Resumes: Intros and Exits

Last year, a friend of mine asked me to help him with his resume. Over the years, he had worked at a number of very different jobs within the same company and he wanted to describe each of them in detail and still keep his resume down to two pages.

When we got short of space I told him to cut the Objective since it was just the usual pap and, also, to cut out the lines it took to write: space, References, space, Available on Request.

The more I suggested this, the more edgy my friend became. "Michael", he said with passion, "I spoke to a VP at one of our supplier companies. He is a very senior man and he said that these things are very important." I knew better than to press my case under these conditions but I still think I was
right. And here's why.

Let's start with references upon request. Are prospective employers going to think you're hiding something if you don't offer that invitation? No. If they want references, they'll ask with or without your invitation. You can consider that to be understood.

Now, let's look at Objective. People fill this area with a lot of fluff.

A guy sent me his resume the other day with this rather modest Objective.
To work in a challenging environment where I may apply my experience to fulfil the workplace needs.
Did he really have to tell me that? Chris Rock has a funny routine in which he criticizes guys who brag that they take care of their kids. "Take care of your kids!", he says, "So, what! That's what you're supposed to do!". Shouldn't it be taken for granted?

Sometimes people don't offer Objectives, they give a Summary instead. Here are some excerpts from a long one which I've cut down to a few key phrases.
Senior corporate xyz professional....Results-driven... innovative... continually ‘raising the bar’... passion for professional excellence... deliver exceptional results.
Does that tell me anything more than a bunch of hackneyed phrases? Here's another:
To secure a senior xyz role where my broad scope of xyz experience, coupled with strong analytical, planning, project management and collaborative skills can be applied to achieving strategic business and organizational objectives.
Again, a lot of bland generalities. You might think that this person is actually trying to tell me something about his strengths and experience. My experience, however, is that if you ask people questions about the things they put in the introductory sections of their resumes, they usually have a hard time coming up with an answer.

Here's what I mean: Can you give me some examples of your strong analytic ability? How did you raise the bar? Can you give me some examples of your passion for professional excellence? When you start asking these kinds of nit-picking questions, many people tend to get a bit irritated.

Here's something a little more substantial:
Legal Counsel with five years progressive experience in the xyz industry. A proven ability in structuring and negotiating substantial contracts, due diligence for mergers and acquisitions and demonstrated success as valuable counsel on key human resource matters.
My advice is to:

1. Put this general stuff in the cover letter.

2. Put it in point form (bullet format) so a reader can get the point at a glance.

3. If you want, you can actually back up some of these "headlines" with a few references to measurable or, at least, objective achievements.

4. Leave out the stuff that should be taken for granted, unless there is some way in which you can show that you were exceptional in this regard.

For instance, if you want to say that you're dependable, well maybe you should also indicate that you haven't missed one day in five years and that every last one of your projects was delivered on time in budget. Something like that. Otherwise, fuggedaboutit.

There is one problem with my approach. If so many people are convinced that a lot of gobbledy-gook is a necessary part of a good resume, then some employers, like my friend's authoritative VP, might think less of you if you leave it out. But, frankly, that's a risk I'd be willing to take.

PS: Keywords
There is one worthwhile substitution for the usual Objective or Summary section at the beginning of a resume. And this is a Key Words section. These days, resumes are stored in large electronic databases. People search these resume databases with job-related keywords so you might as well have a list of them right on the page.

Again, these words are job-related. They don't describe your personality or work-habits. Words like "Dependable" and "Self-starter" do not belong here. Words like "strategic sourcing", "purchasing", "procurement", various industries, products and programming languages do.

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