Breaking Down the Resume: Objective vs Summary

I’ve been at this for over a decade…since 1998 to be specific. Needless to say, the look of resumes has changed during that time…there are technologies to add that didn’t exist before…virtually everyone agrees that bullets are more effective than large blocks of text…but over the past couple of years I’ve also observed the slow disappearance of the objective and the appearance of the summary.

Be it a “Summary of or Highlight of Qualifications,” this section seems to be gaining ground as we learn to communicate our message in a more and more succinct fashion.  (Thank you Twitter for the 140 available characters.) And while the objective is indeed succinct it seems to leave something lacking in an incredibly competitive job market.

So, what’s the difference? What do they look like?

Formulaically, an objective should state the purpose of the email and what skills/personal traits you offer to support that purpose. Here is an example:
To obtain a career counseling position in a dynamic office of forward thinking professionals where I can achieve personal and professional growth.

This statement only communicates what I want, not what I offer. They all think they're dynamic and forward thinking...ha! Your goal is to communicate what you offer, not what you want. Let me try again:

To obtain a career counseling position utilizing interpersonal, organization and creativity skills.

This at least communicates a specific position I am seeking and three skills (listed in the job description) that I possess and offer to the position, but I think I can do better...on to the summary.

Formulaically, a summary should communicate your skills and personal traits that make you a specific fit for the job you are pursuing through three to five bullets. Here is an example:
  • Self-motivated professional with over 12 years of related experience
  • People person who enjoys talking to people one-on-one
  • Team player who contributes to goals of the office
  • Strong communicator (verbal and written) comfortable speaking to large groups
Ok…the good thing about this example is that the bullets are succinct. The bad thing is that almost every office professional who exists (if they are as old as I am) could claim these. You DO want to use key words listed in a job description and “self-motivated”, “people person” and “communicator” might show up, but you want to be more specific. So, what makes ME stand out?
  • Respected career counselor with over 12 years of experience and numerous active leadership roles at the university, state, regional and national level
  • Experienced supervisor consistently identifying and utilizing strengths and nurturing growth potential of direct reports
  • Diligent achiever, organizing career-related programs to support established learning outcomes with an attention to detail and positive attitude
  • Effective communicator whether building one-on-one relationships or presenting to groups of 5 to 400
  • Creative and self-motivated designer and writer skilled in developing publications, marketing pieces and social networking strategies to reach a broad and diverse audience
This set of bullets communicates specific outcomes and details that make me a unique candidate but still communicate the fit for the position.

So, what do you think? Regardless, you need to have something at the top of your resume that coaches the reader in what to look for on your resume. Tell them why they have this document in front of them. And yes, it may seem redundant to your cover letter, but you know what? Not everyone reads the cover letter!?! So, in order for your resume to be a stand-alone document, consider what will work best for you…an objective or a summary.

Now go forth…and update your resume!

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