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My pet peeves on resumes

Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
I posted 4 jobs on Craig's List (Boston) this past weekend--2 developer, 1 network admin, 1 senior QA. By mid day today I had about 50 resumes. Here are some general comments.
Note that I tend to think differently than the mainstream, at least based on experiences I heard from others and articles I read, so feel free to ignore my comments. Also, I primarily work for startups, large corporations may have more time and prefer more formality.
In general, I don't want to spend more than 30 seconds looking at a resume. Make it easy for me.
Cover Letters
I generally don't read them. I may glance at them, but for more than 90% of the candidates, I don't bother. Proper text is too inefficient. It's only if I see a borderline case (after looking at the resume) that I'll pay attention to what you wrote in the cover letter. Also, if the cover letter is poorly written it certainly won't help. A short letter which says

I saw your posting for a FooBar developer at JobSite and am submitting my resume.

is about all I need. Maybe point to relevant work experience if it's a close match.
Objective
Who's keeps telling people to put down an objective? Yes, when you are in college or maybe 0-3 years out, it would be useful. If you have 5 years experience as a developer and are applying for a development position, what's the objective going to tell me that I don't already know? (And does anyone not want a "challenging" position?)

List the position
Companies are often looking for multiple positions at the same time. I don't care if you send me a generic form letter, but I do need to know which position you are applying to, "engineer" doesn't distinguish it. On that note, letting me know where you saw the job is also helpful, because it tells me which avenues are working.
Details
Yes, you should list positive results like "increased savings" but if you only say "wrote administration software which increased savings on support" it doesn't tell me what you did. Was that a 50,000 line 6 month project of 4 people in C++ or was that a 3 week 1 person project in javascript? I need details about what you did.
Avoid generic phrases
Describing yourself as "detailed oriented" or a "creative problem solver" is useless. We all think we're smart, knowledgable, good-looking and able to leap tall building in a single bound. Prove it. If you can show or even hint at this with a project description, great. Otherwise, when phrases like that are put in a cover letter, or even worse, a resume, I assume it's filler because you don't have anything more worthwhile to say.
Resume Length and White Space
You don't have to restrict your resume to 1 page, but at the same time, it shouldn't be 5 pages either. I especially don't want a full paragraph on every 3 month project you ever did.
On a related note, be conscious of space. Some resumes look like book reports. Resumes are summary information. It's ok to use sentance fragments and be brief. I don't want to read 5 pages of prose.
Also, while I understand the trend and need to put laundry lists of technologies and buzz words on your resume, be conscious of how you do it. If you take up half a page with a vertical list of acronyms you make your resume look long and empty.
Your own company is often a flag
A number of people list their own company as work. In some cases they say they did consulting/contracting, but don't list the clients. It looks like BS unless you say specifically what you did for whom.
When you are the founder and principal (or similar role) in the company, it basically looks like you're trying to dress up the fact that you couldn't get jobs elsewhere and took brief contracts.
[ November 10, 2003: Message edited by: Mark Herschberg ]
Matt Cao
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 03, 2003
Posts: 715
Hi,
On general all resume areas you comment very much the same for every company "resumes filter" except for cover page. It is depended on your time at hand. If you have free time, look for something that different than info in the resume. If not then the date sent and the ad source are enough.
Regards,
MCao
Kevin Thompson
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 04, 2001
Posts: 237
Are you saying that self-employed people should HIDE the fact that they were or are self employed?
THat is what I always thought also!
And the reason that self-employment has to be hidden is because employers want passive people (not self starters like self-employed people)
Kevin
Matt Cao
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 03, 2003
Posts: 715
Hi,
Self-employment should have an additional page called Resume Addenum where you listed your clients, location, and year. No need in detail.
It is also depended on who are your clients. For example, if students obviously cash base, there is no need to create another page. If your clients have a business, then cash is irrelevant.
Regards,
MCao
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Kevin Thompson:
Are you saying that self-employed people should HIDE the fact that they were or are self employed?

No, I'm saying give details. Below are two made up examples (ignore the formatting).
Good
MyCompany May 2002-present
Some-Dot-Com Company Feb 2003-Sept 2003
Work on a 4 person team developing new e-commerce site. Worked on search engine to use AI algorithms for searching across list of products. Created dynamically generated search input form page based on users prior searches.
Some-other Company May 2002-Nov 2002
Intregated legacy Fortran code into current EJB framework using JMS in CORBA. Lead functional spec development of project team. Created test harness using JUnit and home grown tools.

Bad
MyCompany May 2002-present
- Developed e-commerce sites
- Created test system
- Wrote specifications
- Lead teams
- Created AI search algorithms
- Facilitated rapid deployment of systems

These are overgeneralized, but the concepts hold. The latter is too general. There are no details about what was done. An e-commerce site could be built in 10 days or 10 months. Knowing the project duration and the company gives me an idea of the scope. Comments like "lead teams" doesn't tell me a thing. Likewise the AI search algorithms sound much more interesting in the context of how they were used.
Also, the last comment about facilitating is useless. What does that mean? How did you "facilitate?" Did you create a new deployment process? Did you use a tool? ("Rapid deployment" is another vague term, although at least I know what to start asking, "facilitated" is way too undefined.)
--Mark
D. Rose
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 25, 2003
Posts: 215
Mark, You are giving very valuable advice through 2-3 threads in this area. I have one question though. You said your resume should not be 5 pages but if a person has more experience ( say 10 years) then how should he list all experience? Shall he give details of only latest 2-3 years and summarize all previous years? What is your opinion?
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
I've seen resumes of 20 years fit on 2 pages. My guess is that even for 10 years, unless you're changing jobs often or have a lot of non-work activities*, you can fit it on 2-3 pages if formatted well. I suppose it might be harder for consultants who regularly do new projects every 6 months. In that case, it may be appropriate to only detail the more relevant work, and provide only 1-2 sentances for the other projects. I'm not sure, I'd have to see some resumes to get a better sense of it.
*On my resume, in addition to work and education, I list speaking engagements, patents, committees, and "other work" like doing book reviews for publishers and my work here at JavaRanch.
--Mark
Matthew Phillips
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 09, 2001
Posts: 2676
Would you recommend listing open source projects seperately from "real" jobs or lump it in with employment history?


Matthew Phillips
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Two other complaints. Just because you think you're the perfect fit, that doesn't mean the hiring manager thinks you are.
One guy wrote to complain that he had every qualification. He didn't; he interpreted our need for experience 24x7 high volume linux servers as equated to linux experience. I'm sure other postings may be more subtle. A job might post "C" developer and have something more specific in mind, but may not be able to express it well (especially if it passes through "HR touch-up" before bieng posted).
Another wrote that he applied months ago (before I was here), had never heard back and noticed that the position is still open. He kinda smirked about how we seem unable to fill the position and implied that if we had interviewed him, we could have filled it by now. Some candidates simply aren't qualified. I do respect his willingness to follow up any lead and it was unfortunate that the company didn't reply to him earlier, but the fact is, he isn't what we're looking for.

Originally posted by Matthew Phillips:
Would you recommend listing open source projects seperately from "real" jobs or lump it in with employment history?

I'd probably split it, expecially since the times overlap with work experience, and that often raises a flag.
--Mark
Tony Collins
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 03, 2003
Posts: 435
Well I think the ball is in the employers court and us employees just can't do anything about it.
Tony
Jeroen Wenting
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 12, 2000
Posts: 5093
Originally posted by Mark Herschberg:
Two other complaints. Just because you think you're the perfect fit, that doesn't mean the hiring manager thinks you are.

Now if the hiring manager would express that properly in the rejection notice the applicant won't be left wondering...
I've experienced it myself, meeting every published qualification for the job yet getting a rejection notice that you're not qualified very quickly.
Questions for more details to the HR person typically go unanswered.

One guy wrote to complain that he had every qualification. He didn't; he interpreted our need for experience 24x7 high volume linux servers as equated to linux experience. I'm sure other postings may be more subtle. A job might post "C" developer and have something more specific in mind, but may not be able to express it well (especially if it passes through "HR touch-up" before bieng posted).

That's a big problem I have experience with myself.
At one interview it quickly turned out I was not the person the company needed yet I fitted the profile perfectly.
Turned out HR had completely rewritten the profile into something that had no relation at all to the one the department had turned in and never told the department.
We put the 2 together after which I got a big apology for them wasting my time.

Another wrote that he applied months ago (before I was here), had never heard back and noticed that the position is still open. He kinda smirked about how we seem unable to fill the position and implied that if we had interviewed him, we could have filled it by now. Some candidates simply aren't qualified. I do respect his willingness to follow up any lead and it was unfortunate that the company didn't reply to him earlier, but the fact is, he isn't what we're looking for.

Poor response from the person, but an understandable one.
Ever more you notice that there simply is no response to job applications sent out to companies at all, or if there is it's only a 1 line rejection notice after several questions for an update.
Would you have invited him in had you seen his resume and not sent that letter? Might be time to review your company's procedures to see why that person never got a response (let alone was interviewed in person if he indeed matched the profile).


42
Al Newman
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 30, 2003
Posts: 716
Originally posted by Tony Collins:
Well I think the ball is in the employers court and us employees just can't do anything about it.
Tony

Way too passive, Tony. You must go elsewhere when this happens. The largest factor in a successful job-hunt is one thing:
Sheer, bull-headed stubborness.


SCJP1.4, SCWCD
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Jeroen Wenting:

Now if the hiring manager would express that properly in the rejection notice the applicant won't be left wondering...
I've experienced it myself, meeting every published qualification for the job yet getting a rejection notice that you're not qualified very quickly.
Questions for more details to the HR person typically go unanswered.

As I've noted in another thread, we'll get sued if we're not careful. People can whine about how "you can give feedback without doing anything to get sued" but sooner or later someone slips up, crosses a line, and you do get sued. Saying nothing keeps it simple. Having a policy of saying nothing protects the company if an employee "breaks company policy" and does say something.
Also, I've had candidates who we've rejected because they are "creepy." You can't say that, and I won't lie, so there's not much I can tell them. Then when 98% of the applicants get responses like "not enough experience with foo" the 2% who didn't sue you and say, "if you had a legit reason you would have said so, clearly you rejected me for an unfair reason like age, race, or gender."
Think about sexual harassment and all the silly policies companies have adopted. I'm not talking about thing like "don't make lewd comments" but more like the "contracts" some companies had co-workers sign if they wanted to date. It seemed so silly. Do you really think the company wanted to do this? Of course not, but in our sue-at-the-drop-of-a-hat society, comapnies have no choice. While it is unfortunate, this is the environment in which we operate.

Originally posted by Jeroen Wenting:

Would you have invited him in had you seen his resume and not sent that letter?

No, as I said before, he's simply not qualified.

Originally posted by Jeroen Wenting:

Might be time to review your company's procedures to see why that person never got a response (let alone was interviewed in person if he indeed matched the profile).

Well, that's because we had no process in place prior to my joining. This was one of the many reasons I was hired. Although frankly, I am a bit tempted to not responded to some resumes. When I say I'm looking for someone with 6+ years maintaining high scale linux production servers with 24x7 support and I get a resume of smeone with 3 years experience fixing computers (listing linux as an OS with which he's familiar, even though there's no other indication of it in his experience), I need to wonder if he really read the listing. I don't mind people stretching for a position, but this is so obviously underqualified.
--Mark
SJ Adnams
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 28, 2001
Posts: 925
When I say I'm looking for someone with 6+ years maintaining high scale linux production servers

Live in the real world?
linux may have been used for sendmail servers, or routing/firewalls 6 years ago, but "high scale linux production servers"?? What the hell do you expect?
It's as bad as ad's for "5 years J2EE". Now J2EE may just have been around 5 years ago but the "high scale" systems were running kivasoft/c++.
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Sorry, I didn't express that as well a I did in the job posting. Those are two different requirements:
6+ year experience as a sys admin
experience with maintaining high scale linux production servers
--Mark
 
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subject: My pet peeves on resumes
 
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