When it comes to job hunting advice, question everything you’re told

Punk pioneers Stiff Little Fingers‘ signature tune “Suspect Device” admonished “Don’t believe them / Question everything you’re told.” It’s sound advice for anyone looking for guidance in the job world.

The other day on /r/GetEmployed, a user asked how he should write his resume objective for a job as a sales clerk at Bass Pro Shops. He said that the prof for his Communications in the Business Environment class told him to have an objective on his resume.

I’m guessing the prof might also have advised to put “References available upon request” at the bottom of the resume, too, which is also bad advice. I’m also guessing that the prof hasn’t created a resume in the non-educational world ever.

The key here is that the original poster of the question (the OP) didn’t ask why an objective is important. He just accepted it as true without an understanding. This is a mistake. Whenever someone gives you advice, about anything, not just jobs, ask why. Ask specifically, “Why do you say I should put an objective on the resume?” or “Why do I have to wear a suit to the interview?” You need to understand why you are doing anything, and not just follow it blindly, so that you can make a decision on if you want to follow it or not. You will get conflicting opinions on everything in life, so understand the logic behind it.

I’m guessing that if the OP had gone back to his prof and asked why to have an objective, the prof’s answer would have been not much more substantive than “because that’s just what you do”. If he were to ask me why you should not have an objective, I’d explain “because it is a waste of space that says nothing except that you want the job that you’re applying for, instead of telling good information about you and why you’re good for the job”. Based on those two reasons, the OP can make his own decision.

Note: There is a time when objectives may make sense: when you’re handing out resumes blindly, like at a job fair or something, where it’s not clear what sort of job you’re looking for. Then it makes sense. But if you’re sending in a resume for a specific job, and your objective is “to get a job that is exactly like the one I’m applying for right now”, then leave it off.

Ask questions. Understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. Don’t follow anyone’s advice blindly, including mine.


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One Response to “When it comes to job hunting advice, question everything you’re told”

  1. Matthew Heusser Says:

    Nice post Andy, and it is great first-order advice — I just wish you had gone back to the professor and asked him. After all, there is a slim chance he had an answer.

    Offhand, I can think of a few reasons you might include an objective section — first, if the author isn’t doing a cover letter, he might use that section as a sort of ‘light’ cover letter. Of course, you could debate why he isn’t doing a cover letter, but I’m pre-supposing that he’s in a big city and applying to a lot of big box stores and a cover letter isn’t a good use of time.

    Which brings me to a second reason – an objective section can be a subtle signal that you belong to the tribe, and can be used to draw attention to something further down the resume, like the person is an active sport fisherman and expert in black powder and reloading.

    More than a subtle signal, if the General Manager is secretly looking for a black powder/reloading specialist to even out his staff, but thought it was SUCH a long shot that he didn’t want to put it on the job advert, forget about not quite meeting the education req’s, man, the dude is IN.

    Of course, there is a chance the manager is unimpressed by the black powder thing, that it doesn’t fit a need, and it wastes time. That’s a risk the job seeker is taking — so I would advise it more when searching from a position of strength, say, employed looking for the RIGHT gig, not unemployed.

    And that’s the third reason, to send a subtle cultural signal about yourself. If you do NOT have a “demonstrated willingness to assume a company perspective on key issues where the staff may disagree”, and you make that clear in your objective, well, you might not get the interview, which saves everybody a lot of wasted time.

    So, basically, an objective statement probably won’t help you get /A/ job, it *might* help you get the /right/ job, and it might help make sure you don’t get the /wrong/ job (out of the frying pan an into the fire).

    Asking ‘why’, and getting past ‘because everybody does it’, is certainly the place to start! 🙂

    If you know of any stats on the use of objectives in cover letters, I’m all ears, but I’d be just as skeptical of such stats as I suspect you would be. 🙂

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