You’ve almost certainly heard the news: The resume objective statement is dead. It is old-fashioned, of little value, and should absolutely always be replaced with a professional summary.
There’s good reason for this sentiment: The traditional objective focuses on you, your goals, your needs, and your aspirations. Employers today are less interested in what you’re hoping to gain from a position and more interested in what you can offer them. They want to know whether you have what it takes to meet their needs, solve their problems, and help them achieve their goals. Unlike an objective, a good summary statement offers this information.
Resume objectives also tend to state the obvious (a hiring manager can usually infer what your objective is), and they’re often fairly vague and filled with empty clichés. So, for the most part, a career summary is the way to go. A well-written one can have a hiring manager itching to meet you before they have even finished reading your resume. By highlighting at the top of your resume how your skills, experience, and accomplishments position you perfectly to tackle the demands of the new job, you set the right tone and give recruiters a positive lens through which to read the rest of your document.
A summary is also a great way to pull together lots of different experiences and achievements to tell one overarching story. It is therefore especially important for seasoned professionals with lengthy work histories.
But despite all the summary’s benefits, it may not have totally supplanted the objective statement just yet.
When an Objective Statement Makes More Sense
When you’ve walked a traditional path and there is an obvious link between your career background and the position you’re applying for, a summary works well. But what happens when this is not the case? What if it would pay to give more context and be more specific about your goals? If you find yourself in a situation where you feel the need to explain what you’re looking for, an objective statement is probably more appropriate.
Here are three scenarios in particular in which an objective might be the way to go:
1. When You’re Changing Careers
If you’re making a big career change and you opt to include a standard resume summary, hiring managers in your target field might wonder why on earth you’re sending your application to them. What’s in your summary likely won’t align neatly with what they want. You need to make the link for them by explicitly stating that your objective is to switch focus from your previous career to this new one. In other words, you need to write an objective statement. You can then use the majority of this section to detail how you hope to transfer your relevant knowledge and capabilities to the field of your future.
It’s important that you don’t simply state your aim is to make a career change. Keep the focus on your transferable skills and how you plan to use them to meet the specific needs of the organization. This way, you balance what you want with what you can offer.
2. When You’re Returning to Work After a Gap
If you’ve been absent from the workforce for quite some time, it is best to be up front about this with prospective employers. It therefore makes sense to address this fact and clearly define your goals — e.g., “to return to full-time work after X years of at-home parenting” — in an objective statement at the top of your resume. Once you’ve touched on this, you can shift the emphasis to the value you can contribute to the role.
Directly addressing your aspirations to work again in an objective statement also gives you the chance to communicate how excited you are about the prospect of reigniting your career. Employers are often concerned that people coming off a hiatus might change their minds and return to whatever they were doing in their time off, so they will be pleased to see enthusiasm and commitment.
3. When You’re New to the Workforce
If you are a new grad, you won’t have a lot of work experience behind you. You might also have majored in a field that doesn’t translate clearly into a specific avenue of work. As a result, how you would fit into a role won’t necessarily be clear from your background and educational information. In this case, opting for a resume objective over a summary might be worthwhile.
Be careful, though. If you write an old-school objective like, “New grad seeking a position as a junior graphic designer at a reputable advertising agency,” you’re not going to impress recruiters. You need to link your needs with what you can do for the company. Show how you’d be a great fit and detail specific business problems you’d like to help the organization address.
The point in all cases above is that while it is acceptable to include an objective in place of a summary in these situations, you should always make the effort to look beyond your own ambitions to speak to what matters most to hiring managers. Ultimately, it’s about matching your goals with the company’s aspirations in a concise, meaningful way.