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Resumes & Cover Letters

Objective or Not Objective?

We’ve all heard it said that an employer will only spend a few seconds doing an initial scan of your resume to decide if it meets the basic qualifications. It only stands to reason, therefore, that how you start your resume is of paramount importance if you want your resume to make it past the initial scan.

My credo regarding resumes has always been, “you want to make it as easy as possible for the employer to see at a moment’s glance that you are ideal for the job.” The initial statement of the resume has to deliver the goods.

Does an objective statement do this?

My opinion is that it does not; at least, not as it has been written since I was introduced to my first resume back in college. In an economy where unemployment was low and employers were practically begging for qualified employees to come work for them, a more basic objective might have sufficed. These days, however, introductory statements have to pull the employer’s attention in from the start, and give them a reason to continue reading.

Consider some sample objective statements:

  • Account executive trainee at ABCD advertising agency.
  • Elementary education teacher at small independent school.
  • To secure a position with a well established organization with a stable environment that will lead to a lasting relationship in the field of finance.

(Samples courtesy About.com)

These statements set the tone for the rest of the resume, something not all objective statements do. I cannot count how many resumes I have read where I have gotten halfway through the resume before I understood what kind of job they were looking for. Their objective statements are weak and say very little other than, “I am looking for a job.”

The introductory statement of a resume must set the initial theme and carry that theme throughout the rest of the document. I liken this principle to a high school term paper. We’ve all written them—they start with a thesis statement that declares in a few words the argument you’re trying to communicate, then the rest of the paper focuses on the evidence and documentation that defends or supports your thesis. The same can be said of a resume. The introductory statement sets the tone while the qualifications, skills, work history and education are listed in such a way as to support your initial statement.

While these statements are direct and to the point, however, they lack a hook or reason for the employer to keep looking. If an objective statement is used, one thing to keep in mind is to state it in terms of benefit to the employer. While this statement might be the jobseeker’s objective, it cannot be written in terms of what the jobseeker will get out of the deal. No employer at this stage cares about that. Maybe that sounds strong, but it’s true.

Consider these objective statements:

  • Position as clinical practice assistant for health maintenance organization, utilizing writing, research, and leadership skills.
  • A position in data entry and/or accounting where skills in spreadsheet development and troubleshooting can improve efficiency and enhance profitability.
  • Customer service management where my experience can be utilized to improve customer satisfaction.

These deliver a benefit to the employer and to the company. Each of these examples give an element that should be in the objective: the name of the position sought, a quick highlight of skills or experience that will contribute to the position, and a summary of what you can do for the company (ex. to improve customer satisfaction).

Even with these improvements, some experts argue that objective statements by their very nature speak about the jobseeker’s goals, and thus divert focus away from the position and the employer’s needs. An alternative to the objective is a professional statement or summary. Usually two to three sentences in length, it summarizes your history, background and unique qualifications that, if written right, will hook the reader into reading the rest of your resume.

A well-written professional summary should address:

  1. A powerful phrase describing your job or profession;
  2. Your experience and skills as they pertain to the job;
  3. The benefit you bring to the employer and the position.

One thing to keep in mind is that although the resume should target the position applied for, it should not be written in the first person (using I, me, my, etc.). In fact, it should be rather impersonal—written without even third person. In other words, you don’t start a summary with “I have three years’ experience…”, but simply start with “Three years’ experience…”

The following is an example of a well-written professional summary:

Successful financial planning professional with over 15 years of personal and retirement planning experience. Managed a small financial planning firm, achieving double-digit financial returns for all clients by developing personalized investment portfolios. Leader in development and professional growth of four other financial planners in the firm through effective and motivating mentoring strategies.

Whichever you decide to use, keep some basics in mind:

  1. Be brief and concise. NO FLUFF—employers see right through it and it turns resume readers off (including me!).
  2. Use power words that liven up a statement. Instead of “experience in teaching,” try, “extensive experience designing curricula and facilitating workshops…”
  3. Make it clear your field of expertise and position you seek. Consider using “PROJECT MANAGER” as a heading by itself or as a subheading under, “PROFESSIONAL SUMMARY.”

The point is to hook the reader into wanting to read the rest of the resume. Successful introductory statements will pull the employer beyond the initial 20-second scan and give you the first opportunity to sell yourself in terms of how you will prove beneficial to the organization.

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About kimberlyjmyers

I am a workforce development professional in Washington State. I have ten years experience working with dislocated workers, vocationally impaired, and people with disabilities on many levels and backgrounds from offenders to non-English speaking refugees from around the world. The One thing the clients I have worked with all had in common: there was some barrier to employment, and I work diligently every day to identify, address and remove those barriers.

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