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Resume Objective or Summary: You Need One, but Which?

Should you lead your resume with an Objective or Summary that briefly describes your skills and background? In a word, yes. However, if you were to poll 10 recruiting experts on this question, you might get 10 different answers. That's because so many Objectives and Summaries are just plain bad. If they’re properly written, they can be the hook that pulls the reader into your resume.

These points were driven home clearly two weeks ago when I reviewed several resumes at a Women for Hire event in Boston. About half of them went straight from the name and contact information to the education and professional experience details.

From what I saw that day, the Objective/Summary issue usually spawns these questions from job seekers:

         1. Do I even need one?
         2. If so, which one? Objective or Summary?
         3. Isn’t this best left for the cover letter?
         4. What should I say?
         5. How long should it be?

Let’s tackle these questions.

1. Do I even need one?

I’m on the “yes” side of the issue for this simple reason: The Objective or Summary helps describe the value you can bring to a would-be employer through your skills and experience. It’s much easier for a hiring manager to find that value in a short paragraph than to try piecing it together from a lengthy history of professional experience and education. A strong, well-written Objective or Summary that's tailored to the position you're targeting can spur the hiring manager to read more of your resume.

2. If so, which one? Objective or Summary?

You’re better off with a Summary, unless you fall into one of these three categories of job seekers:

          • You’re just entering the workforce; 
          • You’re re-entering the workforce after an extended absence; or 
          • You’re changing careers.

Those who fall into these categories are usually the only ones who do need an Objective. Most other people's career objectives are easily determined from their work histories, so a Summary works better.

3. Isn't this best left for the cover letter?

Well, there are also differences of opinion on whether including a cover letter with your resume makes sense (however, 86% of executives say “yes”). Sure, you might say something similar in the cover letter, but if the company doesn't accept them, or the hiring manager doesn’t bother to read it, at least the resume can communicate your value.

4. What should I say?

Too many job seekers continue to write Objectives and Summaries that focus on what they want their next jobs to do for them. But frankly, most employers don’t give a [insert word or phrase here] what you want. It’s all about the employer: What can you do for them? So, your statement must focus outward, showing hiring managers what they stand to gain by hiring you.

Pull out the most relevant highlights of your professional history and present them in a brief, high-impact statement. Avoid personal pronouns (I, me, my) and remove unnecessary words. And don't write complete sentences.

Compare the following two Objective statements, and notice how the employer-focused Objective is more likely to grab attention:

WRONG: Job Seeker-Focused

OBJECTIVE: A position in corporate procurement in the retail industry that can utilize five years of negotiating and research skills and eventually lead to a management-level role.

RIGHT: Employer-Focused

OBJECTIVE: A position in corporate procurement that can utilize skills in research and negotiating gained from 5 years of experience in another industry, helping a retailer cut costs and improve its competitive position.

Here’s an example of a well-written Summary statement that says a lot about the value the candidate brings to the table.

PROFESSIONAL SUMMARY: Corporate procurement professional with 10 years of experience in the high-end retail apparel industry. Highly skilled at performing due diligence on potential suppliers around the globe, negotiating contracts, controlling corporate risk, and minimizing costs. Fluent in French and Spanish.

5. How long should it be?

No more than 50 words. You want to be succinct and straightforward. Anything longer might make the hiring manager stop and not bother to read the rest.

Today, the onus of career management falls on you — the worker — not the employer. You must be effective at communicating your value and marketing yourself. That begins with knowing yourself and understanding what you have to offer, how that fits with the employer's needs, and how to “sell” your skills and potential. Your resume Objective or Summary lies at the heart of that effort. Excel at it and you won’t have a problem convincing someone you’d be a great hire.

Got any questions about the Objective or Summary? Post them below.

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