objectives on resumes

Posted: October 20, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

In previous posts, I’ve disputed “experts” who say a resume should never have an objective.  I believe a simple objective can be a useful tool to let the employer know what position a job seeker is applying for.

I think the no objective “rule” has come from HR people reading too many objectives that are a waste of time.  For example, a client gave me a resume he had written with this objective:  “Seeking a challenging and rewarding position where my skills and accomplishments can be utilized.”  This statement is an example of many words saying nothing.  The employer wants to know how you are relevant to his company, not what you want, especially when it is phrased in such a moronic manner.

If I had to read such lines again and again, I too would be tempted to rail against objectives.  However, used properly, an objective can be a good tool to help the employer know what position you are seeking.  Use the tool properly.  Keep it simple.

Posted: June 22, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Experts and the Internet love lists.  They look authoritative, and they are easy to organize (Just count to 10..  However, I often find some advice given about resume writing beyond laughable.  I found a list from U.S. News & World Report that offers some good advice and bad.

Here is an analysis of this list:

  1. Never use an objective:  The advice presumes that all objectives are about how the job applicant wants a position that offers advancement.  Yes, that is stupid.  However, an objective that lets the employer know what position is being sought can be a very good thing.  What’s the alternative?  To let an employer guess what job you are seeking.  Unless the job being sought is obvious (i.e. someone who has always been a restaurant manager seeking the same position), I recommend using an objective as a way to let the employer know what job you are seeking.  Keep it concise:  To obtain a position as (title of the position being sought).
  2. Leave off short term jobs:  Generally I agree with this advice.  The one exception would be if a short term job exposed you to some skill or experience you would take to the next job.  In that case, including a short term job can be a benefit.
  3. Avoid functional resumes:  I almost always follow this advice.  The only exception is a time when a chronology is impossible – ex-offenders who have just been released from jail.  That is the only case in which I recommend a functional presentation.
  4. No photos:  Amen (except for actors and models).
  5. Fancy Design:  Another amen.  Employers and job seekers agree that resumes need to read quickly.  Fancy design may make a resume look good, but it usually also lead to a document that is not easy to read.
  6. “Subjective Description”:  One example given that I use is “creative innovator.”  I agree that in itself this statement is meaningless.  However, if the resume gives some clear examples of creative innovation, I see nothing wrong with using the term.  It’s not subjective if it’s backed up with evidence.
  7. Any mention of high school:  In most cases this is true.  However, I include high school if it is required (federal resumes) or if the client went to a school that might  be meaningful to the employer.
  8. Extra pages:  Here again, we get a simple rule:  People in their 20s should only have one page.  Often true, not always.  My strategy for length is to include information that is relevant to the employer.  I almost never exceed three pages. The writer from U.S. News says that employers spend 20-30 seconds on each document.  If that’s true, it’s easy to read 2 pages of resume.  The real problem is when resumes are not set up so the reader can quickly see how the applicant is qualified.  Rather than debate a 1 or 2 page rule, I say the most important part of a resume is the first half of the first page.  That’s where you have to show how you are qualified.
  9. Salary: Usually I agree.  However, some job posts ask for salary requirements or salary history to be included on the resume.  If applicants don’t include that information, will their resume be considered?
  10. References available upon request:  I still use this phrase as a way to show the end of the resume.  It has not hurt my clients who have gotten very good jobs.  Can it be cut out?  Sure.  I look at this line on a resume as similar to the appendix in the body.  Useless – also harmless.  Any employer who rejects a qualified employee because a resume includes this line should not be making any type of hiring decisions.

Overall, this list does give some good advice.  My problem is that it relies too much on “rules” that are simplistic.  Beware of one-size-fits-all advice -- and lists of 10.

Posted: November 16, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

A client sent me an online article that listed ten words that should not be on a resume.  Such lists often make me laugh.  The people writing them present themselves as experts, as if they were Moses coming down from the mountain with tablets, irrefutable laws.

A resume is a marketing piece.  Its purpose is to convince an employer to interview you.  If a word is relevant to what that employer is looking for, it is good.  If not, it’s bad.  Rather than a one-size-fits-all list, I recommend thinking about function: What is the word doing to sell you?

For example, here are three words I remember from the Thou Shalt Not article and my comments on their function:

Objective: The expert calls this word “tired.”  I agree if the objective is simply a word salad that does not tell the employer anything.  However, if you are pursuing a job that employers could label with different titles, or if you are a job changer, or a new graduate with no experience, a simple objective can help an employer identify what job you are pursuing.  This would be an example: To obtain a position as an Account Coordinator.

Team Player: Again, the expert proclaims that this word, “Says nothing.”  I still use this term because it appears in many job postings.  Why would employers use it if they don’t want to see it in resumes?  Moreover, if the word is put in some kind of broader context, it can tell an employer how you work. 

Responsible: I agree that this word usually has no function.  But, unlike the rule-giver, let me explain the problem and solution. When you start a statement with the word responsible, you usually end up being too wordy.  For example: Responsible for the management of a team of 32 sales professions.  Be to the point: Manage a team of 32 sales professionals.  There’s nothing wrong with the word responsible if it is used correctly. 

Whenever you encounter an expert who offers hard and fast rules, challenge that person to have a reason for her claim.  In my work, I am looking for the right words to present my clients in the best light.  My questions are: What is the function of a word?  How is it working to sell this person as a viable candidate? 

Beware of simple rules and lists.  They sound good, but can lead you down the wrong road.

Posted: April 26, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

I volunteered at a job fair on Saturday, and reviewed resumes of 35 job seekers.  Many of these people shortchanged themselves by not giving a clear sense of what kind of job they were looking for.  Employers receive a heavy volume of resumes, many of which do not indicate what position job the applicant is seeking or why they are qualified.

How can you keep employers focused when they are reading your resume?  Framing.

The first frame is located at the top of your resume: What position are you seeking?  There are two ways to answer this question: An objective or a word/phrase in a profile. 

If you are pursuing positions that have several possible title or pursuing a career that is not easy to infer from the job titles you have held, start your resume with an objective.  An objective should be a simple statement that lets the reader know what position is sought.  For example: To obtain a position as an Account Executive.  If you have always held one position (Teacher, Retail Manager) and you are pursuing that position, simply begin the profile section of your resume with that title.  It will be obvious to the employer what position you are pursuing. [Follow this link to see an example of a resume that begins with a profile.]

You also need to frame your resume so the employer can easily see key qualifications: experience, education, certification, computer skills, language, and military service.  Experience can be tricky to format on a resume.  Sometimes we jump from one type of a job to another and our experience begins to look confused.  If your work history doesn’t follow a chronology that shows your experience clearly, split your experience into two sections, relevant and related.  Under relevant, group the jobs that are related to the job you are currently seeking.  Under related, list the other work. [A link to .pdf sample is pasted below].

Frame your resume in a way that will make it easy for employers to see you as a qualified candidate.  No one has time to figure out why you are qualified.  That’s your job, and, if you don’t do that job well, employers will not be calling you to schedule interviews.

Relevant Experience Sample