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.


Career Objective Examples

As we mentioned earlier, career objectives range in length and scope, depending on a job-seeker's experience and needs.

Many people simply choose to go with a short, generic objective, like the following:


"To obtain a teaching position in an elementary school."

However, a more personalized objective can demonstrate your special skills:

"To incorporate a variety of effective teaching strategies, including interactive methods and cooperative learning, and to foster elementary school students in the core subjects."

The second example is an effective way to sidestep the problems of an overly narrow or overly broad objective. Even though it technically states your career goal, it focuses on what you would provide to the employer.

Another way of conveying what you can bring to an employer is to briefly state your experience in the objective:

"To obtain an HR management position using 15 years experience in increasingly responsible HR positions."

Regarding word choice, expert Arthur D. Rosenberg advises against words like "challenging" and "rewarding," because they focus more on what you want than what you can give [source: Rosenberg]. Your language in your objective should be compelling, but specific to what you can do. In their book, "High-level Resumes," authors Marshall A. Brown and Annabelle Reitman offer not only dozens of example resumes, but lists of effective words to describe yourself and your accomplishments.

You can incorporate a professional summary in addition to or in place of a career objective. The summary is longer and can essentially go over your qualifications. Here's an example of an impressive summary from Brown and Reitman:

"Accomplished Lawyer with over 8 years of experience providing regulatory compliance and research. Expertise in environmental, energy and safety fields. Dynamic and persuasive, winning arguments and settling cases. Expertise in analysis, research and case preparation" [source: Brown].

Overall, objectives keep you focused. Even if you opt for a summary and decide against including a career objective section on your resume, taking time to write an objective can be a helpful personal exercise -- at least until you decide what you want to be when you grow up.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Blitzer, Roy J. "Hire Me, Inc.: Resumes and Cover Letters: That Get Results." Entrepreneur Press, 2007. (Aug. 23, 2010)http://books.google.com/books?id=N1NTEV3Vgo4C
  • Brown, Marshall A., Annabelle Reitman. "High-level Resumes: High-powered Tactics for High-earning Professionals." Career Press, 2005. (Aug. 23, 2010)
  • Enelow, Wendy S. "No-nonsense Resumes." Career Press, 2006. (Aug. 23, 2010)http://books.google.com/books?id=GNzFx96s374C
  • Knaus, Bill, et al. "Fearless Job Hunting: Powerful Psychological Strategies for Getting the Job You Want." New Harbinger Publications, 2010. (Aug. 23, 2010)http://books.google.com/books?id=6WM9wFwjANYC
  • Rosenberg, Arthur D. "The Resume Handbook." Adams Media, 2007. (Aug. 23, 2010)http://books.google.com/books?id=ynixu2Q9PQkC
  • Saraf, Dilip G. "Reinvention Through Messaging: The Write Message for the Right Job!" iUniverse, 2004. (Aug. 23, 2010)http://books.google.com/books?id=I2GGWasYs24C