Job Search Toolkit

Alumni - Job Search Toolkit - Career Objectives

Career Objectives

Being able to clearly and concisely define what you are looking for in a position is the first and most important step in the career search process.

  • Setting Your Objective

    You must first know what you want in a next job before you can succeed in landing a next job. An objective sets the overall strategy for your search. It should be clear, concise and actionable as well as easily articulated in an “elevator pitch”, aka, “I am seeking….” type statement. A detailed objective will support all the other job search tactics, those things that move you closer to a new job, such as market research (defining target firms), marketing materials (resume/LinkedIn profile) and networking.

    Here is a simple visual framework to help you think about your objective. Any given job (current or desired) represents the unique intersection of three components:  geography, role and industry.

    Job Objective

    Geography is where the work is based. Geography most closely aligns with your personal life, that is, family and individual preferences. You may be unwilling to relocate or conversely, seeking a move based on your specific situation; either condition is OK, but presents a limiting factor when seeking a job change. And it’s not just the primary location of the job, but also what the job requires to be successful: Is there travel? (If so, how much?) Is the work remote? (If so, partially or fully?) Knowing where you ideally want to live, whether you can (or want to) relocate, how much travel you can realistically handle and whether isolated/remote jobs are preferable….these are all important factors in your geographic objective.

    Role is what you DO at work - your skills, what you’re great at, what you enjoy and often what you’re learning or improving. Role is often misunderstood as job title - you are not your title. Titles belong to org charts, they imply hierarchy, connection etc., but fundamentally, your role is a full description of your core functional skills and talents at work. A job title might be “Marketing Manager”, for example, but you might summarize the role you occupy as “I develop and execute strategic marketing plans for software applications," or “I manage a team that conducts market research.” The role may include many things, but at its simplest, a role summarizes in one or two sentences how you want to spend your time working. Defining what you want in your next role is more than listing your prior accomplishments. You want to determine those things that give you the most satisfaction and allow you to achieve, including stretch skills or learning goals.

    Industry encompasses the broad to the narrow, that is the various sub-sectors, niche areas and specialized fields of work (see NAICS for US classifications). For example, healthcare is large industry with a very broad scope that has a variety of sub-sectors like healthcare services/facilities, medical devices, insurance, pharma and so on. Knowing what broad industry is most interesting to you is a good start, but then you need to narrow the focus within industry, and further define the specific types of firms where you best fit. It helps to think about these general organization distinctions:  firm size (large to small), scope (region, country, global and implied operational location(s)), structure (public/private, profit/non-profit), stage (mature/growth/startup) and operational focus (products/services).

    The goal is to develop a clear and specific objective that intersects all three elements of role/geography/industry. So, you may find it’s necessary to first set your primary limiting factor (that is the most important thing you seek). Having a limiting factor is not a negative, it simply helps you define what you want and your boundaries. For example, you may decide that you cannot relocate, that your current geography is not only desirable, but non-negotiable, so then your current location sets the boundary for what firms/industries you can go after. Alternatively, you may say industry/sector is the primary focus of your search and then look at the locations where that industry is anchored. Caring about only the role (and its related title), does not serve a job search – hiring managers (and recruiters) want to know that you have some connection, knowledge of and point of view about an industry and place.  

    Once you’ve determined your objective goal, you’ll move on to market research, developing a marketing plan as well as networking. You should be able to translate your objective into a simple statement as a starting point for research or networking conversations. Here are some examples:

    I’m seeking a mid level marketing role in the media/entertainment industry, and I’m willing to stay in NYC metro or relocate to California, preferably greater LA.

    I’m a real estate investor and expert at land development projects looking for opportunities to grow with a small firm located in or around Richmond, VA. 

    I’d like to continue serving in major pharma firms, progressing in a senior finance role where I have the opportunity to work with and learn from a veteran CFO, and I’m willing to relocate to meet that objective.

    I’m a successful strategy consultant looking to move into a hospitality industry operations role in a for-profit firm based in metro DC or mid-Atlantic.   

    I’m based in San Francisco and seeking to move out of banking M&A roles, but using the M&A and finance skills I’ve developed to help a high growth software services firm that needs to gain new sources of funding and possibly find partnerships for accelerated growth – remote work is an option.

    Do you need help building a clear and concise job search objective? The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services is here to help. Reach out to us and schedule a session with a career coach.

  • Resources for Exploration

    If your objective is to make a big career shift, to “reinvent” your career or perhaps to make a change of industry or functional role, consider these resources for deeper exploration:

    Use our ACS Job Objective Inventory to help you objectively take stock of your goals, priorities and desires around your next job.


    Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (2016)

    What Should I Do With My Life? The True Story of  People Who Answered the Ultimate Question by Po Bronson (2005). Fifty profiles of people searching for their true calling.

    Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career by Herminia Ibarra (2004). Explores the ‘possible selves’ model of career transformation.

    Workshops & Coaching: 

    Career Coaching: Our coaches can help guide you through the process of developing your job objectives. Complimentary to degreed Darden alumni.

    ACS Darden Life Design Lab: This online (Zoom) workshop meets in a small group format, three 1.5 hour sessions over six weeks;  participants read and complete exercises from the book Designing Your Life and discuss their goals and objectives. This workshop is great for anyone who wants to explore a big shift in career direction, whether that is in function/role, industry/firm type, or for those returning from a work hiatus or entering working in retirement. To find out more or to be placed on the wait list for upcoming workshops, contact us at [email protected]. Complimentary to degreed Darden alumni.

    Careers in Retirement: see our ACS pages for more information and resources for this unique stage.