yahoo email, and no potentially offensive nicknames. Be sensitive to the fact that some clients may not want to include their full mailing address for privacy reasons, and one telephone number is usually enough. Include a link to a robust and well-written LinkedIn profile to provide plenty of supporting information, should the recruiter wish to take advantage of that.

Qualifications Summary

The most important element you should carefully craft for the top third of page one is a Qualifications Summary that authentically and persuasively states your client’s Value Proposition. In marketing terms, a Value Proposition is defined as ‘an innovation, service, or feature intended to make a company or product attractive to customers.’ A well-written Value Proposition for a product will address the customer’s question: “Why should I buy this?”

This definition also stands up when applied to job seekers and their job search documents. In this scenario, the definition could be restated this way – ‘skills, experience, accomplishments, and value-added qualities effectively communicated to make a candidate attractive to recruiters and employers.’

Your client’s Value Proposition must quickly engage the recruiter’s interest and start to answer the question foremost in their mind: “Why should I hire you over all of the others in my candidate pool?”

With that in mind, what is the best way to present your client’s Qualifications Summary in that valuable top third of the resume? The answer to this question will require some strategic thinking focused on your client’s unique situation and the stage they’re at in their career.

Strategies for an Impactful Qualifications Summary

There are many creative ways to design an attention-grabbing Qualifications Summary. Keep in mind that this summary should serve two key purposes – the first is to promote the value your client will deliver to a prospective employer, and the second, most important purpose, is to swiftly address the employer’s needs and encourage them to thoroughly review the contents of the resume.

Many professional resume writers successfully use one – or a combination – of the following strategic elements in the top third of page one:

  • Headline Banner
  • Profile Paragraph
  • List of Competencies
  • Objective Statement

The Headline Banner

A strong, well-written headline is a bold way to communicate your client’s Value Proposition to the employer in the first few seconds of reading. As it is a brief summary of that Value Proposition, though, your words should be chosen very carefully and should target what is known about the hiring motivators of the employer. If possible, use the targeted job title in the banner. Example:

Award-winning Graphic Designer Skilled in Web Creations

In the example above, in eight well-chosen words, the prospective employer clearly understands that they have a candidate for their Graphic Designer job opening who can perform the key function of web design, and has a talent exceptional enough to be award-winning.

As an added ‘reminder’ to the reader, the banner statement can be repeated in a smaller font on subsequent pages of the resume.

The Profile Paragraph

The profile paragraph is a more narrative way to expand upon the skills and qualities your client would deliver to an employer. This paragraph is often successfully used in conjunction with a headline banner.

Try to create a first sentence for the profile paragraph to ensure you secure the reader’s attention. Focus on the most compelling value your client brings. If the recruiter doesn’t continue reading beyond that first sentence, you will have already communicated the most powerful hiring motivator. Example (for an Executive Assistant):

Self-motivated, loyal, and hard-working professional with over 8 years of experience dedicated to making the lives of Senior Executives easier. Consistently goes beyond the requirements of a job in order to meet, or exceed, organizational objectives. Demonstrated record of successfully multi-tasking in a fast-paced and deadline-driven environment. Renowned for displaying the utmost integrity and discretion in all situations. A genuine, cooperative team player who builds and maintains beneficial relationships at all levels of the organization.

List of Competencies

An effective way of demonstrating your client’s fit for a job is to create a list of competencies that match the qualifications and skills specified by an employer via a job posting. Of course, these competencies have to be an honest reflection of the strengths in your client’s repertoire. Keep the list concise so that you don’t overwhelm the reader, or risk diluting the true value of your client.

Although a list of competencies is a great visual tool for concentrating the client’s value in the top third of the resume, don’t forget to reinforce the overall Value Proposition by distributing these same keywords in appropriate locations throughout the document. Example (for a Human Resources Business Partner):

Core Competencies

l   Client-Focused Team Building   l   Organizational Development   l

l   Recruitment and Selection   l   Training and Development   l

l   Organizational Restructuring   l   Employee Engagement and Retention   l

Objective Statement

These days, the objective statement is probably the least frequently used of the four strategic elements we’ve covered. It has generally fallen out of favour as it is often considered to be too job-seeker-centric, and does not focus on the needs of the employer.

There are some situations, however, where it is not only appropriate, but also helpful to an employer, to include a brief objective statement. A student, for example, seeking a part-time job, could make their availability for work readily known through the use of an objective statement. Example (for a student):

To obtain part-time evening and weekend role as a call centre specialist and provide your customers with excellent “prime time” support.

This objective statement not only communicates to the employer when the candidate is available for work, but also appeals to something that is surely a key hiring motivator – a promise of hard work, contributing to the success of the business.


The top third of your client’s resume is not a lot of ‘real estate’ on the overall document. If designed wisely and strategically, though, it can have a powerful impact – in 5 to 7 seconds – leading to the all-important next step of the invitation to an interview.

Certified Resume Strategists (CRS) are experts in strategic resume writing. They invest time and effort in challenging the norms and applying new concepts to help each client’s resume to rise above all the rest. Take the challenge and try something new today. Work towards achieving your Certified Resume Strategist (CRS) credential.



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[…] In the top third of the resume, highlight the most significant achievements, awards, and testimonials to showcase your differentiators. Place the most important information at the beginning and the end of a paragraph for impact (those are top places for visibility when readers skim). […]