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The Difference Between a Career Summary & an Objective on a Resume

Many people are having to update a resume after years of stable employment, and one of the first issues they encounter is whether to use a career summary or an objective. The objective has been a mainstay on resumes for decades, if not longer, whereas the concept of a summary of your career is relatively new. A resume is usually your first and only contact with a hiring company, and you want to appear as employable and personable as possible, using an 8.5-inch by 11-inch piece of paper or document. Examine the differences between the objective and a career summary to help you decide which to use.

Details

Your resume presents the story of your professional career, and like any literary work, it should have a strong introduction. The objective commonly consists of one to two phrases (or sometimes sentences) that describe what you hope you can do for the hiring employer with your skills. For example, an accountant might include the following objective: "Goal of helping a company build and maintain a strong balance sheet." The summary clearly lays out all of your skills, leaving it to the employer to assess your value to the company. In general, the entirety of your resume should relate specifically to the job for which you are applying, and on the surface the objective seems better suited to this task. However, in the summary you can make sure to list only skills that are relevant to the job. The accountant may summarize his skills as: "Financial reporting proficiency: balance sheets, income statements, statements of cash flows and retained earnings statements."

Message

An objective can seem somewhat presumptive about what you can do for the company, especially if you have never worked in that capacity. If your objective comes off as simply filling space, then the reader might get the message that you aren't really sure of yourself or the job for which you are applying. The accountant in the previous example might want to avoid an objective statement that is expected and innate to the job, such as "Help the company account for its business operations." The summary, however, if tailored to the job opening with specific and useful skills, conveys to the resume reader that you are competent in your area of expertise. A more relevant summary that demonstrates your intellect and understanding might resemble the following: "Accounts payable specialist: vendor interaction and support, posting transactions and clerical duties."

Format

The more formal and traditional objective statement is commonly written in long phrases or grammatically correct sentences, and in some cases as a paragraph. However, resume reviewers have limited time to read through dozens, sometimes hundreds, of resumes, and the career summary in bulleted format is easier for many people to quickly scan through. Further, many job seekers include a "headline" before the summary simply stating a profession -- "Social Worker" or "Elementary School English Teacher." A headline allows you to state concisely what you are capable of doing, and can be advantageous if it exactly matches who the employer is looking to hire.

Effectiveness

The bottom line for your resume is that it needs to get noticed and read by hiring employers. Many companies have had to computerize and automate the resume-review process because of the flood of applications. Software scans, digitizes and stores resumes in a database using optical character recognition (OCR). These applications are so intuitive that they can pick up on section headings, such as "Summary" and "Objective," in all submitted resumes and then transfer all the data into a uniform and more legible format for the reviewer. Keywords in the summary are more conducive to this scanning technology than are the chatty phrases and sentences of the objective. Your resume has the advantage of being picked up when the employer runs a query for keywords from the job description.



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