One of the most often-asked questions we receive involves the resume objective and resume summary. Which one should you use?
You should almost always use a summary on your resume as it provides more value and opportunity to tell the hiring manager why you’re a great fit for the position.
This once-common objective statement used to be included in virtually all resumes, but has in recent times largely been cast to the side as summary statements and so-called “branding statements” have become more popular.
Still, some resume creators continue to use the objective within their resumes. We’ll discuss why you would want to avoid the objective and go for a resume summary instead.
The resume objective is a brief and concise statement used to provide potential employers with an outline of your career goals. It essentially says to the employer, “Here’s who I am. This is what I’m looking for to help me in my career path. If you can provide these things, I’m willing to work for you.” These statements were once common in resumes, and would include language like this:
I am interested in stable employment with long-term advancement prospects, competitive salary, great benefits, and bonus opportunities in an environment that meets my unique personality and interpersonal skills.
Put simply, this is a statement that essentially declares to the employer what you’re looking for when it comes to a job and a career path. If you think about that for a second, it’s very clear that this approach is of questionable value in today’s employer-centric marketplace.
Do I need a resume objective statement?
No, here is the reason why:
The fact is that the resume objective statement is an old-fashioned relic from a time when employers hired employees for what often turned out to be a lifetime career with the company.
Back then, companies wanted to know that you intended to remain in that job for decades to come. To determine that commitment, they expected to read and hear career outlines that matched their company culture. If you wanted long-term employment and they provided it, that was a positive.
Today’s employment environment is entirely different. Today, the emphasis is on the company’s needs rather than the employee’s career path. Most employees end up moving from job to job almost as routinely as high school boys switch girlfriends.
That time-honored partnership between employer and employee has given way to a new paradigm in which both sides of the labor divide pursue their own immediate interests rather than their long-term needs – and that has changed everything when it comes to using resume objective statements.
Check out this Forbes article for more on what not to include on a resume.
Given that new employment paradigm, it is clear that yesterday’s brand of objective statement has entirely the wrong focus. It is focused on the applicant’s needs, and pays little attention to what the company needs from any new employees. After all, there is no need to tell an employer that you’re looking for employment in a company like theirs – they can understand that from the fact that you’ve applied with their firm.
To fit today’s employer-focused hiring process, an objective statement would need to be targeted more toward what the employer needs. That would require that you:
If that modern version of the objective statement sounded familiar, it should. It’s actually similar to another resume element that we’re quite fond of around here: the resume summary. To better understand the old, traditional objective statement, it can be helpful to compare it to the new and improved resume summary.
Remember how the objective statement focuses on your desires and needs? It outlines your envisioned career path, and how you think that the employer’s company can help you reach those goals. It declares the type of salary, benefits, and work environment that you’re looking for. It’s basically a “this is who I am; take it or leave it” proposal.
In contrast, the summary takes the opposite approach. It provides a condensed summation of all the most relevant things that you bring to the table for the employer. It details your qualifications, your positive attributes, and your accomplishments. Rather than focusing on your wants and needs, it outlines the ways in which you can help the employer accomplish his wants and needs.
Any honest assessment of the differences between an objective and summary statement must be made with the understanding that employers are interested in their own needs. As a result of that focus, the old-style objective statement is grossly inferior when compared to a well-written resume summary.
The fact is that the summary offers a more concise and flexible way to let a prospective employer know that you’re the right candidate for the job. It focuses on the company’s needs, highlights core competencies and special skills that can provide real value to the employer, and offers an opportunity to quickly capture a recruiter’s interest to improve the odds that you’ll get that all-important interview.
Check out our post on how to write a great summary with examples.
There’s another reason to stress the importance of the summary as opposed to the objective statement: high-tech Applicant Tracking Systems have little use for the resume objective. These machines are used to sort through resumes, and they tend to prefer resumes that use summaries rather than objectives. And since your goal must be to make it past ATS screening so that you can get that interview with a real human, it is all but imperative that you use the option that will best accomplish that goal. You can read more about getting a resume past an ATS here.
While it can be tempting to use a resume objective statement when you have little work experience or are trying to break into a new line of work, we’re still convinced that the resume summary offers a better rate of return. You only get one opportunity to convince your reader that you’re right for the job, and that opportunity should involve a summation technique that focuses attention on the value you bring to the company.