Don’t Lie on Your Resume!

It sounds obvious, right? You’d be surprised how many resumes I’ve seen that list experience that people just don’t have. For instance, awhile back you may have heard the news about former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson lying on his resume about having a degree in Computer Science. This was back in 2012. At the time, there was a lot of outrage over this, and without a doubt, I shared the same views as many over this scandal. But after reading about it, and Yahoo’s initial “sheepish-grin-non-chalant-we’re-looking-into-it-wink-wink” response, I have to say that Thompson’s lying is indicative of a huge problem in our society, and that is the win-at-any-cost attitude that seems to pervade all levels of our society; even in education.

Following that news, there were major stories of cheating and lying in education. In addition to the Yahoo scandal, there was a student who got caught cheating in an honors class at Sierra High School recently. But the worst of it was his attorney father suing the school to get him admitted back into the program so it wouldn’t ruin his chances to get into an Ivy League school.

Are some people so morally corrupt and lacking in integrity that they’d even consider condoning this behavior? Apparently so. I listened to a panel discussion on NPR about this topic and a person called in and totally shocked me by admitting to cheating with other students in high school honors classes to get into the best colleges. They even maintained their lack of moral fiber and justified their cheating by saying that “it had to be done to get into quality universities.”

In my professional career as a software engineer and engineering manager, I’ve literally seen thousands of resumes. And I’ve gotten to the point where if I see that someone’s experience seems too good to be true it probably is too good to be true and I throw their resume in the waste bin.

But still, some slip through the cracks – and they even get hired. I once approved the hiring of an engineer who just happened to be the friend of a colleague. They vouched for him so naturally, I leaned heavily on their feedback. His resume looked great as well. He claimed that he was a manager at PayPal and when I asked him about this experience he looked me in the eye and talked about what he did (looking back, I realize that he cleverly answered my questions without really answering definitively – my bad for not catching it).

In any case, little did we know that once he was hired, he was in completely over his head. He knew very little about software engineering and had very little knowledge of UI languages (he was hired as a UI Engineer). And worse yet, he had an extremely toxic personality and loved to play politics. Needless to say, a few months into his employment, measures were taken to terminate him but he quit before he could get fired.

As a hiring manager, that experience sensitized me to what people put on their resumes and even more so, what I put on mine. And I’m not alone in this. Several other managers that I know have started putting extra scrutiny on resumes. So beware.

Ugh! Another Resume Tip? This One Is Important

Having been a hiring manager on and off over the last 25 years, I’ve reviewed thousands of resumes. And I have to tell you that 95% of the resumes I see are – for lack of a better word – shit. This has never wavered whether I’ve looked to fill business positions or technical positions. Most resumes I get are crap.

I understand that I might be missing out on some potentially talented people, but the way I figure it, a resume gives me a first impression as to whether or not to talk to a candidate. And those whose resumes don’t possess a couple of critical traits will cause me to immediately pass on those candidates.

And when I say a “couple of traits,” I literally mean that I look at two traits, and no, unlike what seems to be popular these days with certain Mountain View, CA companies, one of those is NOT education.

Professional Summary

The first thing I look at is a professional summary or summary of qualifications. This is a simple paragraph that describes who you are and of what you’re capable. I really don’t care about an objective. After all, those are usually tailored to a specific position. Look, I know what you want to do. Your professional summary tells me why I should even take a closer look.

I’m not going to give examples here as there are plenty to be found online. So suffice it to say that your professional summary is your “elevator pitch.” In sales, this is your 10-15 seconds to catch the attention of your prospect, as if you were in an elevator and only had a little time to sell your product. In this case, the product is you, and the prospect is the hiring manager.

Employment

Here’s where I’m going to rant a bit because this is where so many resumes get thrown in the trash. I can’t tell you how many resumes I’ve seen where instead of describing what they did or accomplished in a company, they use that space to describe what the company does! When I see this, my immediate reaction is, So WHAT?!!! I don’t care what the company you worked for does, I care about what YOU did there! This is said while the crumpled resume sails through the air on its way to the trash.

For software engineers, you need to have the following:

  1. Projects you worked on and your role in said projects
  2. Any professional accomplishments/achievements while employed there
  3. Technologies, frameworks, libraries, and methodologies you employed.

For more experienced engineers, the lists might take up some space. You can keep to your top three for items 1 and 2, but you should list as many as you can remember for item 3.

I realize that you might be worried that your resume will take more than three printed pages when you do this. But I really don’t know who prints out resumes any longer. Besides, at least for me, I don’t mind scrolling if someone takes the time to describe what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished.

And since employment history is in chronological order, it gives me a great picture of how an engineer has progressed in their career; not just from a technology perspective, but how they’ve grown professionally over time.

The reason I wrote this rant is that I saw the resume of a former employee who is looking for employment. They actually had a great professional summary, but when it got to their work history, they only described the companies for whom they previously worked! I, of course, sent feedback to them and shared – albeit in a much more gentle way than this – how they could improve their resume. Hopefully, they’ll heed the advice.

In any case, especially for those of you entering the workforce, even though you may not have much experience, you’ll raise eyebrows if you tell the hiring manager:

  • Who you are
  • What you’ve done
  • What you’ve accomplished

Simple, right? And no, it’s not “easier said than done.” We sell ourselves every day. A resume is just another form of expression.

Five Feet In Front

I’m sure you’ve heard of or read many inspirational sayings around being in the “NOW,” living in the present, etc. I myself as a former youth minister and career coach and mentor to many young people have given talks revolving around this subject.

One of my favorite sayings came from my own mentor who once told me, “Be clear about your goals, then give them up to the Universe, and the details will take care of themselves.” I know, it’s a real New Age-y thing to say, but it did strike home. What it told me was to stop focusing my attention on the little process details of achieving my goals. If I’m clear about what I wish to achieve and internalize what achievement of a goal means, I’ll naturally make the appropriate choices and changes in my life to achieve a goal.

That was advice I got literally thirty years ago. But let’s fast-forward to a conversation I recently had with my eldest son. He was lamenting the fact that he had studied a creative degree in college and couldn’t seem to find a job in his chosen field of study. He has been justifiably frustrated with this, and though he has gotten several side projects, he hasn’t been able to secure full-time employment in his field.

I empathized with him and told him I understood, but in addition, I happened to say this: “Son, you’re a dreamer like me. We look into the future and see all the possibilities the future has in store, and we want them now. But the reality is that we just can’t reach out to the future and grab our dreams and make them an instant reality. We have to deal with what we have – now – right in front of us. We have real issues that we need to face – now – right in front of us. This frustration you’re feeling is because you’ve got your eyes so fixed on the horizon that you’re stumbling on the obstacles that pop up right in front of you.’

‘Look, it’s not bad to have a dream, but there are more immediate things you need to take care of first to even start making your dreams a reality. For instance, you need to pay for your current life – food, rent, car, etc. So for now, instead of looking so far ahead that you miss what’s in front of you, put your focus five feet in front of you. You’ll still be able to see the future in the distance, but I guarantee you won’t trip on the obstacles that come your way.”

That was met with a little silence, and I realized that I had said something that hit home, something that he could conceptually work with. We’ve had these kinds of talks previously, but until that particular conversation, nothing really hit home.

After we hung up, I thought about what I had said and came up with a little mantra for myself that I’ll share here:

Focus five feet in front… (repeat)

As I said to my son if your focus is too far in the distance, you will stumble over the obstacles right in front of you. With a closer focus, you can avoid those obstacles.

The problem with focusing too far in the future is that just like looking out to the far horizon, you can’t make out any detail of objects, and by the time you reach that point in the distance, you oftentimes find that what you were looking at wasn’t at all what you thought.

For instance, one day recently, I was driving down the road and saw a shape in the distance. I immediately thought it was a dead animal, and it made me feel bad. But as I got closer, it turned out to be nothing but a brown piece of cloth that had bunched up. From a distance, it looked like a dead animal lying on its side. I laughed at my assumption. But that’s the point to this. Things far in the distance aren’t necessarily what they seem.

Another thing about our future is that it’s shaped like a funnel. We stand at the narrowest part of the funnel. As the funnel widens, so too do the number of different possibilities available to us. What causes so many of us so much anxiety is that when we place our focus into the wide-open spaces of the funnel, there are just too many possibilities to consider.

A common thing many of us do when faced with different possibilities is playing “what-if” games with ourselves. It’s fine to do with just a few possibilities, but imagine if there were lots of possibilities that we had to evaluate, which would be the case when we’re looking far into the future where there are several possibilities from which to choose. Add to that what I said about things in the distance not being what they seem from our current perspective – which means we’re also possibly playing what-if games with things that are not yet clear nor distinct. The net result is we become frozen because there are just too many factors we’re considering.

The way to overcome that is to bring our focus in where the number of possibilities is at an amount with which we can deal and the possibilities are things we can clearly identify. I use the “five feet in front” analogy to help drive that home. Now, some can handle more possibilities at once, but the point is to bring our focus back to where we can comfortably deal with the possibilities or issues within the limits of that focus.

Back in the early 90’s, I got into that “Personal Power” trend. I attended a different program, but it was similar to the Tony Robbins seminars. With those programs, one of the first things they’d drive home is that one of the ways to get yourself on a successful track was to start with achieving little goals first. Get the little wins to get you in the habit of achieving your goals.

The concept of focusing five feet in front plays nicely into that. When our focus is closer, it is easy to set easily achievable goals because the possibilities are right in front of us, and there are fewer possibilities to consider. As we learn to take care of those things and make them second-nature, we can start looking a bit further ahead at more distant goals. But our priority should be to take care of those things in front of us first.

Bear in mind, that this shouldn’t preclude us from looking to the future. But we should do it with the understanding that there are things that need our immediate attention first. So move your focus back, get the little wins first, and you’ll find that a whole new world may open up for you.