Well, there's actually another component of your résumé that can be crucial, even if it's optional.
"The résumé objective is kind of in the camp of the cover letter," says MaryJo Fitzgerald, a Glassdoor community expert. "A lot of people think that you don't need one, and a lot of people think you do." She falls in the middle: If your résumé and cover letter are pretty self-explanatory, don't bother writing an objective. However, if your objective provides information that isn't captured in either document, you should definitely include it.
For example, your résumé objective can be a place to succinctly but overtly acknowledge points that might raise an eyebrow. "One place where an objective works well is if you are transitioning to a different role, or [out] of school," Fitzgerald says. "Or maybe you've been out of work for however long — you went traveling, were on parental leave, and you're switching careers. An objective is a good place to give that hiring manager a signal as to why there is a gap in your résumé."
It should not be a long treatise; two long sentences or three short ones, max — and do inject a little personality. For example, Scott Dobroski, the director of corporate communications at Glassdoor, says your objective (or "professional summary") should serve as a quick snapshot into who you are as a professional, and what sets you apart from the pack of applicants at your heels. "A hiring manager looks at a résumé for about three-to-ten seconds if you’re lucky," he says. "Whether they're on mobile, a tablet, or are just reading the top [of your résumé], this serves as a tease to get their interest to have them read more."
If he were applying for a role in, say, journalism, Dobroski says he might write something along the lines of: "Engaged, vibrant news reporter who cracks stories no one else is telling. Meets every deadline (stories generate an average of [insert awesome number] hits), and fun and upbeat to work with as well."
"It's okay to allude to a 'soft skill' at the end of that professional summary because we all want to work with people we like," he explains.
"People used to put objective statements like, 'I am seeking a reporter position to advance my skills and enhance the world,'" Dobroski says, "[but for] employers in this day and age, the priority is solving their business challenges and needs, and meeting their goals and objectives. They are much more interested in what you can offer them instead of what they can offer you."
That shouldn't totally put you off of your job search — Dobroski isn't suggesting that you should see yourself as an expendable cog in the company wheel. But the reason a hiring manager is doing all of this work is to fill a needed role; not, unfortunately, to make all of your dreams come true. Get the job first, get to know your boss, and then eventually (ideally), they'll help to steer your career in a way that is beneficial to both of you. But first comes the objective.