Why Your Resume Objective Can be an Instant Fail

This article is meant to be advice for candidates writing their resumes. It is not a rant. While I typically employ humor and sarcasm (the poor man’s wit) in my writing, this article is indeed meant to give my professional opinion on one particular aspect of resume writing.

There is much debate about whether or not you should include an objective on a resume. Many recruiters are highly focused on skills and experience and may or may not even read an objective. They would therefore argue that it does not belong. There are many others though that also look for the something extra, that spark, that “je ne sais quoi” that will set this resume and candidate apart from others. So in my opinion, the objective itself is neither good nor bad, but should only be used if it can truly set you apart in a good way, but use caution, because a poor objective can set a negative tone.

Let’s get to some examples to show what I mean.

  1. The Ultra Generic: It goes something like this. “To apply my skills and knowledge and contribute to the success of the company while continuing to grow in my career.”  Well, well, it would seem that we have a winner here (… just in case you didn’t notice this is my humor/sarcasm kicking in…) This as it happens is also my objective, to hire someone whose skills and experience will contribute to the company and who has drive and motivation to grow.  Hurrah, let’s hire this person on the spot, except, no.
    While this type of objective is neither good nor bad and certainly not an instant fail, it does not add anything extra, nor does it set the resume and candidate apart. Nobody states that their objective is “to get paid, not really use my experience in a meaningful way, and I have no real career growth aspirations.” If people did, then the ultra generic objective would set you apart, but they don’t. In this case, I will certainly keep reading the resume further, but at this point it really does become just about matching exact skills and experience to the position.
  2. The Completely Unrelated: “To apply my skills and education as a Digital Design Engineer.” Ok, sounds good, except that you just applied for a Test Engineer position and as I dig deeper into your record, I see that you also applied to a Quality Engineer’s position and a marketing position, all with the same objective. While I will still read the resume and try to figure out for you where you could actually fit into the company, a lot of managers will be instantly turned off. While it is true that many people will move through different functions throughout their career, the hiring manager still is not going to want to hire someone whose immediate goal is to leave their department to do something else. This one has definite potential to be an instant fail.
  3. The Specifically Related: “To apply my skills and education as a Digital Design Engineer.” And in this case you have applied to a Digital Design Engineer position. Perfect, I now know that you actually want the position you applied for. Umm, wait a minute, isn’t that the point of applying for the position, because you want that position? Nothing setting you apart here, but no worries, this isn’t a fail. We’re moving forward and reading the rest of the resume and hopefully will interview you.
    Just as a final word of caution, please don’t change your objective to 10 different unrelated positions and apply to 10 different unrelated jobs in the same company. In most cases, a recruiter will be the first to review your resume; and hopefully they won’t be seeing multiple versions with completely different objectives. That could turn into a fail.
    I know what some people thinking here. They’re saying “But my experience is varied and I’ve done both design engineering and marketing. I’m happy and capable to work in either field.” Fair enough, I’ll buy that. I’ll also expect that I’ll have two versions of your resume slightly tailored to each type of position. HOWEVER! Please be very careful with different resume versions with slightly different focus on each. If a recruiter, or a manager, reads two different resume versions and anything rings untrue, that the two don’t fit together, it will be an instant fail for sure. Examples of this include completely different job titles for the same time period.  You were not a “Marketing Manager” from 2005-2009 AND a Digital Design Engineer from 2005-2009. If you had overlapping responsibilities, be careful how you describe them and title them.
  4. The Ultra Specific: “My goal is to secure position wxyz at [insert company name here].” Ok, now I know that you REALLY want this particular job. Or do I? More likely than not, I know that our competitors are also receiving this person’s resume with a similar objective tailored to their specific job number and title. Worse yet, I figure I am going to find that this person has submitted multiple versions to our company with different job numbers and titles. Almost certainly an instant fail if that is the case. However, even if it isn’t, in the back of my mind I am thinking “Man, that is one short sighted objective. What if I can’t hire you for this position? What becomes of you and your career then? Will you be re-evaluating your entire life if we don’t hire you?” But yes, I am going to keep reading the resume and hoping for your sake that you are indeed the perfect person for this position.
  5. The Ultra Specific – that names a different company and one of their job numbers: Yes, sadly this has actually happened, and not just once. An overzealous candidate has tailored his or her objective to name the job number and title of a position at one of our competitors. While I know that this is a mistake and simply due to the fact that they were trying to use the Ultra Specific Objective for different positions at different companies, I cannot in good conscience keep reading this resume. It is just such a blatant lack of attention to detail for something that is so important. Instant Fail. So my advice – don’t use the Ultra Specific Objective, ever.

Ok, so I’ve given 5 examples of what not to do and I know what you’re thinking: “Alright wise guy, what does a good resume objective look like?” I’ll give a few examples of things that would get my attention, and then I’ll open it up for debate. By and large though, I do think that most resumes are better off without an objective.

If you are going to have one, something like this would definitely make me stand up and take notice. Let’s say that you really do want to work at the company I work for (and of course you should.) “My objective is to work with the marketing department at your company [insert company name]. I’ve done my research and hear great things about both the company and the [insert specific technology] you’re working on. I would like the opportunity to be a part of this team where my experience as [insert specific experience] will help drive these products to great success.” – It’s just an example, but in this case it sets you apart because you named the company and type of work without mentioning job numbers and titles, and you also described why you want to be part of this team.  To me, it rings true, feels honest. I’m hoping that I won’t someday come across a version of it sent to our competitor, but for now I’ll give this resume my full attention.

You can also use variations of The Specifically Related objective if you are very driven and focused on a particular type of work; and of course only applying to positions that fit that type of work. But again, you do need to state something that sets you apart. If your objective is generic, it sets the tone for the rest of your resume to be viewed as generic.

So what can set you apart? Well this is where I want to open it up for debate. While I personally love it when people can wisely use humor, or have a flare for the daring, it isn’t for everyone.

Post up in the comments if you have a great resume objective, or have reviewed a great one or two. Just the really good ones mind you, not the bad, I don’t want anyone being publicly shamed for errors (so please, also do not include the name of the person it came from unless it is your own.)

Views: 8167

Comment by Tony Hogeveen on April 3, 2013 at 12:36pm

So either nobody read this, or nobody has a great resume objective to share.

That being the case what are everyone's opinion of resume objective's in general?

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 3, 2013 at 12:59pm
Unless someone has a very specific objective, eg, private practice group of five or more physicians located in s. Florida. Leave it off. Objectives are more often a knock out than anything else. Replace it with a short career summary or synopsis of career experience.
Comment by KKenner on April 3, 2013 at 1:25pm

Tony, I agree with Sandra. For example, I would add, a career changer(they have been a RN, and now they are seeking more Administrative roles, etc), or something highly technical. Otherwise, I would rather see, and so would the hiring managers, a quick summary of career highlights, or experience, expertise, etc.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 3, 2013 at 2:00pm
Another thought for you. Objectives like beauty are in the eye if the beholder. When I see one like the example you gave of putting the company name, "I've researched, want to be part of the team blh, blah. My first thought is , well h read a suggestion on th net and I would guess this same resume objective with a different company name went out to ten more companies so means nothing to me. If I see that he wants marketing but I have something else that marketing background is a plus, now. Have a question...he is specific about marketing only...maybe so. I might call I might not because I have seen too much phony baloney or perhaps just canned spam to be kind.

If I get the same resume with a cover letter that gives me an idea of his salary range why he is looking or a reason he is considering the geography and it has no objective on the resume I am ten times more likely to call him to find out if he will consider something that may not be 100% marketing.

Using the example I gave. It was an objective on a CV that we ended up taking off. Here is why. I asked, would you consider a group of six to 10? Yes. What about a group of four? Yes. What about a contracted group practicing in a hospital. Yes.

An objective is rarely the same to the person who writes it as it is to the person who reads it. So my take is, since you don't know what it will mean to the reader. Take it off. What my doc really meant was he dudn't want a two man shop and he dudn't want to work for a huge national chain and he dudn't want to work as an employee of a hospital and really anyplace in Florida on either coast would be a consideration. If he had given me that info in a cover letter we would have saved a lot of time and CV adjustment.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 3, 2013 at 2:04pm
I hate auto correct on an iPad. Didn't...but it might as well have been dudn't. How is that award?
Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on April 3, 2013 at 5:14pm

For certain, I don't have any great resume objectives to share, but here is an opinion of resume objectives in general. 

Objectives scream "out of touch" with the modern employment world, oblivious to current career marketing messaging practices and generally too lazy to research what may have changed since they last used that resume in 1993. 

When I see an objective on a resume. I envision a guy (or gal) with a mullet hair style, wearing a Members Only jacket and strutting around with a fully extended metal antennae on their brick-sized cell phone before hopping into their Ford Pinto. 

So, in other words, I find objectives "objectionable," completely irrelevant and out of fashion. NO ONE cares about your career goals and aspirations and how wonderfully you think you will be as member of our team. And, objective or not, using first person language on a resume makes it read like it was written by an 11 year old, not a business professional. 

What most resume recipients expect to see is relevance to the position being pursued. The resume should be concise, error-free, well-formatted and organized in an aesthetically pleasing easy to skim/scan layout. Extraneous information (including objectives) is distracting and wastes space.

All content should demonstrate appropriate knowledge, skills, abilities and competence worthy of the reader's attention and make it clear that the person is qualified to be considered further for the position being filled.

The primary goal of resume is to get the person an interview. Therefore, it needs to be immediately and abundantly obvious to the reader that the person "gets it." I've never seen an objective that added any value in that regard. 

~KB @TalentTalks 

Comment by Donna Richardson on April 4, 2013 at 11:28am

I agree with the general consensus in that Objectives are not going to open doors.  One of the first things I tell candidates as we begin to work together is “please take the objective off of your resume”.  You are submitting your resume to a company in regard to a position – your objective is to obviously find a new career opportunity.  I side with Sandra in that if you feel the need to have something above your experience and accomplishments, go with a Summary that provides the reader with some indication of who you are. 

Comment by Amber on April 4, 2013 at 3:44pm

Wait - I think I just found the perfect objective on a resume I just opened....

To obtain a position within the company. 


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