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Career Summary vs. Career Objective: What’s the Difference on a Resume?

Education. Skills. Experiences. There are certain sections that every resume needs. The best career & resume consultants all agree on that point. But there are other sections – like the “Career Objective” or “Career Summary” – that jobseekers aren’t quite so sure about it.

Many applicants struggle to understand the difference between them. Some even mistakenly believe that career objectives and summaries are basically the same thing. In fact, they’re quite different, and one is notably more valuable and relevant for today’s resumes than the other.

In this guide, we’ll provide clear definitions of career summaries and career objectives to help you differentiate one from the other.

dark background with just the words "Resume Summary vs Resume Objective"

An Introduction to Career Summaries

The career summary, or professional summary, is an optional resume section. It’s usually positioned at the start of the resume, briefly introducing the applicant, and outlining their most important and relevant skills and achievements so far. In other words, it’s basically designed to sum up who the candidate is and what they’ve got to offer in just four or five sentences maximum.

There are many benefits to including a career summary. A well-written summary is almost like an engaging first paragraph of a book – it grabs the reader’s attention, encouraging them to read on and find out more about you. It’s also a handy place to insert keywords that can help you get past applicant tracking software, which is increasingly important these days.

An Introduction to Career Objectives

Like a career summary, a career objective is another optional resume section that typically sits at the start of the resume. However, rather than presenting a summary of the applicant, it outlines their professional goals. It lets recruiters know why the candidate is applying and how the job they’re applying for fits in with their general professional objectives.

There was a time when career objectives were considered essential elements of any good resume. They were valued for providing clarity and highlighting a worker’s ambitions. But those days have passed. In modern times, most experts agree that the career objective is an outdated and unnecessary resume section.

red x next to the words "Resume Objective" and green checkmark next to words "Resume Summary"

The Differences Between Career Summaries and Objectives

Evidently, career summaries and objectives have a couple of things in common. They’re both brief and optional resume sections. They also aim to introduce the resume and grab recruiters’ attention right away. But that’s where the similarities end. There are several aspects in which these two sections differ, making one much more important for the average resume than the other.

Relevance to Modern-Day Recruiters

Arguably the No. 1 difference between summaries and objectives is their relevance, length, and purpose in today’s job market. As stated above, career objectives are considered by many to be somewhat outdated these days. Many experts argue that they can detract from a resume, as they’re too focused on what an applicant wants to do in the future, rather than what they can bring in the present.

In contrast, career summaries are still highly valued among modern recruiters. Indeed, with so many applicants going for each available job, today’s recruiters often have huge stacks of resumes to look through. Often, they’ll scan a resume and make up their mind whether or not it’s worth reading within just 10 seconds. As such, a summary could be just what you need to grab their attention.

Side by side example of the differences between a Resume Summary and Resume Objective

Content and Purpose

There’s also a notable difference between summaries and objectives in terms of their content and ultimate purpose. A career objective does just what it sounds like – it outlines the candidate’s aims for the future. It focuses primarily on the candidate’s own vision of what they can bring to the role they’re applying for, as well as what they want to get out of it, both in the short and long term.

A career summary, meanwhile, is an introduction to the candidate and what they can bring to the company they’re hoping to join. It may cover various aspects of their academic and professional life, including notable qualifications, experience, and skills. Its purpose is to sell the candidate to the employer and prove that they’re a good match for the role and company in question.

A simpler way to look at it is that resume objectives are focused purely on the candidate. Meanwhile, summaries instead focus on both the candidate and the company, aiming to demonstrate how the two can connect and align. This is why objectives are often considered less valuable and relevant, as they’re deemed to be a little too self-centered.

Average Length

Both resume summaries and objectives are generally quite brief. However, there is a difference between them in terms of average length. In general, career objectives consist of just a couple of lines, briefly listing the candidate’s aims. Career summaries tend to be a little longer, providing an introductory paragraph of text to sum up the candidate’s skills and selling points.

If you choose to include a career objective, you won’t need to devote quite as much time or space to it on your resume. In contrast, summaries should be more detailed, but still don’t need to be any longer than four or five sentences, or a list of bullet points.

Choose the Right Option for Your Resume

If you’re undecided about whether to include a career objective, a summary, both, or neither, here’s the final word: in general, objectives are best left out of modern resumes. Unless the recruiting firm specifically asks you to include one, there’s really no reason to do so. Summaries, on the other hand, are generally more useful and worth considering as a “hook” to help your resume stand out.

That said, there are also cases when neither a summary nor objective is needed. Figuring this all out is often tricky, adding even more complications to the resume writing process. You might, therefore, need a helping hand. Consult with a professional resume making service in Denver for advice and draw up a list of questions to ask a resume writer to get expert assistance to flesh out and fine-tune your resume for success.

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