Interview and resume tips (and horror stories)

Andrew Tetlaw, blogger at Dexagogo and author of many great JavaScript libraries, recently had this to say:

Telephone interviews are hard.

They most certainly are, from both ends of the receiver.

Back from 1997 through 2003, I gave well over a hundred technical interviews for a recruiting company. They (the recruiters) would call me up, give me the candidate’s name, resume, and contact information, and tell me about the position they were in consideration for. It was my job to figure out if they were qualified.

About a third of the people I interviewed were not qualified for the jobs they were applying for. Another third were qualified, but not solid candidates. The last third, those members of the lucky pie slice, got my approval to be put in front of a potential employer.

The reasons why people were not qualified varied. Some were over their head (applying for jobs beyond their skill sets). Some thought they knew what they didn’t. Some had barely any IT qualifications whatsoever. This was the 1990’s, after all, a time when paper MCSE’s were flooding the country faster than monkeys attack a truck full of bananas.

In the process of interviewing people, I learned a lot about what to say (and not say) in an interview, and what to put (and not put) on your resume. I tried to educate people to these finer points when I realized they needed some tutoring. Some highlights follow.

If you don’t know anything about it, don’t bring it up.
Me: “So, tell me what you know about [insert technology name here].”
Them: “Uh, I don’t know anything about that.”
Me: “But it’s on your resume.”
Them: “The recruiter told me to put it there.”
Me: “Is the recruiter on the interview with you?”
Them: “No.”
Me: “Then take it off your resume.”

If you put it on your resume, be ready to talk about it, even if it’s irrelevant to the job.
Me: “I see you took a class in robotics in trade school. Can you tell me a bit about it?”
Them: “Well, um, I really don’t remember much about it.”
Me: “Then take it off your resume.”

Read your resume.
Me: “Can you tell me about your experience with [insert product name here]?”
Them: “I don’t have any.”
Me: “It says on your resume that you have experience with it.”
Them: “How did that get there?”

Sometimes, even if it’s true, don’t say it.
Me: “So, why did you leave your last job?”
Them: “I didn’t get along with my boss.”
Me: “Why is that?”
Them: “He was an idiot.”

Confidence is good, but don’t get cocky.
Me: “So, tell me what your biggest professional failure is?”
Them: “I never made a mistake.”
Me: “Congratulations, you just made your first one.”

Be well-rounded. If you’re not, become well-rounded.
Me: “What’s the last book you read?”
Them: “I don’t read books.”

As unbelievable as it may seem, those are direct adaptations of real situations that I encountered over the years.

Do you have any interview tips or horror stories?

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