What is a career objective?

What should you write at the top of that resume?
What should you write at the top of that resume?

It may take until you're midway through your career before you've finally decided what you want to do when you grow up. This is perfectly all right. But until that happens, you still need to pay the bills, and you shouldn't reveal to potential employers that you haven't decided what you ultimately want to do.

Employers who are looking to hire someone for a position usually seek candidates who know what they want. It shows that you're driven and will show initiative on the job if the position is clearly in line with your desired career path.

So, whether you're still finding yourself or you're dead-set on a particular dream job, designing an effective career objective and clearly stating this on your resume may help your chances of landing a job today. A career objective is a brief statement that expresses your professional goal. Employers look for it on the top of a resume -- the first item after your name and contact info.

Objectives can range from generic to specific -- from a few words to a few sentences. What's best for you probably depends on the purpose of the resume. For instance, you should use a generic objective if you want to hand the resume out at a career fair and are open to a wide variety of positions in different fields. Once you're applying for a specific job and have specialized your skills, however, you'll want to tailor that objective and incorporate your qualifications.

Experts disagree, however, about whether including a traditional career objective on a resume is always a good idea. A broad objective, for instance, can reveal to an employer that you don't quite know what you want to do. However, a narrow objective might hurt your chances if it doesn't exactly match the position and disqualifies you from other positions at the company that you might be interested in.

Because of these issues, some experts claim that a career objective statement is inherently flawed. Instead, they'll suggest replacing this section completely with a "professional summary" section, which focuses on what you can do for a company, rather than what a company can do for you.

Next, we'll go over some examples of traditional career objectives and tricks to avoid painting yourself too broadly or too narrowly.