Resume inflation – Welcome to the New World

In North America, there has been a lot of focus on the recent stories involving television newscasters/journalists who have “inflated” their resumes.  Brian Wiliams was the first big one, and is now facing a 6 month suspension for exaggerating claims for battlefield experiences during the Iraq conflict.  Now Bill O’Reilly is facing similar questioning of his claims of journalistic heroism during the Falkland’s war in 1982.  In both cases you see a massive outpouring of words and opinions on how these two men have lied, or embellished their experiences, in an effort to establish themselves in their profession.

The whole thing puts a small sour grin on my face.  In the technical world, we have been dealing with this for at least the last two decades.  For almost as long as I can remember, I have been talking to software vendors, software contractors, and people that I am looking to hire, and silently asking myself the same question, “Is this person telling me what they can do, or are they telling me what they think they can do?”.

In the software products field, it has become something of a game, where purchasers put the various solution vendors through a series of trials to demonstrate capability.  I have always jokingly referred to this as the “Vendor Olympics”.  The scary part is that these competitions are often decided on criteria that have little to do with technical capability, and more to do with trust.  “Can I trust this vendor to do what they tell me they are going to do?”, is often the most important question.  That type of thinking has led to organizations implementing flawed solutions, because, “nobody ever got fired for selecting IBM/Microsoft/Cisco“.  This kind of thinking leads organizations and individuals to indulge in some strange behaviors.

It leads organizations into “pushing the envelope” when looking to recruit talent.  “We’re an Agile development shop”, is a quote that you hear from almost any place looking to hire top talent.  Top talent wants to work with Agile, which emphasizes a degree of reasonable expectations on a developer.  If you go and look at the development methodologies in use at these places, you will find a mix of agile, waterfall, scrummerfall, eXtreme Programming (XP), and mass confusion.  They are telling you what they think they can be, and not really what they are.

Job seekers are just as bad.  I cannot begin to tell you how many candidates I have interviewed who claim to possess skills that they don’t really have.  I have had candidates tell me that they know Agile, and then struggle to tell me about how story points work.  These are the good candidates, because I can get to the truth with a few simple questions.  The tough ones are the people who claim to have deep technical skills with REST, HEAT, Cloud, Enterprise software, and other things that I cannot ascertain with a few simple questions.

Why do they do it?  Have you LOOKED at the job posting boards out there?  Companies are looking for “perfect” fits, advertising jobs with a laundry list of critical skills, and HR organizations are looking for keywords in applicant resumes.  Do you have experience in complex technical sales involving Cloud solutions?  I do, but not many other people do.  Many are just as qualified as I am, they just need a minimal amount of time to learn some new concepts.  So in an effort to get through the HR screening process, many job seekers “inflate” their resumes, so they can get that initial conversation with a hiring manager.  It becomes a big game.

So why bother writing about this?  Because I am growing tired of having to play this game.  Don’t inflate your experiences, just tell me what you know and how deep you know it.  Don’t tell me, “oh yeah, I know Node”.  I would much rather hear about how you are familiar with Node, haven’t done any real projects with it, but are extremely interested in learning it.  I am tired of HR finding me “perfect” fits.  I want imperfect fits.  I want people who are going to be challenged, and who like learning and stretching themselves and their skills.  I value the following qualities over all else:

  • Honesty
  • Willingness to learn
  • Ability to learn

So I am imploring my HR staff, now and in the future, to quit finding me the perfect candidate, and to stop sifting through resumes looking for keywords.  I want to build flexible teams, with high trust cultures, that can rapidly become high performing teams.  If I can’t trust you to be honest on your resume, how can I trust you to do a quality job for me?  I do NOT want a bunch of specialists, who are as busy looking for their next position as they are in working on my project.  We need to stop the inefficient hiring games, and we need to get down to the business of actually creating something of value.  We need to reestablish trust in the workplace, and it all begins in the hiring process.

So be warned – if I catch a hint of resume inflation, I will not hire you.  Even if you would have been a good fit otherwise.  My three values are listed above – if you want to impress me, then demonstrate those values to me.

2 thoughts on “Resume inflation – Welcome to the New World

  1. I like this post and completely agree. I would add though that part of the problem in the strategy is the list of required skills and experience it is put for the “perfect match” for the first HR filter, so basically nobody will ever fit. And then I remember several years ago receiving a call and the HR at the other side didn’t have a clue what was asking for,, but was needed for the job! 🙂

    1. dtoczala

      Jorge, I agree that hiring managers can be their own enemy when putting together required skills. I have seen some postings with required skills, and then another section with preferred skills. I like that approach, it allows us to define what skills are absolutely necessary, and which skills can be developed while ramping up in a new position.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.