Consulting CV: include a summary/objective section?

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Nevin Kamath, former McKinsey & Company consultant and founder of discusses the resume screening processes of consulting firms:

I often hear from clients some version of the following questions:

Should I put an objective on my resume?

Should I put a summary on my resume?

From my experience reading resumes at McKinsey, I have to say that it depends. For some, the summary/objective section is an amazing way to connect to a tired, sleepy resume reader. But when executed poorly, the section may automatically launch your resume into the “ding” pile. So what’s the answer here?

Before we go further, let’s note the difference between a summary and an objective.

First rule: Never include an objective

An objective is a simply an indication of desire. It indicates with great specificity what you want and why you are right for it.

For example: “Seeking a role as an Associate with a top consulting firm to apply diverse leadership strengths and problem solving skills”

Is this attractive to a consulting firm resume reader? My argument, plainly: No. Instead of helping you, an objective runs the risk of projecting that A) you’re desperate or B) you’re generic. Who wants to start a conversation with a person just talking about what they want?

This isn’t to say that resume objectives are always bad. At say, a career fair, where there is an unsaid expectation that everyone is playing a many:many game, then you’re fine. If you’re sharing a resume with a medium/distant family member, an objective can focus their mind on the right people in their Gmail address book.

These aren’t the same as a consulting firm resume screen, where you’re talking to an impatient, judgmental screener who’s looking for excuses to ding candidates. Don’t use it.

You should absolutely consider a summary

On the other hand, a resume summary can elegantly tie together your diverse experiences, and dazzle the reader with who you are, not what you want. The key here is determining whether or not it’s appropriate. I believe that it’s not only helpful, but it’s an effective way to differentiate yourself among the masses of applicants when your resume screener is filtering through your names. It helps set the context for who you are, and most importantly, what is your story.

There’s an analogy here, and it lies in consumer product marketing. Here are a few brands that introduced themselves to a crowded marketplace with functional taglines:

Company/Product: Tagline
Maytag Appliances: Our repairmen are the loneliest guys in town.
eBay: The world’s online marketplace.
RAID: RAID kills bugs dead.

A good resume summary confidently tells the reader who you are and why you’re different in a functional way.

What it looks like

Lets take a look at a few examples from actual candidate categories:

  • Non-MBA late twentysomething looking for a new challenge
  • Undergrad student with very diverse interests and experiences
  • MBA with a background in operations consulting

For each of the above, a summary could help them break through the noise of the “start” pile and get into the “pass” pile.

Candidate A, who we’ll call Jeremy (not his real name) is a late twentysomething who is wrapping up a project rebuilding civilian capacity in a war-torn country. He has done stints at a couple of global institutions (IMF, etc) and followed the tried and true path of many of Washington DC global aspirants, that is, changing the world.

For Jeremy, a summary might look something like this:

Proven crisis leader with deep cultural expertise and public agency experience.

Candidate B, who we’ll call Samantha (not her real name) is an engineering student near the top of her class at an Ivy League undergrad. On top of this, she has implemented an award-winning social media marketing campaign for a small business in her city, and is now doing an internship at a local investment fund.

Samantha’s issue is not her grades, brands, or experiences, but that her story is hard to understand. She should use an objective that integrates her diverse interests as a strength:

Award-winning marketer and engineering scholar. Recent professional services experience includes an analyst-style role at a $200M investment fund.

Candidate C, who we’ll call Olaf (not his real name) is an MBA student at a top-10 European school with business operations consulting experience at a traditional Big Four firm (PwC, Deloitte, E&Y, KPMG). At his firm, Olaf was promoted often and was beginning to develop relationships with senior clients before going off to do his MBA. In his MBA program, Olaf has participated in a consulting clinic, which pairs students like himself with “live” clients who help Fortune 500 clients on strategy engagements.

For Olaf, a summary might look something like this:

Consulting industry veteran, promoted twice in 4 years. Recent experience includes leading a live strategy case alongside a Fortune 50 executive team.

Best of luck with your preparation