There are times that I have to interview a lot of Engineering candidates. Unfortunately, many are clearly unqualified, yet somehow sneak past the first-line screeners. My standards are fairly high, and I expect prospective employees and contractors to possess strong attention to detail. Most do not.
The first step I take is to get out my blue ink and yellow highlighter pens. Everything interesting on the résumé I circle in blue, while every mistake or potential issue I highlight in yellow. If, after a page or two, I see more yellow than blue, the résumé is trashed — which, in HR speak, means that the résumé is kept for six months in a manilla folder marked “Never, Ever Hire!” [OK, not really, but the idea has its appeal.]
It seems that many candidates don’t bother to click the “Check Spelling” button.
- If you proclaim yourself as a “Sun Certificied Java Progrmmer” or you have a “Masters in Business Adminstration“, well… kthxbye.
- I am frequently amazed by the numbers of “extra-cuccicular activities” that candidates do.
- It seems very few can spell the word “architecture”. One Stanford-degreed engineer “ported code to PowerPC architcture.” Another worked on “the design & architucture of the latest release.” A third “created and oversaw all information arcitecture and Flash developement.”
In the unlikely event that all the words in a résumé are spelled correctly, it does not mean the words actually go together.
- If something is “reputed”, it is something that is generally considered or believed; it has nothing to do with “reputation” or being “reputable”. Candidates frequently erringly claim to have been “trained by reputed companies”, “worked for reputed organizations“, or just dreamed “to work in a well reputed organization.” I most often see this on résumés from engineers trained in India, not surprisingly because job positions in India are often similarly misdescribed, further reinforcing the problem.
- One programmer’s objective was to obtain “a challenge job in software engineering that has growth opportunity.” And further down, “Lead the offshore development team and explain them the key features.” They were clearly part of the offshore development team.
- Someone claimed that they “learnt various technologies fast in pace with requirements of the project demands.” I will accept all valid spelling, even if considered archaic or uncommon in the United States, as long as the words are spelled consistently throughout the document, but the rest of the sentence still has to make sense.
- You know you have a “winner” when they describe their job as, “Evaluate our systems to decide which system performance the best” and “Doing research on high risky accounts”.
I typically go against the hiring norm by holding less importance to education and technical knowledge than having the essential ability to reason. One of the best Java developers I ever hired had never previously coded in Java; his prior experience was all development on mainframes. Candidates possessing a degree from MIT most likely had smart, successful parents, but it doesn’t actually say anything about their own abilities.
If someone makes it past the at-home, written test (creating the résumé) and graduates to the in-person interview, at a minimum they will be asked a few soft-ball technical questions on subjects about which they have claimed expertise in writing.
- Unfortunately, sometimes the first time I see a résumé is within ten minutes of being forced to interview them because they’re already inside the building. The same candidate above who couldn’t spell the name of her own city claimed to have created custom tag libraries for JSPs, but had no idea what a TLD file is. She also indicated she was very knowledgeable in the use of regular expressions, but couldn’t create the most basic regex to replace the word “cat” with the word “dog” in a sentence.
- Contrary to popular advice, do not sprinkle keywords throughout your résumé unless you truly have expertise in those areas. Usually the sprinkling is way too obvious, and you just come across as deceptive and dishonest during the in-person interview.
- Never let someone write your résumé for you. Many “professional” résumé writers simply cut and paste work experience from one résumé to the next. Their pre-formed descriptions most likely do not match your expertise, thereby essentially padding your résumé with lies. On a single day, I received twelve near identical résumés from different candidates, all with the same spelling, formatting, and grammatical mistakes. It’s simple: if you won’t bother writing your own résumé, I won’t bother hiring you.
When people can’t be bothered to write, proofread, and triple-check their own résumés — which are theoretically used to sell themselves in the absolute best light possible — it tends to mirror the work they do on the job: mistake-ridden, buggy, and with a lack of attention to detail.
Your résumé is your most important sales tool. It is a reflection of you, and it should be perfect. Spell check your résumé, then show it to friends or colleagues (preferably native English speakers) and ask them to proofread it.
The simplest mistake can make the difference between receiving an offer letter and being delegated to the round file. I usually won’t trash a résumé of an engineer due to a few minor spelling or grammatical mistakes, especially when the applicant simply misused a homophone or capitonym that any spell checker would miss. However, technical writers are obviously held to even higher English language standards, while designers quickly lose marks for visual errors such as misformatting or inconsistencies in font weights, sizes, and styles.
Oh, one last piece of advice: if you manage to get past the résumé filter and the phone screen, try not to be a complete moron. A recent candidate was late to an interview because he had forgotten to push the ninth-floor button in the elevator. After a few minutes of inactivity, the lights went out to save power, and he stood there in the dark for 20 minutes. Noticing that he was late, our receptionist called him on his cell phone, at which point he reported that he was stuck on the sixth floor with the lights out. He neither had the insight to try pushing our floor button, or even to call anyone for assistance.
Uhh, thank you for your time. Don’t call us; we’ll… (ahem)… yeah, we’ll call you. Sure we will.