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Saturday, February 25, 2006


My Take on Resumes and Hiring

Scott Mark started this topic, and James Tarbell has weighed in. Thought I'd take a whack at it also. Keep in mind that I'm a consultant, but I was an FTE for quite a few years before taking the plunge. Also, since I have more than one client, I 'interview' with prospective clients quite often, and selling my services to corporations and government entities is very similar to job interviews. I also vet candidates for clients from time-to-time, either screening resumes they get from HR or their recruiters or interviewing candidates they bring in along with their employees.

I'm going to take a different tack...if you're looking for a new position, or in certain extreme cases, paying work period, and all you have going is your resume on Dice, Monster, ComputerJobs, and the other sites, you're only going halfway, at best.

Why? Because I'm convinced that 99% of the great jobs out there aren't on these services or in the help wanted ads. They're only available from people you already know or need to meet. Yeah, that's right, you're going to need to get off your butt and start networking. Professional association meetings and conferences are great avenues for this. If you've kept in touch with folks from previous jobs and gigs, let them know you're looking (discreetly if you must, but let them know). Other professionals that you know socially are good too, as they may know someone else more aligned to what you're looking for and will make an introduction. It takes time and effort, but the payoffs can be huge compared to the job listings you and everybody else sees on the internet.

Scott and JT made lots of great points about resume mechanics and interviewing which I won't repeat here. I'm going to focus more on content of that document and interviewing:

  1. A recruiter who placed me some years back that I remain friendly with remarked to me last month that 'everybody is an architect' these days: Data Architect (not modeler); Application Architect (not developer); System Architect (not development team lead); Network Architect (not network engineer). That, in my mind, is stretching things a bit. If I see 'Architect' on your resume I can guarantee that I will be asking you a lot of architecture-related questions and if the answers I receive lead me to believe that you haven't interfaced much with the business, negotiated requirements with users, or performed higher-level strategic and tactical design that functionally specifies things for developers and the data people, well, thanks, we'll get back to you...
  2. I'm technology- and methodology-agnostic, and most good-to-great architects are also. I like to have a large toolkit at my disposal and select what fits well in any particular situation. If you start shouting fire-and-brimstone about any specific technology, 'best practices' (ugh), open source, or how Agile will save the world as we know it, I will politely decline the Kool-Aid that you're serving and move on to the next candidate. Resumes and interviews are not the time to get all evangelical. I'm more interested in learning how you think, how you handle setbacks, and how you get work done efficiently.
  3. I don't care (and neither does anyone else) what you did 10 years ago, or 15 or 20 for that matter. You wouldn't believe the chronological resumes I've seen with experience listed all the way back to high school in the early 1970s. Stick to the last 5-8 years. If anything before that is possibly relevant, mention it last in a catch-all paragraph.
  4. The same thing goes for your technical skills. The fact that you did batch COBOL programming only dates you as an older worker, and doesn't give you an additional arrow in your quiver to impress me that you can peform the work that you're interviewing for.
  5. I see too many resumes where the experience description for the positions held list the projects and what the project tried to accomplish. I'm not much interested in the project you worked on. However, I'm very interested in what you did on those projects, not your team, your boss, or your group/organization.
  6. I will ask you in an interview to describe a project you worked on or effort you made that failed - partially, completely, and miserably are all OK for response fodder. If you've worked for a substantial length of time in IT, you've been part of at least one of these turkeys. I will ask you what you did to correct the situation (even if it didn't work), what you learned from the experience, and how it influences your work and thoughts now. If you've got more than, say, 4-5 years of professional experience and you can't (or won't) describe an event like this, I'll deduce that either you're not being straight-up with me or you haven't done what your resume says you did somewhere. Your prognosis for the job I'm interviewing you for becomes fatal in that case.
  7. If you currently (or have in the past) speak and/or write on professional topics, by all means, list it. Same goes for blogging if the blog is relevant, although I doubt that Mini-Microsoft will be listing his on a resume anytime soon...:) Speaking of Mini, anybody notice lately that his/her blog has basically degenerated into a bitch-fest for MS employees? Mini throws out the raw meat for a few sentences or paragraphs, and the piling on in the comments commences immediately. I read the comments more than his stuff now...lol
  8. Beyond a BS or BA degree, your academic credentials are primarily important to HR, and perhaps senior management. Assuming that you have relevant paid professional experience, that matters more than your post-graduate education.
  9. Although you may be (or have in the past) working in a complete hellhole, don't ever, ever, ever trash your current or former employer(s) in your resume or in interviews. You will immediately get deep-sixed without remorse or guilt on the part of the hiring authority. The time to reveal these 'learning experiences' is after you're hired and after you get the lay of the land in the new environment.
  10. You've had 4 jobs in 4 years, and, as JT notes, you're not a consultant? You have a big problem. I don't know how you go about fixing it other than: a) become a consultant or contractor; or b) get in somewhere, somehow and stay put. And by all means, fix the problem that caused this situation, because it won't go away unless you do something to address it.
  11. It is very, very easy and inexpensive to run background checks on anyone these days. As such, bald-face lies about employment, academic credentials, any criminal history, etc. will be outed in short order. Don't do it.
  12. Treat your professional references like family. I'm very protective of mine. If you apply for a lot of contract positions, the time to reveal your references is not when the recruiter calls asking for your resume. It's when you've had an interview with the client, and then provide them directly to the client, not to the body shop. What happens if you reveal your references to every recruiter that contacts you is that they call your references, and its not to talk about you. Rather, its to drum up more business for them. That can get highly annoying to your references if you're on a substantial job search and they're getting 5-10 calls a day from recruiters dropping your name and asking for business. In fact, they usually become your ex-references shortly after such an experience. And don't fall for the crap recruiters give you that they can't present your resume without the references. They certainly can, and will if you're qualified, but will lie to you just to see if you'll capitulate. Legit recruiters never do this, and terminate conversations with those that do.
  13. Same thing goes for your Social Security number and other personal information. The time to reveal all of that is when you get a serious, legit offer in writing. Not before.
  14. Finally, what counts the most in a job search is getting in front of the people in direct position to hire you. That isn't HR, and never was. If you can get an 'in' within some organization (back to the networking again), you will be miles ahead of any competitors for the position. HR only can hire HR people, but some $12-per-hour HR clerk with no clue about what the work we do can screen you out so that the real hiring authority never sees your credentials. That's why networking and getting to know as many good professional folks as well as you can is so valuable.
I better stop before this gets too long-winded...and I hear a glass of wine calling my name and a quiet Saturday evening before next week's slog to enjoy...:)

Robert - great thoughts here. I think social networking is too undervalued among many tech people, and agree that the best positions are found that way. I also like your emphasis on thinking skills versus tech trademark skills.

I hope prospects are reading this family of posts!
Everyday when I log on I open my favorite file and read at least one review written by Bob.
This one was really good.
I don't have experience in looking for a new job. I work in the same town and on the same job for 20 years...I'm business owner and I hire new people occasionally.
These tips will help me to choose better people for my team in future...
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