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Resume Selection

For reasons I can't figure out my resume/interview diatribe isn't making it to the appropriate thread. I apologize if this is the third time you're seeing this:

I've done some resume sifting and interviewing on a very small scale, and here are my basic impressions of the process.

The resume should convey information on many different levels.

First, it should let you know on an intellectual/fact based level that whoever you're hiring can do the job. For techical jobs this means putting in the right programming languages, etc.

Second, it should let you know on an emotional/opinion based level that they can do the job. "Hmmm, did JavaScript for two years on small unknown websites, they're probably not as good as the person who did it for 6 months at a Fortune 500 and graduated with a degree in Computer Science."

Third, it should let you know that they can communicate effectively and cleary. Spelling and grammatical mistakes are obvious problems. I think this is where experience in the field really shines. The more experience you have, the more you usually have to say about what you've done. More professional resume's will have fuller sentances describing their job, conveying more of a real picture of what was done than bullet points.

I know people put a lot of mystique into resumes, as if there were some magic formula, some template to follow, but it's usually not that way. Yes there are certain basic formats (skills based, chronological, etc.) but tremendous variation within that.

I would look more closely at the guy who writes "Worked on the network and infrastructure for a medium sized corporation, including configuring the proxy and ns servers" over the guy who writes "worked on network. configured proxy servers. configured ns servers."

Why? Because he removes some of my doubt, and removes some of the questions I have so the interview can focus on other things.

Fourth, I look for the validity and verifiability of the information. A lot of lies are told through vagarities. A lot of times consulting means "unemployed" and attending university, graduating, and graduating with honors are three different things. Level of detail is important, but so is scope. If, in interview, I ask about your experience with, say, JavaScript, and you jump in with some specific examples "I coded rollover scripts for one site, and a drop down navigation for another" I know that those are the only two things you did.

Fifth, I look for a cultural match, which is really hard to do on a resume, but not impossible. I avoid resumes that look like they were written with this:

http://www.dack.com/web/bullshit.html

The cover letter too is important. I think too many career and college counserlors stress the cover letter. A well placed thank you note can often show someone's eagerness, which is a sign that they aren't "in demand."

If you have to sift through 2,000 resume's, perhaps some sort of statistical model needs to be created. (someone mentioned this much earlier) If you're the HR person you should have everyone's resume on file. Come up with a weighted listing of attributes that makes someone a good employee - things you can glean from the resume, and start inputting their numbers into an excel spreadsheet or something.

In "Simple Heuristics that Make Us Smart" by Gerd Gigerenzer and the ABC Research Group ( http://www-abc.mpib-berlin.mpg.de/ ) they propose that "Fast and Frugal Heuristics" can be as good as Multiple Linear Regression and Bayesian statistics.

Basically, the #1 Fast and Frugal Heuristic was "take the best." Come up with various criteria (age, college education, years experience, experience at a fortune 500, experience at a startup, managerial experience, etc.). and run some sample data through it (such as your existing employees and an equal number of resumes of people who didn't get hired).

Figure out which is the single most important indicator as to whether or not you should hire someone (let's say it's "3 years coding experience") and now you can simply toss (err, keep on file) every resume that doesn't have that on it.

Is it bullet proof? No, no method is. On the other hand, is it as reliable or nearly as reliable as more complex methods? Maybe (for more info read the book, a lot depends on circumstances, number of variables, etc.). Most importantly, is it fast? yes.

My 2 cents.

Mark W
Thursday, February 28, 2002

"Hmmm, did JavaScript for two years on small unknown websites, they're probably not as good as the person who did it for 6 months at a Fortune 500 and graduated with a degree in Computer Science."

Or you could view someone who worked at a small "unkown", at least to you, site as someone who probably had more occasion to learn new stuff, and knows how to get things done with little or no support. But maybe you are looking for someone who can work a bueracracy. Perhaps it would be worth actually viewing web-sites. Afcourse a fortune 500 company also probably inndicates better interviewing skills, but again is this what you are looking for?

"with a degree in Computer Science" is a personal prejudice only, computer scientist work on new algorithims, and design chips. You do not need a computer science degree to write javascript, or Java or any other language for that matter. Although there might be some arguement for this if you need someone to write low level systems programs, but Internet Programming - No! (even n-tier, mvc etc, extra special good internet programming)

"Third, it should let you know that they can communicate effectively and cleary. Spelling and grammatical mistakes are obvious problems. I think this is where experience in the field really shines. The more experience you have, the more you usually have to say about what you've done. More professional resume's will have fuller sentances describing their job, conveying more of a real picture of what was done than bullet points."

Yes, but you must also be careful about generalizing here.
Any "seasoned" professional will know that most resumes are read by people who have no idea what they are reading. I used to work on recruiting software and it was constantly impressed on us that our product would be judged on the quality of our search tools (we used something call Verity Query Language). Recruiters do not  want to read resumes! Afcourse with the end of "cattle call" recruiting this may end soon, which would be good! So here you must  decide what purpose the resume was sent for. Was it written for you, or was it written to get picked by a search tool.  A resume that can get by search tools could indicate just as much savvy as one that reads like the writer was an english major.

"I would look more closely at the guy who writes "Worked on the network and infrastructure for a medium sized corporation, including configuring the proxy and ns servers" over the guy who writes "worked on network. configured proxy servers. configured ns servers."

Afcourse most people try to fit their resume on one page, and may simply try to be brief!

"If, in interview, I ask about your experience with, say, JavaScript, and you jump in with some specific examples "I coded rollover scripts for one site, and a drop down navigation for another" I know that those are the only two things you did."

Or Maybe I am trying to convince you of my in-depth knowledge of JS (Why are you so hung up on javascript most people pick it up in a week or so, but I digress), and the two things I mention are the most recent, or the most memorable, or the most intersting things I've done!!!!!!!


"The cover letter too is important. I think too many career and college counserlors stress the cover letter. A well placed thank you note can often show someone's eagerness, which is a sign that they aren't "in demand."

On the one hand you want people who write complete sentences, but not too many complete sentences? A cover letter personalizes a resume, I personally don't use one.
I have written (or e-mailed) a thank you letter for every interview I have ever had. It is a sign of courtesy, not a white flag!

"If you have to sift through 2,000 resume's, perhaps some sort of statistical model needs to be created. (someone mentioned this much earlier) If you're the HR person you should have everyone's resume on file. Come up with a weighted listing of attributes that makes someone a good employee - things you can glean from the resume, and start inputting their numbers into an excel spreadsheet or something....
Figure out which is the single most important indicator as to whether or not you should hire someone (let's say it's "3 years coding experience") and now you can simply toss (err, keep on file) every resume that doesn't have that on it."

All you are doing here is increasing the number of people who will go to hell for being liers! People will gradually catch on to your hueristics and you will be essentially fishing for weasels!

If you don't believe me I wish I had kept some of the resumes I've seen over the years(it seems h1's are particularly bad with this) i.e. if Oracle is in, everyone knows Oracle, if everyone is looking for 3 years experience people will put 3 years experience!

The other problem with huerisitics is that even assuming people weren't outrageous liers, how would you gather data? Are there enough good and bad employees at your company that you could get a good sample from their resumes.

Also are you prepared to deal with the truth: suppose that your hueristics model indicated that the best JS programmers are indeed people who worked on "small unknown sites for two years"... could you overcome your prejudice enough that you would hire the 2 year dude over the 6 MO fortune 500 dude, because if you can't than you just wasted a ton of company money researching your hueristics!


Good luck, but I think you should stick with look through the pile until you find 20 or so you like and interview them chances are a few wont return your calls, a few won't speak any english, a few won't know a bit from a byte and a few will

Just my 2 cents

Daniel Shchyokin
Thursday, February 28, 2002

My amusing story from resume/application type processes.  I had a friend who's dad's best friend's dad was this old geezer on the application board who was a famous doctor back in the 50s, but all he did now was come out of retirement to sift through the thousands of apps they got every year (it was at Oregon Health Sciences University, which has like a 3-4% acceptance rate). 

My friend was applying that year (he was wait-listed, but got in).  Anyway, his dad told him that the application process was wack. 

One year the old guy vetoed all appliants who had done an engineering major.  His reasoning was:  They already have a degree they can get a job in.

The next year he changed his mind and said that they should take an engineering major with a 3.0 GPA over a biology major with a 3.8 because it was a much harder degree....

(my friend had a 4.2 GPA in biochemistry-but their application board decided to switch their emphasis from academics to life experience and up the average age of the incoming freshman by like 3 years-so he was sweating for a while)

Sounds kind of like those who say:  Only one page resumes.  Or, one pages resumes mean you can't have any skills.  Or those who say, keep it short and sweet, bullets.  Or those who say-give me some meat in your application and resume...and so forth.

Pick a style-don't be ambiguous, and you'll satisfy someone.

razib khan
Thursday, February 28, 2002

I've always wondered how people come up with the seemingly arbitrary required years of experience for a position.  Unfortunately in my experience there are plenty of people in the field who have years of experience but for some reason never quite move past a certain level of knowledge or skill.  If a position requires 3-5 years of experience in a certain area who is to say that someone with only a year and a half of experience isn't the best person for the job?  The problem becomes even worse when you have people filtering resumes who really don't know much about the skills they are looking for (read, HR people).  If a position requires 3-5 years of Java experience a person with 1.5 years of Java experience and 5 years of C++ experience may be worth interviewing.  Of course the real question is how you can best test one's knowledge or skill in a certain area.

Anthony Rubin
Thursday, February 28, 2002

I'm not stating any prejudice one way or the other in the selection process, I don't know whether 2 years at a startup is better than 5 years at a fortune 500. I'm saying you should figure out what the variables are that can be computed without too much analysis on your part. Run a sample through the system to see which variables are most likely to point to a "hire" - next round of hiring, keep all of the resumes, and flag the ones that were hired.

Of all the variables you came up with - proper degree, years experience, experience in a visible project, age, sex, region of the country, nationality, first name starts with a vowel, last name ends in a vowel - whatever criteria you realize you can glean from the resume, one item is more likely to come up than the others.

So let's say you get 200 resumes and hire 10 people. After running it through this heuristic, you see that "5 plus years in chosen field" is the single most common attribute amongst people that were hired v. people that weren't hired. Then that's the criteria you use when you're sifting through 2,000 resumes. Maybe it was certification, or degrees. I don't know, I'm not expressing an opinion one way or the other, I'm saying you back it by data.

Does this seem biased? Yes, but honestly, is it any more biased than other methods that are in use? At least this one isn't a personal bias, it's backed by hard data. It's a statistical bias, just like insurance companies judge your monthly rate based on your demographic and the kind of car you drive. Just like advertisers expect a high rate of success by advertising to a particular demographic ( http://yawyl.claritas.com/ ).

The question was how do you determine out of 2,000 resumes which ones to interview. You seem to be refuting me by saying that the least likely looking might be the best qualified. Well, are you going to interview all 2,000 people to find the underdog? No. You're going to narrow it down to the most likely candidates. I was just offering a possible methodology for doing so.

Colleges seem to decide that they can select the best by basing admittance on standardized tests (SAT, etc.), GPAs, the presence or lack of extracarricular activitities, etc. If your organization as at the point where it's recieving as many resumes as colleges do applications, maybe it's time you learned from them. Filter out everyone who doesn't meet your criteria, whatever it is.

You can go with weighted criteria, but that would mean a lot of data entry, and there's no gaurantee that it'll be any more effective than the "take the best" method (q.v).

This is an arbitrary process, but it has to be. You can't decide you want to hire someone because they sent you pink resume paper or you like the sound of their name. By the way, colored/fancy paper - another sign that someone's over-eager. For me it makes your resume stand out, not as someone who puts extra care in, but as someone who doesn't think his/her resume will stand up on it's own. (All this resume writing advice is my opinion only.)

I'll leave you with one parting thought. I recently read that job hunting through sending out resumes is only like 2-3% effective. Networking, however, had like a 60% success rate. (This was the intro paragraph inviting you to attend an event that we being held somewhere.)

Even a minor reccomendation from some distant relative can help, but more importantly, learn about and start attending events. If I can meet you in person and see that you're interested, intelligent, knowledgable, well groomed, etc. then you're going to stand out because I've already conducted a mini, informal interview by chatting with you.

Mark W
Thursday, February 28, 2002

Networking (or personal referrals, which is a less amiguous term) is not only 60% effective for the applicant, but also for the employer.  However, neither side can use it 100% of the time.  In a tight market, there's either too few potential hires, or too few jobs.  Also, bringing in people with no connection to the current group is sometimes a good thing.  Helps to shake up the status quo. 

As for applying statistical methods to resume selection, as I said in another thread, I think you'd be just as successful by simply choosing a percentage of resumes at random for phone interviews, and going from there.  This is esp. true in any market where there is a glut of talent available.  I'd be wiling to wager you'd have 90% of the success rate of the hard-work statistical approach, for 1% of the effort.

James Montebello
Thursday, February 28, 2002

I was going to mention that too. With 2,000 resumes to sift through, any random selection of 50 should turn up a few qualified individuals.

On the other hand, if you could increase percentage of qualified individuals within that 50 through some filter - however arbitrary - with some minimal effort (okay, only people with degrees in computer science). It might be worth the effort.

Mark

Mark W
Thursday, February 28, 2002

Resumes mean little. What makes a difference is the person reading the resume or the person talking to the prospect.

Personally, could not get hired at multiple jobs simply because I cannot answer a telephone. Can and will do anything else but cannot hear well enough to do telephone operations. (BTW, jobs includes cashier at a supermarket, and bag boy.)

I have been a consistent employee when people have hired me. In fact, at each job I have had, by the time I left, they literally begged me to remain longer.

What counts is your ability to bulls**t the people in charge of hiring you well enough to get them to see you rather than some abstraction.

Masterlode
Saturday, March 02, 2002


" Of all the variables you came up with - proper degree, years experience, experience in a visible project, age, sex, region of the country, nationality, first name starts with a vowel, last name ends in a vowel - whatever criteria you realize you can glean from the resume, one item is more likely to come up than the others. "

I'm not an expert on HR law, but I believe it's illegal in the US to filter on most of the categories you just listed:

- age
- sex
- nationality (except to confirm they can work legally in the US)
- first/last name starts with a vowel (sounds like a proxy for national origin)

Jeffrey Licht
Sunday, March 10, 2002

Thanks for pointing that out. I'm not suggesting any of them, and not being in HR or Law, I wouldn't expect to come up with a good set of criteria. In fact, I was trying to make the list sound humorous. Hopefully anyone in the business of hiring people understood that I didn't mean that you should discriminate, simply that when sifting through 2,000 resumes, *some* process of elimination must be followed. Perhaps a good one is to examine the qualities of the people who work for your company (i.e. were already through the hiring process), and filter/sort by those qualities.

Mark W
Monday, March 11, 2002

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