Career Development The Resume

Objective, Headline, Summary, or Profile: Which Do You Put On Your Resume?

The Debate

There is a great debate among career professionals about whether or not a resume should have an objective.  The typical advice is to have a headline, profile, or summary and that objectives are bad, old fashioned, redundant, and/or ineffective.  Many people say the objective states the obvious since the objective of any submitted resume is clearly to obtain the position for which one applies and that objectives are ineffective because they focus on what a candidate wants vs. what they offer.  Others say that an objective helps the hiring manager or recruiter clearly understand the goal of an applicant.  I posted this question in a LinkedIn group and it generated 73 comments with no clear consensus.  Here’s what I think:

Lost in Semantics

Essentially, no matter what you call it – headline, summary, objective, profile, etc. – what matters is what you write and how you write it to persuasively communicate what you can contribute as a candidate relative to an employer’s needs.  I think most, if not all, career professionals would agree that one must use the limited space on their resume wisely and must sell themselves to employers by persuasively communicating the value they add and the alignment of that value-add with employer needs.  Why is there such a divide on whether or not to have an objective vs. a summary vs. a headline or profile?  The debate is more about semantics than it is about content.  No matter what you call it, how you write it will make the difference and all can be written to say the same thing.

Example of my point:

Summary or Profile
“Project Manager with 15 years of experience in Education administration with Universities, colleges and Training Centers.  Extensive business process knowledge, technical experience and track record of sustaining HR and Financial systems and applications. Utilizes leadership, communication and interpersonal skills to build teams that meet/exceed goals.  PMP Certified.”

PMP Certified Project Manager with 15 years of experience in Education administration possessing extensive business process knowledge, technical experience, and a track record of sustaining HR and Financial systems and applications.”

A Project Management position contributing 15 years of Educational Administrative experience as a PMP certified Project Manager with extensive business process knowledge, technical experience, and a track record of sustaining HR and Financial systems and applications.

Quality Content Matters Most

Don’t all of these essentially communicate the same thing despite their label?  I don’t think the argument should be what we call this portion of the resume so much as it should be about the quality of the persuasive, targeted, content designed to elicit response from a potential employer.  If an objective is poorly written because it focuses on what the candidate wants from a position, the critique shouldn’t be placed on the Objective, it should be placed on the writer.  I’ve already demonstrated that no matter what you call it, headlines, summaries, profiles and objectives can be written to say the same thing.  Thus, I say focus more on the quality of the content vs. the semantics.

What I Tend to Recommend

With that being said, I tend to instruct students to use an Objective to keep them focused on identifying a specific position and providing supporting evidence that they are qualified for the position.  For more experienced candidates, I tend to encourage them to use a summary or a headline because I find that experienced candidates have more to summarize.  Additionally, despite my personal feelings on this topic, it is my impression that when experienced candidates use an Objective, it appears somewhat “amateurish.”  I see an Objective similar to the thesis statement many of us learned to use when writing five paragraph essays in school.  It’s a good training tool to teach us structure and to organize our supporting points, but hopefully, as your writing improves, you break away from the rigid structure and start making strategic writing decisions regardless of whether or not they are traditional or if they follow “rules.”  I’d rather teach people how to make strategic choices when developing their marketing collateral rather than focusing on semantics and so-called “rules.”

What do you think about my stance on this topic?

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