Objective or Summary: Which Resume Intro Is Best for Senior Roles?

Published: Jun 03, 2019

 Job Search       Resumes & Cover Letters       
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If you’ve gone far enough in your career to be targeting a senior role, chances are you’re up against some tough competition. That means you need to think carefully about how to write a resume that makes you stand out—and you’ll need one that proves you can be trusted to think strategically and lead a business to success. 

As hiring managers typically spend minimal time reading resumes, it’s vital that you make a positive impression right off the bat. So you need to perfect the very first part of this all-important document: the section occupied by either your resume summary or your resume objective. But which, if either, should you include? Which will do a better job of emphasizing your executive chops? Below, we’ve put together some guidance on the topic.

The objective vs. summary debate

As someone who’s been in the workforce for a while, you’re probably accustomed to opening your resume with an objective statement that outlines your professional aims. This was standard practice for many years, but times have since changed. Today, most experts agree that the objective is now outmoded and should be replaced with a strong summary statement that offers a quick overview, in a few short lines or bullets, of your most pertinent strengths and accomplishments, capturing why you’re the best candidate for the job.

The reason for this switch? Objectives focus on the applicant’s goals; summaries focus on how well the applicant is positioned to achieve the organization’s goals. For obvious reasons, recruiters are far more interested in the latter. Objective statements also tend to state the obvious and, hence, waste important resume real estate.

That said, there are certain instances when management professionals would do well to use a traditional resume objective.

When to include an executive objective

As an executive, you might want to consider including an objective statement in the following cases:

  • When you’re changing careers or shifting fields
  • When you’re submitting an unsolicited application

 If you’ve spent decades gathering experience in one sector but would now like to apply your leadership expertise and problem-solving prowess to another field, a straightforward summary that highlights your industry-specific background and accomplishments might not cut it. In this case, you need something that also points forward—a statement that describes where you’re looking to go, and explains both why you’re making a change and how you plan to draw on your transferable skills for success. 

Similarly, if you’re sending your resume to an employer who hasn’t explicitly stated that they’re recruiting, you need to be more specific about your goals. Do you see a place for yourself in the C-suite? Or are you seeking a role as a consultant, advisor, or board member? Which department do you hope to spearhead? Which spheres of business would you like to transform? Make this all clear in an objective statement while also shedding light on what you can bring to the table. 

When to include an executive summary

If there’s no good reason for you to use an objective—that is, if your professional goals are already quite clear—then a succinct resume summary is best. Include one in the following scenarios: 

  • When you’re applying for a specific advertised position
  • When your skills and experience line up neatly with the job requirements
  • When you’re applying for jobs within your industry

An executive summary is generally the preferred option for seasoned professionals because it’s an easy way to pull together decades of experience to tell one story underpinned by key themes. This way, hiring managers don’t have to wade through pages of text to ascertain whether you truly have what it takes to lead.

As an executive, you may feel your work history speaks for itself, but the truth is, experience is no longer enough. You need to put the spotlight on your proven C-level competencies and the impact you’ve had at previous companies. Your resume summary is the place to do this. If recruiters only read the key takeaways in this short section, they should still have a good feel for your personal brand and value proposition—what drives you, what qualifies you for the job, and, most importantly, what sets you apart from all other candidates. 

Including a summary is also a good way to illustrate that you’ve moved with the times and are familiar with current hiring process trends. Unless you’ve got a good motivation for using an objective, doing so might make you look old-fashioned while robbing you of the opportunity to state your case where it matters most: right at the top of your executive resume.

Since 2005, LiveCareer has been helping job seekers create resumes and cover letters via its free resume builder and cover letter builder tools. Also available are collections of free, professionally written resume templates and resume samples, all of which are organized by industry and job title