DEAR JOYCE: I'm confused about whether to put a job objective at the top of my resume. One book I read says yes, another says no. How do you see it? J.H.
How you decide this issue definitely can affect your chances of being chosen for an interview. Here's a crash course.
Most people need a job objective but not necessarily the traditional couple of sentences about the kind of job you want and your qualifications. It can be a five-line marketing summary of who you are and your strengths.
Think of it this way: What you really need is a focus for your resume, whether you style it as a job objective or as a marketing summary.
An objective might look like this. "Objective: Assistant to Executive -- where there is a need to keep operations under firmer control and where communications skills, a pleasant manner in dealing with people and strong word-processing abilities would be assets."
A summary, by contrast, often starts with the number of years the applicant has in the business, looking something like this. "Over 20 years' experience in banking, public accounting and TTC utilities. Major executive strengths include investment analysis, accounting and taxes, banking relations, negotiations and employment benefit plans."
Always use a job objective when you know the job being offered -- and tailor your objective to the job. Yes, you can use a summary instead, if you clearly can make the connection between the job's specifications and your qualifications.
If you are a new graduate or are exiting from the military, clergy or "homemakership," use a job objective to say what you're looking for. If you are using a functional resume (the kind that discusses your skills by category, rather than a straightforward employment pedigree), use a job objective. If you are a professional -- language teacher, biochemist, secretary -- use a job objective to eliminate the guesswork of how you would fit into the organization.
But if you are a manager with widely applicable skills, you may be better positioned by using a marketing summary. Third-party recruiters and employment consultants usually prefer a marketing summary atop a chronological (the type that gives a time-frame accounting of your background) resume. This permits headhunters to creatively consider you for countless jobs you may not know exist.
Senior executives, in particular, can let their record speak for them. As one headhunter explains, "What you're prepared to do next should be pretty evident from what you've already done."
The strongest argument for using a marketing summary may be basic psychology: Employers are not known for being overly concerned with what you want from them until they are sure what you can do for them.
On balance, for most people, use a job objective that is written with a focus you can support with the body copy. Aim for middle ground between the extremes of broad and narrow objectives, erring on the side of broad, non-specific terms. Immediately follow with a marketing summary or highlights of your qualifications (about five or six lines). So even though you do first say what you want, remember psychology and immediately tell employers what you can do for them.