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Friday, November 27, 2009

Ban Objective Statements on Resumes because no one can write a good one

In the world of a resume writing, there's a fairly lively debate around the relevance of having an objective statement on a resume. By lively debate, I mean a debate that ranks in between "Who was the best Designated Hitter in the American League in the 1980's" and "What's your favorite jello flavor." There is only so much passion that even Human Resource folks can generate around an objective statement which is a sentence or two at the beginning of the resume that is intended to show you career interest or perhaps unique skills.

The theory is that this sentence or two will cause a recruiter to say, "Wow I am really interested in this candidate and I want to read more. I am so engaged that I am no longer going to continue this on-line debate that the Oakland A's Dave Henderson was the best designated hitter in the 80's and cherry jello rules."

In reality, most objective statements are something like, "Dynamic, results oriented experienced professional seeks management position with innovative, progressive company." Or in simpler terms, "Older guy seeks job with a company that doesn't suck." Hence the debate about the value of the objective statement.

However, I think that I have ended the debate once and for all and can prove that objective statements are bad ideas that should be dropped from your resume like your camp counselor job after your senior year in high school. Recently, I received the resume book from the Wharton Health Care Management program (from which I graduated). It includes the 2nd year class's pictures, a brief work history, and an objective statement.

Most of the objective statements were really lame. Therefore, if Wharton MBA's, who can be quantitatively demonstrated to be smart and receive a deluge of resume advice during their program, can't put together a non-cringeworthy objective statement, I can assume that the majority of the population can't either. Since you shouldn't waste space on resume with random crap, the objective statement should go away. Allow me to elaborate on the Wharton MBA objective statements.

First, the disclaimer. The students who I am about to make fun of are multiple orders of magnitude smarter than me. Additionally, I made fun of my own class's objective statements to their face so this is not a new activity. There has always been a bit of a sense of self-deprecation in the MBA community, so making fun of something as innocuous as an objective statement is not intended to offend anyone. Finally, I will rarely if ever be in a position to make hiring decisions about MBA's so no one should consider this to be advice from a potential employer.

Disclaimer aside, here are the multiple sins of the objective statements:
  • The only functional area they rule out is Facilities Management: The objectives announce interests in "marketing or operations", "private equity or business development", "management and entrepreneurial", and "corporate strategy, business development, or venture capital". A range of functional roles are combined that pretty much announce the candidate has ruled out very little.
  • The only industry rule out is Nursing Homes: Students will often gamble for a venture capital or private equity position but happily accept a business development role. Marketers will look at biotechnology, medical device, or pharmaceutical firms. Some don't want to rule out a cool start-up. That was the case when I was a student and I can tell that it hasn't changed by looking at the objective statements. They pretty much outlined plan A, B, and C. I know that the students don't display this ambivalence during interviews so why announce it in the objective statement? The fault lies more with the theory that we can sum up our career goals in an one or two sentences in a way that would be meaningful to anyone.
  • Here are everyone's favorite words: Almost everyone is looking for a strategic opportunity to display their strategic leadership at a strategic company. When they go to the bathroom, it will be strategic. No one wanted to stand out with a fire and brimstone leadership style at a chaotic company? The other invented word on these objective statements was "biopharmaceutical". At first I thought that was code for marijuana like 420 or maybe crystal meth. Later I realized that it was a combination of biotech and pharmaceutical industry and an easier way to announce interest in both industries.
To be fair, there were some good objective statements. Some put their stake in the ground with a desire for "a health care focused private equity position" or a "leadership development program". Some shared their uniqueness with an interest in "curing societal ills." However, most objective statements pretty much said, "I want to strategically work in a variety of functions in a variety of industries that I may or may not describe with made up words." If a group of talented MBA's whose resumes and cover letters are scrutinized with as much intensity as National Security Intelligence reports, produce value-destroying objective statements, why have them at all?

Thus, if some of the best can't write decent objective statements, they should be purged from resumes.

One game that I enjoy is looking at what kind of opportunities students are asking for in their objective statement. Most humbly request an "opportunity" do work in X, Y, or Z. A few brave request a "challenging opportunity". Some raise the stakes with a search for a "strategic opportunity." There was one that trumped them all with their vision for a "strategic leadership opportunity." Next year I expect someone to run the trifecta and boldly go for a "challenging strategic leadership opportunity."

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