How to Choose Between a Career Objective or Qualification Summary

One of the most frequently asked questions about resume writing is, where do I start?

It seems relatively simple to make a list of your previous work experiences and qualifications… but you know that’s not going to be enough to attract the attention you deserve – so what do you do about it? How do you start your resume in a way that is going to make the recruiting officer sit up and pay attention to you?

Here’s the problem – recruitment is hugely competitive business. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people are applying for the same jobs and are all sending in their carefully crafted resumes and cover letters. To get through so many applications a recruiting officer must be ruthless – research suggests that in the initial sift he or she might spend no more than 8 seconds looking at each resume.

8 seconds to decide whether it’s interesting enough to read in more detail later, or whether it belongs in the reject pile.

8 seconds…

Don’t worry; if you’ve focussed the beginning of your resume in the right way then 8 seconds is plenty of time to hand over all your most relevant information and make a great (and competitive) impact. This article is designed to help you to make some important decisions; where to start and how to share your information in the most effective way.

Before you make that all important decision, you need to know a bit more about career objectives and qualification summaries. You need to know exactly what each of them are what they need to contain and why they are such popular ways to get a resume started.

Let’s start by looking at the definitions…

Career Objective: A brief paragraph of approximately 50 words setting out your key skills and most compelling attributes and using them to highlight what you can offer an employer.

Qualification summary: 4-6 bullet points setting out your best skills, attributes and achievements to date and giving examples of proven success.

They are both similar in that they feature right at the top of your resume just under your name and contact details. Each style is about focussing on the things you do best, each features a variety of keywords and is a great tool for ensuring success against Applicant Tracking Systems. However, they differ considerably in focus, style and application. To help you decide which is right for you we’re going to take a detailed look at each style, some pros and cons and some common mistakes.

When to Use a Career Objective

The career objective is about convincing the employer that you are the best possible person to ensure the continued success of the business. It needs to set out, in no more than 50 words, your key skills, the role you’re interested in and what you are offering the employer that is attractive and unique.

That sounds relatively easy but there are some important points to consider…

  1. ‘Career objective’ sounds like it’s about you and what you want to achieve but it’s not. This is a common mistake. The employer isn’t even remotely interested at this stage in the career you’re hoping to build for yourself; it’s all about what you have to offer and whether there’s a significant advantage to employing you over someone else.
  1. Your career objective is going to be packed with keywords that describe your attributes. To get the right sort of attention you need to make sure you are choosing meaningful key words that resonate with the employer. The best way to do this is to study the job description, highlight the key words that have parallels with your skills and abilities (there must be some or you wouldn’t be applying) and use those points to craft your objective.
  1. Your career objective is never static. You cannot craft a brilliant career objective and then expect it to form a permanent part of your resume and knock the socks of every employer who has the pleasure of reading it. The objective must be unique to every new job application, meaning you’ll be writing it again and again. The good news is it gets easier with practice!
  1. The easiest way to write a career objective is to mirror the job description and write exactly what the employer wants to hear…STOP. That is an easy way to set yourself up for failure! The career objective is like a fishing hook. Its purpose is to generate interest and make the employer read on… so everything you say must a) be true and b) be backed up later in the resume with evidence and proof.
  2. Keep your language simple. Too many career objectives read like an advert for a thesaurus. You don’t need to use big words to be successful – you need to write in a language that the employer understands and can read quickly and efficiently. If you’re unsure, a good trick is to read the job description and try to use a similar tone and style. Mirroring tone is a great confidence trick that works.

When to Use a Qualification Summary

The first thing to note about a qualification summary is that used well, it is a very powerful recruitment tool. It’s not as commonly seen as the career objective and therefore the resume that utilizes it effectively has an instant ‘stand-out’ quality.

In its most simple form it’s a list of bullet points that highlight the professional achievements, skills etc. that you are most proud of. Here’s the thing though – if you are newly graduated and don’t have a lot of experience in employment, this may not work for you unless you are very clever with words and can draw upon achievements from your studies.

You can choose from several different titles for this section, it’s not set in stone and you should choose something that resonates with you. Examples include professional summary, professional highlights or professional profile.

Once again there are several things you need to know before you can use this tool to its best effect…

  1. No matter how many great achievements you have it’s important to limit this section to between 4 and 6 bullet points. 8 seconds remember… so pick the very best ones.
  1. Like the career objective your focus needs to be on key words. Use the job description as a guide. It tells you exactly what the employer is looking for so take the opportunity to match your achievements to those objectives.
  1. Again you cannot simply leave this at the top of your resume to stagnate; it needs to grow and progress with you and you need to check its relevance every time you apply for a new job. However, it’s likely that if you’ve truly chosen your best skills and achievements, you may not have to change it much each time. Just a tweak here and there to make sure it targets the employer effectively.
  1. Use each bullet point to demonstrate a different attribute based on what the employer is looking for. Choose 4-6 different aspects of the role (examples may include management capability, strong leadership, confident communication, innovative thinking, focus on profitability and/or successful project management.)
  1. Structure your bullet points precisely. Use facts and statistics where applicable and organize your sentences to show exactly what you did, what the outcome was and why it was a key achievement. For example, …
  • Project management of multiple fitness incentives; increased the number of participants through effective campaigning, delivered all sessions to ensure consistent quality and achieved a profit gain of 95k in the first year.

Decision Time: Which Do I Choose?

There are different circumstances in which each of these powerful introductory skills come into their own. A career objective may be the best option for someone with limited work experience in a relevant field but lots of transferrable skills. A qualification summary is perhaps better if you’ve worked in a similar job previously and have several examples that prove you can be successful in the relevant field. Give each style a try and see which has the power to sell you in the best way.

Don’t be tempted to use both. A career objective and a qualification summary would be information overload; using both doesn’t double the value, it reduces it significantly. It’s a very personal decision and of course you don’t have to use the same tool every time you present your CV. You can swap and change if you’re not getting the results you were hoping for.

This applies to every aspect of your resume; if you’re not getting interviews, change it. Think of it as a work in progress and allow it to grow, morph and change as you become more experienced in the recruitment game. Remember a resume is a sales document; its sole purpose is to sell a product – you. It may seem scary but there’s some really good news that you may have overlooked… you are the subject matter expert! Have fun with it, experiment and above all, be confident!

Good luck!