Of all the possible contents of a resume, the objective statement is by far the most controversial. Many consider it a waste of time, a piece of puffery that is as empty as a mission statement. Personally, I am in favor of using one, but only if it is written and regarded in the right way.
The major objection to using an objective is that it is too vague to carry much meaning. If you are referring to the sort of objective that most people write, I would have to agree. A single phrase like “a programming position” is wasted space on your resume, especially since you can put the same information in a title after your name.
Nor are hirers going to be impressed by “to be CEO,” a statement that I’ve seen at least a dozen times. This is the kind of objective that is passed around the office for its unintentional humor. It’s especially ineffective at a small company or startup where the person reading your resume is the CEO. Just what everyone wants to see — someone with ambitions to replace them.
The trouble with the kind of objective statements that you usually see are that they say nothing meaningful. However, if you view an objective statement as a kind of teaser, an executive summary that encourages those reading your resume to read more, then you can start to write a more effective objective.
And how do you encourage readers to continue looking at your resume, instead of scanning it and then tossing it among the discards? Simple: use the objective to summarize what you can do for the company. With any luck, the hirer will then read the rest of your resume more carefully.
Let’s take an example from one of my resumes. It has three parts: A statement of the general category of position for which I am looking for work, a description of the three main traits that I have to offer, and, finally, a description of how I can use those traits to the benefit of the company to which I’m applying.
The first part is simple: “A marketing and communication position.” I make it the first five or six words, so that readers know immediately what work I’m applying for.
The second part involves more thought. Before writing it, I made a list of two dozen job skills I could offer in marketing and communications, describing them in a phrase and polishing the phrases until they were as concise and precise as possible. Then, I chose the ones that I wanted to emphasize for this particular position: “defining and developing corporate strategy; building communication links; and marketing products.” These are general traits — if I had more specific information about the position, then I would try to use more specific ones.
The third part is crafted in much the same way as the second. I built a list of different ways that I could help a company, then chose the most appropriate ones based on what I knew about the company. Again, I didn’t know very much, so I kept the list general: “to enable a company to define and realize its objectives and production schedules and to create relations with business partners.”
The final version reads: “A marketing and communications position that involves defining and developing corporate strategy; building communication links; and marketing products to enable a company to define and realize its objectives and production schedules and to create relations with business partners.”
This objective isn’t perfect. It’s more general than I would prefer, but you don’t always have the information to do better. However, it does tell hirers what I am looking for. In a few lines, I’ve made clear that I am not looking for an entry level position, but a reasonably senior position (since I talk about shaping corporate strategy first and also mention defining objectives). It also suggests that I might be interested in product management, and that I have experience working with other companies. If I’ve done my research properly in looking for places to apply, with any luck I will have attracted a readers’ interest and he or she will be looking at my resume a little more carefully than the rest in the pile.
Also, since I use semi-colons correctly, I am signalling that I have a high degree of literacy. The implication, if anyone notices, is that I can be counted on to represent the company in a polished and professional manner.
Boiling down your career goals to a few lines isn’t easy. Realistically, you can expect to spend at least several hours coming up with an exact summary of your skills — and don’t be surprised if you spend even longer. But considering that the point is to interest readers enough to notice the details of your skills, then you’ll find that time well spent.