Until recently I was adamantly against including an objective statement in any resume. I had never heard of anyone benefiting from an objective statement; actually I heard plenty of warnings that objective statements could be one of the first things to kill your chances at a job. And most textbooks do such a poor job explaining how to properly draft and use an objective statement.
One textbook provides some basic advice: “Avoid vague statements such as A position in which I can apply my education and experience. Instead, be specific: Intensive-care nursing in a teaching hospital, with the eventual goal of supervising and instructing.” So far so good (although just good). But when you look at the three full-resume examples, you see:
- “Entry-level position in environmental regulation and litigation.”
- “Position in marketing/communications with opportunity for advancement.”
- “A summer internship documenting software.”
These are such “duh” statements! They say nothing more than “I want a job.” The only thing we can really glean from this textbook is that bad statements…are really bad. It implies (likely unintentionally) what it should shout from the rooftops: poor statements can stop your prospects dead in their tracks. Would you even read the rest of a resume with a statement like those? We know an employer shouldn’t judge so quickly, but they do.
It’s easy to recognize what stinks, but infinitely harder to produce the outstanding. When it comes to objectives, I stand firm: either you write a damn good statement or none at all. No pressure, right?
Let’s back up and start with what we know.
- Objective statements are often located at the top of a resume—prioritized only under your name and contact information—and are usually no more than a couple sentences long. This means that they are often the first thing that a potential employer reads. First impressions matter when you’re on the job hunt, so make it sound good.
- Synonyms for the word “objective” include plan, intent, direction, scheme, aspiration, and ambition. Indeed these are the details you want to communicate. Show that you have a plan and are excited about it. Be specific.
- The purpose of a resume and cover letter is to declare your interest in a position that pays (in experience or money, doesn’t matter). Right there we know what we don’t want to say—”I want a job”—since it’s implicit in the existence of the application.
As GI Joe said, knowing is half the battle. The other half is implementing. I can’t give you a list of stock objectives; you really need to write your own. So take a look at the job description and anything else you know about the job to which you’re applying. Also think about the jobs in which you thrived and those in which you’ve flopped. Even if you’re entry-level, start articulating what excites you, what you want to learn, what does or doesn’t inspire you. What does the job need? What do you need? Where does the job and your professional ideal meet? How do you and the job arrive at that location? In one sentence—maybe two—tell the potential employer your (going back to the synonyms) plan, intent, direction, scheme, aspiration, ambition: your objective.
If you’re looking for some better examples of objective statements, check out Philip C. Kolin’s Successful Writing at Work 3rd Edition. “Put the emphasis on what you can do for your employer, not what your employer can do for you,” he says. Then there are in-text comparative examples:
“Unfocused. Job in sales to use my aggressive skills in expanding markets.
Focused. Regional sales representative using my proven skills in e-commerce and communication to develop and expand a customer base.
“Unfocused. Full-time position as staff nurse.
Focused. Full-time position as staff nurse on cardiac step-down unit to offer excellent primary care nursing and patient/family teaching.
“Unfocused. Position in cable industry.
Focused. Working as part of a service team to provide efficient cable repair service.”
I still think there are ways to boost the focused statements, but maybe that’s an opinion of personal style. Your word choice should reflect your professional personality accordingly.
Update August 21, 2012: After hearing yet another condemnation of the objective statement (from a state worker at a Maine Career Center), I must add one more thing: if you can’t write a focused and catchy objective, don’t.
Posted in On Writing |