Should You Include an Objective Statement on a Resume?

A young lady looking at a paper and appearing very confused about its content.Here’s a pop quiz for you.  What question often divides job seekers as well as those who advise them?  The answer?  Should an objective statement be included on a resume?

Admittedly, this question has bothered me for a while.  Whenever I read a resume with an objective statement at the top, it just doesn’t feel right.  The presence of one always seems to leave me with a funny feeling, and it’s not a warm and fuzzy one.  To me, it appears the applicant is either a novice at applying for jobs or has just finished reading a 25-year-old book on how to write a resume.  An objective statement on a resume just seems like a relic from days past.

For me, it’s not a huge deal and I can get past it easily enough.  But still, I feel the person has not really put his or her best foot forward.  Isn’t it sort of obvious one’s real objective is to land the job for which they are applying?  Plus, wouldn’t a cover letter be a better place to include such information?

Then again, I thought, maybe it’s just me.

What Do Others Say?

I wondered how my views on this matter align with those of others, so I decided to take a look at some of the resume advice found online.  Spoiler alert!  We have a hung jury.  One “expert” will tell you to definitely include an objective statement.  Another, definitely do not.  Still others will tell you an objective should be included “sometimes” or that “it depends.”

So what exactly are others saying?  A blog published by Pongo, a provider of resume services, states, “Should you lead your resume with an Objective or Summary that briefly describes your skills and background? In a word, yes.”  Ok, chalk up one for the other side.  However, according to Alison Green in an article from U.S. News & World Report, “Resume objectives never help and often hurt.”  A point for me!  The well-known job search website Monster says “An objective sometimes helps and sometimes hinders your job search, so knowing when or even if to include one gets a bit tricky.”  A little confusing?  You bet.

Let’s try another approach.  I contacted a colleague at a university to see what advice professors and counselors currently give their students regarding this matter.  “Well,” was the response, “I tell my students it’s a bit of a gray area.  Some career counselors suggest including an objective statement for various reasons, but usually when they are included, the statements are so vague and poorly written that they don’t help.  I don’t include one on my resume.  I let my cover letter serve as the ‘objective’ and besides, I need the resume space for other items.”  My thoughts exactly.

What to Do?

Yes, it’s a mixed bag of advice out there.  Acceptable resume writing styles have evolved and changed over time, just like countless other things in the workplace.  However, it also appears not everyone has changed, so what is a job seeker to do in this situation?

Personally, I would not include an objective statement on a resume unless the posting clearly asks for one or it is the norm in your field to do so.  As I said earlier, the employer and you both know your real objective is to obtain the position for which you are applying.  Have a lot of education, experience, etc. to include? The extra physical space gained on your resume can be used for this.  I also firmly believe having no objective statement on your resume is far better than including a poorly written one.  Here’s an example:

An excerpt from a resume showing a poorly-written objective statement which reads "To secure an entry-level position with a progressive, high-quality organization as an Electronics Technician, utilizing my skills and experience to service complex electronic devices."

Ask yourself this: does the stated objective really provide the employer with any useful information? Does the statement do anything to help convince the reviewer you’re the right candidate for the job?

After reading this objective statement, the employer may be thinking:

  • I already know your objective is to get a job in this field.
  • I already know it is an entry-level position.
  • Every organization likes to think it is progressive and high-quality.
  • You mentioned skills; which skills?
  • You mentioned experience; what experience?
  • I already know our electronic devices are complex.

Including an objective doesn’t really seem to help in this case.  It states the obvious. Plus, it seems to leave more questions than it answers.

Give Me Some Space, Please

Space on a resume is like valuable real estate.  You wouldn’t buy an expensive and beautiful Malibu oceanfront property strictly to put up a lemonade stand.  So, why waste valuable resume space to do nothing more than merely state the obvious?  Experienced applicants may already have trouble finding room to include all their relevant education and work experience on one or two pages.  Leaving out the objective section may help provide space for a few additional lines of text.

Final Thoughts

I cannot dispute that, in the end, at least to some extent, whether or not to include an objective may well be a matter of personal preference and taste.  But whose?  In this situation, I think it is the preference and taste of the employer with which you should be concerned.  After all, the employer is the one doing the hiring and thus the one to whom the resume should appeal.  But, it is very unlikely one would ever know the personal preference and taste of the individuals who might read the resume.  So, now what?

Let’s pause and look at what we know.  A well-written objective section probably does not hurt or detract.  In fact, it may very well help if the reviewer happens to favor objectives.  However, inclusion of a lousy one will do some serious damage for sure.

This situation seems to call for a risk/benefit analysis. I fear the risk of including an objective statement which might be poorly received by a reviewer is greater than the benefit which might be gained should the reviewer happen to favor its inclusion. Since I have no idea how any reviewer will feel about inclusion of an objective, I would rather just leave it out and use the extra space to further detail my experience and skills.  Why gamble?

What do you think?

 

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Featured image courtesy of CollegeDegrees360 – flickr

Should You Expect a Skill Test During a Job Interview?

A trig math problem with instructions to find x. The student mere circles the x on the diagram and writes: "Found it! Here it is."Spoiler alert!  Some people are less than truthful on job applications and during interviews!  Gasp! Really?

Even if they don’t deliberately fib, at a minimum, applicants often tend to overrate their true skill levels.  After all, who doesn’t want to sound like a great candidate?  So, when the interviewer asks if you are proficient at a particular job skill, for example, such as using complex pivot tables in Microsoft Excel, it is real easy to just smile and say “yes.”  Even if you don’t really know what a “pivot table” is.  But hey, you’ve probably used Excel, at least a little. How hard can it be? However, if asked to prove it – right then and there – would you be ready?

The one pre-employment test most job applicants do expect is a drug test.  According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), over 80% of employers surveyed now require such tests.  So, no surprise there.  But testing for skills?  Having to show proof of a skill during a job interview catches many applicants off guard, even when the job posting specifically lists the skill as a requirement!

As you know, the cost to recruit, hire, onboard, and train an employee is very high.  If an employer has to let a person go because he or she can’t do the job and then repeat the process all over again, the cost more than doubles.  The organization loses valuable time.  An applicant who simply talks a good line about their skills cannot fool a smart interviewer twice.  Next time, the interviewer will want proof!  Can you blame them?

Pre-Employment Skill Tests

Some skill tests have been around almost forever and are no-brainers.  Applying for a clerical or data entry position?  No big surprise if a typing test is required!  In fact, you likely expect it.

Sometimes, though, skill tests come as a total surprise.  I interviewed once for a position in which the job posting required “data analysis skills and proficiency with Microsoft Excel.”  When the usual Q&A part of the interview was finished, the interviewer told me I would next be performing a little exercise.  Say what?  The interviewer then took me to a conference room and gave me a laptop loaded with Excel.  Next, the person handed me a sheet of data to analyze, along with a list of questions and a thumb drive.  Finally, the interviewer gave instructions to answer the questions within one hour and place the resulting spreadsheets onto the thumb drive. Didn’t see that one coming!  Fortunately, I guess I did fine because I got the job.

Sometime later, I learned that several of the applicants – all who claimed to be skilled with Excel – were unable to complete any part of the test.  They didn’t know how to use Excel.  At all.  Clearly, this was another case of less than truthful job applicants.  Since this had happened to them in the past, the interviewers thereafter always tested for Excel skills.

Wait a Minute – Are Skill Tests Legal?

I’m not an attorney, so I cannot give legal counsel.  However, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website contains a wealth of information on this subject.  According to information found there, in general, among other requirements, a pre-employment test must:

  • Be clearly job-related
  • Be necessary to the position
  • Not have a disproportionately negative effect on applicants of certain classes protected by law

Consider a problematic skill test discussed by the EEOC in a 2005 press release.  This case involved the use of a pre-employment “strength test” by a meat packing company to screen job applicants.  The employer argued the test was necessary to reduce on-the-job injuries.  As part of their job, workers in the plant had to routinely lift 35-pound products up to a height of about 65 inches.   The employer was simply testing applicants to see if they had the strength required to safely perform such a job-related task. Seems reasonable, right?

Unfortunately, the particular test used was found to have a disparate impact against women and therefore illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Interestingly, the court determined the pre-employment strength test used was more difficult than the actual job itself!  Not just that, it seems the test was intentionally used to discriminate against women.  Due to these factors, an award of approximately $3.3 million to 52 rejected female job applicants was later upheld by a federal appeals court. Ouch!

The flip side of this issue, however, is that as long as skill tests do not violate applicable laws, it appears employers are free to use them – and many do.

Will I be Tested?

On its website, the Criteria Corp, a provider of web-based pre-employment testing services, cites a survey from the American Management Association (AMA) which found that 70% of responding employers use some sort of job skill testing.  The odds seem to suggest you very well might have to take a skill test during your next job interview!

The first way to find out is also the most obvious.  Check the job posting and employer’s job website to see if they state anything about a skill test.  While some employers may disclose this up front, many do not.  You can also ask about it when contacted to schedule an interview, but this might be awkward. After all, you certainly do not want to give the impression you might fear having to demonstrate your skills!  But, if you can ask comfortably, you could get a valuable heads-up.

If you still don’t know, carefully check the job description or posting for other clues.  If properly written, these documents will state the Minimum Entrance Requirements (MERs) for the position, also often known as Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs).  Look for the mention of specifically-required KSAs such as proficiency with Microsoft Office, ability to use certain equipment and tools, math skills, writing abilities, etc.  Does the posting list such KSAs? If so, the employer might test for them during the interview.  After all, by applying, you are claiming to have such talents, right?

Relax!

A test may actually help you by providing solid insight into which specific skills an employer feels are important for such a job.  Even if you don’t land this opening, such knowledge better prepares you for future interviews for similar positions.

If you REALLY feel qualified for the position and meet the stated MERs, then don’t worry too much about a skill test.  You probably already know the material.   Sure, maybe brush up in advance on areas where you feel a bit weak, but don’t let it panic you.  Unlike some of the other candidates, you have an edge mentally because you anticipate the possibility of a test.  The interviewers won’t catch you off guard! This is your chance to show ‘em what you’ve got!

 

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