Archive for October, 2010

The worst way to start a résumé

October 26, 2010

As I go through dozens of resumes, I’m amazed by how many people still waste the crucial top two inches of their resumes with drivel like this:

Objective: A fast-paced, challenging programming position or other technical position that will utilize and expand my technical skills and business experience in order to positively contribute to an organization.

You and everybody else, buddy. Why should I give it to you?

That top of the resume is prime visual real estate. It’s the first thing I see when I open your email or Word document. I want to see a summary of who you are, and how you can help me by joining my organization.

Here’s an imaginary summary from a programmer applying for a Linux-based web development position:

7 years professional software development, most recently specializing in Perl and PHP, including

  • Developing object-oriented Perl and PHP, including interfacing with Oracle and MySQL on Linux (3 years)
  • Creating intranet database applications with ColdFusion and Access (2 years)
  • Creating shareware audio analysis programs for Windows in C/C++ (5 years)

In just a few lines, she’s summarized the real meat of who she is and what she’s going to bring to the position. The key words for the job to hit are bolded, to make them easier to find for the reader. Note that in this case, she has not bolded “Windows”, “Access” and “ColdFusion” because that’s not something she chooses to pursue further. It’s part of her background, but not worth emphasizing.

The skeptical reader may ask “But what if she’s applying for something that’s not a Linux web position?” Then she’ll modify her resume for that job when she applies for it. Takes only a few minutes, but it’s more likely to draw the interest of the reader. You’ve got a computer, you’re flexible! Tailor the resume to the position.

The still-skeptical reader may say “But what if I’m applying for 100 different jobs?” Don’t apply for 100 jobs. There aren’t 100 jobs out there that match you and your skills. Why waste your time? Spend the time working on the ones’ that match.

Bonus mini-rant: “References available upon request” is also fluff. Nobody has ever said “Hmm, this guy LOOKS qualified, but doesn’t have references available. I better not bother with an interview.” Kill it.

(Originally posted at

Don’t send two résumés

October 12, 2010

I’ve never received two differing resumes in response to a job ad, but Allison Green has seen a growing trend. Don’t do it. Create one resume that puts you in the best light, and include a cover letter that addresses the needs of the employer and shows that you’re interested in that specific job.

The job interview is not about collecting factual information.

October 10, 2010

There’s a common misconception in the techie community that you should make sure you don’t fall prey to. Here’s what it sounds like.

So I went on the interview, and the interviewer was totally unprepared. First thing he asks me, he says “So, Dave, tell me about yourself.” He’s got my resume right there on the desk in front of him. It’s like he didn’t even read it! What could I say? I said “Well, what do you want to know?”

Poor Dave is laboring under the impression that his interviewer was trying to find out facts about him. Dave’s attitude is basically “RTFM, dude.” Dave’s written down everything on the resume, so why should he have to bother explaining it to the hiring manager?

For the sake of his job search, Dave would do well to learn that Job interviews are not about obtaining factual information about you. They are about assessing the candidate as a person, as potential team member.

If the hiring process was as simple as gathering printed requirements from resumes, there would be no need for interviews. Hiring managers could sit back and shuffle through stacks of paper until the right combination of skills showed up. It’s not that simple. When the hiring manager hires someone, he’s hiring a human being, not a bunch of programming languages and network skill sets off a checklist. Hiring is fundamentally a human process, no matter how computer-oriented we may be.

The question “Tell me about yourself” serves at least three purposes.

  • It gives the candidate a chance to give her elevator speech, to tell about herself and what value she’ll bring to the organization, and set the interview off in a given direction.
  • It lets the manager see how well prepared the candidate is for the interview.
  • It lets the candidate show how well-spoken she is.
  • It lets the manager get an idea of the candidate’s attitude and personality. In Dave’s case, his attitude is terrible and that will come out. Dave won’t get the job.
  • It lets the manager compare what you tell him with what’s on the resume, to see if there are any discrepancies.

The worst response to “Tell me about yourself” is to ask “Well, what do you want to know?” What the hiring manager wants to know is what you’ll do to help him make money for the company, or do things faster, because business speaks in terms of money and time. To be able to answer that, you’ll have to be prepared, and probably do some research about the company and the position itself. It should not be a canned answer you use at every company.

None of this is to say that there aren’t incompetent, unprepared interviewers who fall back on “Tell me about yourself”. Chances are, however, that when you’re asked this in an interview, you’re being given a chance to make a good impression and to start the interview right. Don’t blow it by misunderstanding its purpose.

How to explain past problems in a job interview

October 5, 2010

In her recent US News article, the always spot-on Allison Green of Ask A Manager answers the question “How do I explain in an interview that I was fired?” An example from the article is:

“Actually, I was let go. The workload was very high, and I didn’t speak up about that soon enough. I just tried to keep my head down and get it all done. This wasn’t a realistic strategy, and I ended up making some mistakes because of the volume. It taught me a really valuable lesson about the need to communicate better when the workload is a problem and to figure out ways to make sure we’re on the same page about priorities if we’re in a triage mode. Since then, I’ve put a real premium on keeping lines of communication open so that that never happens again.”

Note how this example is much like answering the classic interview question “Tell me about a project that didn’t go so well, and what you learned from it.” You describe a problem clearly, without rancor, and how you dealt with it. After that, you describe what you’ve learned to improve things going forward.

Another key point that she brings up is that you must not be angry about having been fired. In the article, Allison says:

Practice your answer over and over out loud until you can say it calmly. What the interviewer is going to be paying a lot of attention to–almost more than the substance of your answer–is how you talk about it: Do you seem bitter and angry about it? Have you learned from the experience? How has it changed the way you conduct business? You want to really pay attention to how you deliver it.

This is fantastic advice for your entire interview, too. Are you one of those people who is easily angered? Do you find yourself irritated when talking about people you work with that you may not pull their weight, or perform as well as you? If so, chances are that irritation is coming out when you interview as well, and it doesn’t help you at all.

Every interview you go on is going to have at least one form of the “tell me about a problem from the past, how you dealt with it, and what you learned” question. Come up with an answer for it beforehand, and know what you’re going to say. Practice it. Make sure you are entirely without rancor or fingerpointing in your delivery. Role-play with a friend and see what they say. You might think you’re sounding calm, but a fresh set of ears may tell you otherwise.

Check out Allison’s article, and visit her main blog Ask a Manager. Allison is a must-add for your feed reader.

Milwaukee JobCamp, a free all-day job hunting event, is this Thursday

October 5, 2010

Thursday, October 7th, 2010 is the fourth Milwaukee JobCamp. This free day-long event takes over a huge amount of space at the Potawotami Casino conference. There will be sessions on a huge variety of topics related to the job hunt, as well as a resume help desk room and, of course, lots and lots of networking with others.

I hope to see you there. I’ll be talking about how the hiring manager sees the hiring process, and how to use that to your advantage in the interview.