Should I Go With A Summary or an Objective

The next section under your name and contact info is perhaps the most important of the resume, because it's the section that the hiring manager will scan first when they look at your resume.  You want to assume it's going to be scanned. You want to assume that this is your 10-second elevator pitch to the hiring manager.

Thus, our strategy here is a short paragraph of maybe 2-3 sentences at most. If you go much beyond 3 sentences, then you're getting way too wordy and you're defeating the purpose of this section.

If you've done any research into resumes at all, then you'll have heard this section referred to as one of two things: some people call it a Summary Paragraph and some people call it an Objective Paragraph.

I much prefer a Summary paragraph. There are certainly some cases where an Objective paragraph is called for. But for most situations, I'd think a summary paragraph will get you what you need. Let me explain what each are, and I'll tell you the reason behind my preference.

A Summary Paragraph is just what the name says: you summarize who you are as a professional and why you're qualified to be hired.

A generic Summary Paragraph would read like this:

Skilled and qualified XYZ Professional with more than 20 years experience in various aspects of XYZ. Specialized training in A, and a proven ability to translate B into C. A lengthy track record of achievement including the successful management of accounts totaling $$$XXX. Excellent management and leadership skills.

An Objective Paragraph is one where you basically name the job you're going for. The job, in this case, is your objective, which you name explicitly.

A generic Objective Paragraph would read like this:

Skilled and qualified XYZ Professional looking to translate a lifetime of training and 20 years of experience as an (Job Title).  Qualifications included previous experience as ABC and XYZ.

An objective paragraph is more to the point, but a summary allows you to say more about yourself without wasting time describing the position you're applying for. Most times, they know which position you're applying for, correct? I mean, that's the position this resume replying to, after all. So don't waste valuable real estate describing the position you want.  Instead, use this space you quickly describe yourself and your qualifications.

The hiring manager likely knows the position you want. After all, she's the one who advertised the open position. She doesn't give a damn if you describe the position back to her or not. She wants to know if you're qualified for the position. That's what she's scanning for. So why not give it to her?

But what do you say in your summary paragraph? Well, this is a key instance where hiring a professional resume writer will really be to your benefit. A professional writer will know not only how to summarize who you are as a professional in the most efficient way possible, but he or she will also know what is the most effective turn of phrase that will show you are qualified for the job.

This isn't easy. You can spend hours going back and forth, agonizing over the right details to include, the right choice of words, even the right order of words. It's like writing an advertising slogan for yourself. How do you communicate the most important details about yourself without doing too much or coming on too strong?

Here is a rule of thumb. Your summary must do 3 things:

  1. Communicate who you are.
  2. Provide one or two primary qualifications.
  3. Provide one or two secondary qualifications.

So basically, in my example Summary Paragraph, you see that I identify myself as an XYZ professional. The other two sentences in that paragraph merely add supporting evidence and qualifications to reinforce that I am, indeed, an XYZ Professional. In fact, I'm the XYZ Professional you (the hiring manager) need.

I feel that I need to stress again, this is a brief paragraph. Don't write a novel here. This is a summary of what you are going to say in the rest of the resume. Allow them to see you at a glance, be intrigued, and hopefully read your resume in greater depth based on the items you've summarized.

So, now that' I've described all that, let's go ahead and put this section down on paper.

Let's start with a Section Title. Title this section "Summary" or "Professional Summary" or "Qualification Summary." Make the title of this section be the same font as you used for your name. To make it stand out, let's let it be slightly bigger in font size than the normal text, but slightly smaller in font size than your name. So, for the sake of argument, let's say your name is 20 pt. in bold. Then let's make this section title (the part that says "Professional Summary" or whatever) be 16pt in bold to help it stand out. The paragraph itself is your normal text size, say 12pt normal.

Go with a Summary paragraph of 2-3 sentences. 4 sentences at the absolute most.

Got it? Ok, now having said that, here are some caveats:

If you have a situation where an Objective Paragraph is better, then go ahead and use one. I mean, maybe THIS IS the job you're looking for. None other. I've already told you it's best to target your resume toward each specific job opening, and doing an objective paragraph can help you achieve this.

Below would be an example of this sort of situation:

As you can see, this person knows exactly the job she's going for. She even knows the internal job code. If you have an extremely targeted resume, then an objective paragraph is just fine.

You can even do a hybrid of the two... sort of a combination between an objective and a summary paragraph. In the instance of the hybrid, you might say, "I am XYZ Professional and I am eager to apply for the position of Whatever." Then you proceed with you primary and secondary qualifications like I described above.

Once you've gotten this paragraph written, be it Summary, Objective or a Hybrid of the two, move on to the next chapter.