A career objective is a short statement that defines the position you are seeking, setting the tone for the rest of your resume. This step of resume writing is critical because it is the first thing a potential employer will read--and if not well-crafted, it could be the last. The goal is to inspire a desire for the employer to read on, rather than moving on to the pile of hundreds of competing resumes in search of a better fit. But there are alternative methods of introducing yourself to an employer, as discussed below.
Employer-focused vs. Self-focused
While the body of the resume will elaborate on your personal work experience, education and accomplishments (self-focused), the career objective should be outward focused, written so that it meets the potential employer's need. An example of a good employer-focused career objective: "A marketing position that demands proficiency in social media networks." An example of a bad self-focused career objective: "I would like a marketing position that will give me the opportunity to further my already extensive understanding of social media networks." The first example demonstrates that you understand the need for proficiency in the subject area, while the second example positions you as an egotistical career climber, out to use the company for your own gains.
Tailored to the Job
Many job seekers print out a pile of resumes in their search for employment, but it's more effective to tailor the career objective to a specific job. However, if you're planning to attend a career fair, determine whether you even want to state a career objective---a case can be made that they are too limiting. One option would be to print three or so different resumes where the only difference is the career objective.
Professional Summary vs. Career Objective
For those new to the workforce, a career objective is recommended. But if you are a seasoned professional with work experience related to your desired job, a Professional Summary section is preferred. A Professional Summary is a brief statement highlighting all the best things about you in relation to the type of job you are seeking. Design it to sell yourself and urge employers to want to know more so they will continue reading your resume. Here's an example:
"A nationally published freelance writer and public relations professional with 13 years experience as a certified marketing director for shopping centers."
Skills Summary vs. Career Objective
Another way to sell yourself in that opening section is by highlighting your skills. Relevant keywords can bring your resume to the top of the pile when electronically scanned. For example:
"Created and implemented traffic-and-sales-generating marketing programs in advertising, promotion, tourism, merchant relations, leasing support, seasonal décor and public relations, resulting in multiple industry awards."
If you met your ideal employer in an elevator, what brief sales pitch could you give about yourself, between floors before he disembarks? This exercise will help fine-tune what to include in the opening statement of your resume, be it a career objective, professional summary or skills summary.