Aquarium Blog

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Résumé tips: How to tell the truth and stay honest

I found my résumé entry in the drafts...

Today I am polishing my résumé for the 4th time in the last months. I recently had a couple of job interviews that helped me find there was something very wrong with my way of portraying my skills.

The front page of my résumé has all my personal data on top, followed by a "Professional Profile" section that is what I would call my "short résumé". It is just a bulleted list of the most relevant things I would like prospective employers to know about me. Of course I have made my best effort for everything in the bulleted list to be the truth, only the truth and nothing else but the truth:

- First comes my University degree.

- Second, my “say it in a line” assessment of what I am, as a software developer: “Multiple tier database applications development specialist” (I took out the “Complex” word from the beginning of the sentence for simplicity, and I expect to be able to add “.NET” somewhere in the sentences very soon).

- Then, a simple short assessment of the experience I have in software development: fifteen years in software development, and 7 years working with Microsoft tools: VB, MSSQL, COM+, ADO, etc. (of course COM+ is not 7 years old!). I also need to add “.NET” here as soon as I am ready.

- Fourth, there is a short list of the kind of applications and the industries I have worked for: from Pharmacy Benefits Management to Simulation Models, going trough Pension Fund Administration, Public budgeting, Enterprise integration with web services, etc. In this list I try to mention the most exciting things I have worked in, but I also include the boring ones if I have worked in them for a long time.

- In the next two list items I mention things I have basic but usable knowledge about and tools I have used a lot but a long time ago. In the first category there are technologies I haven't had as many chances to work with as I would like, for instance, Microsoft .NET platform. In the second category there are things I would need to relearn or improve a lot on, like C++ and Delphi. Yet others, I have no intention to work with again unless it is strictly necessary, like Clipper or Oracle. They are mostly mentioned for completeness.

As a software developer I still feel confident that I can get productive in a new language or tool in at most a couple of months (of course it takes more to learn a new platform). Eventhough, I have spent most of the last seven years using the same set of tools.

I admit I have been working on some boring things, used some boring tools, etc. But that was because I needed the money to buy food, clothes and some entertainment for a family. I also did it most of the time on job markets that were severely limited, like Mendoza, Argentina (where there is currently no single surviving software company funded by the local private market).

Continuing with my résumé, behind the front page you will find brief descriptions of every job I have had, whether as a dependant or as an independent. Then you will find details about my degrees, spoken languages, etc.

In the last few job interviews I had, I observed some similarities. To make it as graphical as possible, let me exagerate the situations a little bit:

Let's suppost we write the manual for the interviewer:

1. First, you begin by praising the subject, telling you and your company are really very impressed with her/his résumé.

2. Then you toss her/his résumé on your desk, and you chose some random words(i.e.: "basic knowledge", "past experience", "design", etc).

3. Once you have choosed your rando words you replace them with whatever you like (you can chose oposites, i.e.: replace "basic knowledge" with "advanced knowledge", use "vast experience" instead of "past experience", and change "design" to "implementation").

4. Rephrase the sentence in front of the subject, like "Please, tell me about your vast experience as a C++ developer. We think you could be exactly what we are looking for." or "Please, could you tell us how did you implemented PKI for this project? This is the sole reason we called you for the interview." or maybe "How did you acquire your very advanced knowledge of .NET? We are completely committed to this and we are looking for people with experience only."

5. Look at the subject’s eyes with a smile until you make her/him look to another place.

Ok, I am exaggerating quite a bit now. I know my interviewers had no bad intentions. But believe me, my résumé is no exaggeration. It could contain errors, but I have worked to make it precise.

In a situation like the one I have just described, there is no way you can look articulate. What I did in both interviews is to tell the truth, that is, I tried to explain what the written words mean… That was boring, and not useful. And I still feel they looked at me as if I were a fraud anyway.

So what I am doing today is to look for a way to emphasize the “basic knowledge”, “past experience”, “design” words in my résumé. If I cannot find a way, I will take those items out completely.

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