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Lying on resume

So Joel, in another thread, you said:

"I have just about zero tolerance for any kind of lying at
all, least of all on CVs, and have rejected otherwise good candidates because of it. You never know what else
they're going to lie about."

What happens if you find yourself in this situation:

1. You know technology X and Y seriously well and did
    some spectacular implementation projects in these
    during your university course (at a top school)

2. You know Z only well enough to get by; you don't
    know it well enough to maintain spaghetti, like you
    had to in a previous job

3. Your previous company give useless references that
    mean that you can get away with claiming anything
    as part of your work experience

4. Recruiters only look at past experience, so they
    refuse to even consider you for jobs with X and Y,
    but actually head-hunt you for jobs doing Z

5. Recruiters are pulling a bait-and-switch in their job
    descriptions - they actually want you to maintain
    spaghetti, though they don't say it

6. You know enough about interviewing to pass
    technical tests even in technologies you are not
    great in, which is how you got your previous job

See, if I put technology Z in my resume under experience,
I can easily get someone to pay me to do a job that
I can't do. Wastes everbody's time, yes? Unethical, yes?
Deceptive, yes? But a lie, no.

But, if I put technology X and Y down instead, I can
get a job that I can actually do very well, making very
successful project for my future employers, and earning
a nice commission for the recruiter. Everybody wins.
Clearly not deceptive. Clearly less unethical. But it IS a lie.

People have started telling me to lie on my resume and
I think I am going to start. This is not just because I could
have been losing offers but because I would rather lie to
an employer than deceive him

Do you have a better suggestion?

Thursday, March 18, 2004

I'm not following you here. Why is it a lie to claim experience with X and Y when you do have experience with X and Y? You can always add a note that says "extensive experience on academic projects with X and Y..."

Similarly if you're not very good at Z, I would expect you to put a note to that effect on your resume. "Spent 6 months working on badly-comment Z code which does not by any means make me a qualified Z programmer, but I'm willing to learn|I'm not interested in Z positions."

In any case you can go out of your way to be honest both in the facts and in the implication of those facts. Recently I got two resumes, both of experienced and probably highly qualified programmers who did not complete a college degree. I would not necessarily hold that against anyone -- many great programmers don't have college degrees -- but I can see why many employers would not waste their time.

One candidate wrote the name of the school, a year, and a claim to have majored in a subject in which he or she did not major. If pressed I suspect this candidate might have said, "aha but I did not list a DEGREE and I did indeed attend that college during that year and I was working towards a major in that subject, so it's not technically lying." That's nice. One of these days if I hire you, I'll ask you if you solved Big Customer's problem and you'll say "yes" when you mean "no" and now my company and reputation is ruined.

The other candidate listed the school where they started, told me how many credits they had, and included a line to the effect that they were still working towards a degree part-time. They went way out of their way to make sure that it was impossible that I could have mistakenly gotten the impression that they had a college degree. This was an honest resume and this person did not disqualify themself.

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Thursday, March 18, 2004

The reason why is that if the technology is not listed
under "Work Experience", the resume won't even get
past the recruiting agent, so the hiring manager won't
even see it.

This is because the people doing the filtering probably
don't even understand any more than
"Look under work experience -> Search for buzzwords".

They are only HR or recruiters, not techies, and they see
technical education as less than a joke. Though there
are exceptions, they tend to be too dishonest, lazy and
stupid to be receptive to any thought more complicated
than a buzzword, and they hit "delete" if they can't
understand a resume after a 1 second scan. So, if
I follow your instructions my resume goes into the circular
file - I speak from experience. Honesty doesn't pay.

The only way that I have seen to work is to put grand
distortions into the resume, get past the HR drones,
and then tell the truth to the hiring manager during the
interview. Either that, or just delete vast swathes from
my resume (e.g. to purge all references to Technology Z)
- and submit an almost blank resume (which is unlikely
to get through because I don't have X or Y under work

Do you know anyway of solving this particular problem?

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Delete the word "work" from the heading "work experience"?

- former car owner in Queens
Thursday, March 18, 2004

Can you re-title "Work Experience", as "Experience" or "Software Development Experience", or "Project Experience", ...?

FYI the title topics in my resume are:

- <on the first page>: Overview, Skills (the buzzword list), Experience (the chronological list), Education and Awards

- <on the second page>: Recent Projects (the details that would interest the techies more than HR).

Christopher Wells
Thursday, March 18, 2004

>>> the resume won't even get past the recruiting agent, so the hiring manager won't even see it. <<<

Well, it's not always that there is a recruiting agent between you and the hiring manager! In many cases (especially with small companies) the resumes get directly to the manager. It happened so at my current job. I replied to a job announcement, and sent my resume to the email (within the company) given in the annoncement, and there were no recruiters in between. I got interviewed by techies, and I got hired on the basis of my true merits, and I didn't lie to anybody in the process! :)

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Lying on resume = bad news.

If you don't like the way your resume looks, improve it. Want Tomcat on your resume? Install Tomcat, fool with it, dig into the code, find a bug report, find the problem, fix the problem, submit the patch. Put on your resume: "Contributed source to the Tomcat Application Server."

Life is too short, honor is too valuable, and experience is too easy to obtain, to do something so destructive to yourself as lie on your resume.

Patrick McCuller
Thursday, March 18, 2004

I am curious what people think about the ethics of lying on a job application if the criteria given for the job are unattainable.  That is, for example, the job lists as a requirement that you have five years of experience with Windows XP.  Just by applying for this job, you are implying that you have met the required qualifications but clearly nobody has that much experience with XP.

Granted, you could apply and make a note, perhaps on your cover letter, that you have x number of years of experience with XP and y years of experience with other Microsoft operating systems.  But this does not always work.  Many job applications are online and you don't have room for additional comments, for example.

My policy has been simply not to apply for those sorts of jobs.  Clearly lots of other people are, however, so I am wondering what other people think.

Chris Thompson
Thursday, March 18, 2004

If its wrong to lie on a CV or resumé, which it is.  It is also wrong to lie on a job specification.  Which is what asking for outlandish requirements, like three years experience of .NET or whatever, amounts to.

Simon Lucy
Thursday, March 18, 2004

On impossible job listings..

I usually avoid these.  They make it painfully obvious that someone who doesn't know their business is writing up the job requirements, and that's going to cause problems later on during the process (ie, they might be in line to view my resume before someone who does know their stuff).

Alternatively, if the job is something I really, really want to get for whatever reason, I would bypass the online form and directly contact the programming lead for the project.  This works especially well for smaller companies, since you get personal contact right from the start.  If your contact through this route is ignored, you can always fall back on the web form (and explain later that their form has problems), or look somewhere else.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

You might be interested in some of the postings on the MS recruiter blogs. Not all companies will work like MS, but they've been covering resumes and keywords, etc..

Thursday, March 18, 2004

It's a tricky subject indeed, and I think it needs to be viewed/handled differently depending on whether or not you are applying directly to a company or the more common scenario of having to go through a recruitment agency.

If you are lucky enough to find a company that hasn't swallowed the recuitment agency hype and still do their own recruitment, then quite simply - tell the truth! Explain your situation, getting straight to the point:

"I did some great stuff with X and Y at Uni, developing a project to implement blah blah blah" - you get the idea.

"I've since been working with Z and have become very disillusioned with it because blah blah blah".

Employers will appreciate a straight talker over somebody that tries to bamboozle them any day.

Recruitment agents are completely different - rarely do they actually understand the technologies they are hiring for (I've seen adds for "dot NET", 8 years J2EE experience, "C plus plus" etc), due to the current employment market, they no longer look for *software engineers* with generic skills like problem solving, ability to think in abstract terms, design conceptualisation. Understanding if somebody has those skills may actually involve thoroughly reading their resume, or even *talking* to them. So, instead they do technical skill matches (re: acronym matching) before deciding to proceed. Some agencies even automate this process - I've seen PR fluff pieces where agencies proudly boast they have AI programs that can automatically find the best 5 candidates for a job from a list of 100s.

Anyway, I digress ... many people say that you need to lie to get pass the recruitment agent layer, and I understand where they are coming from, but here is a technique I've had some success with lately, that avoids outright lying or misleading:

Before you detail your work experience in the resume, include an "Experience Matrix" or summary - categorise the technologies you have had exposure to (in any form) and list them down. ie.

Languages:  Java, C++, C
Databases:  Oracle, Sybase, MySQL

What you are doing here is not saying "I have worked for a commercial bank using Java", but "I know Java" ... this is often enough to get pass the initial 5 second assessment most agents go through and encourage them to examine your resume in more detail.

Anyway, that's my 2c. Hope it helps.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

"If you don't like the way
your resume looks, improve it."

I might if this were practical. If I don't state explicitly
that it is on-the-job experience, recruiters discount it.

If they are interested, they make follow-up calls
anyway. They ask questions like
"This section here marked Experience -
is it on-the-job experience?"
Give the honest answer and it's Whack-A-Mole.

It would not be a problem if everyone I were dealing
with were like Microsoft or Apple. I know for a fact that,
with an undistorted resume, I can get an interview in
competent companies. But they are rare and located
oceans away; I must deal with the companies that are
hiring near where I live.

I have obligations to other people that I must meet,
and so far my excessive honesty has damaged my
ability to do so by hindering my earning potential.
What did I get in return? A piece of paper written to
my self-righteous satisfaction, but no real benefit to
the world. I think I have come the worse off from that
trade-off, ethically speaking.

I don't think it's as simple as you make out, Joel.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Good suggestions, Ash.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

This has worked well for me:

Exaggerate (but not ridiculously) on your resume. If you *don't* do this, you will very likely never even get the interview. I find it amazing that someone who understands that software is often sold via a features checklist (if we don't have this feature, we won't be considered for purchase) refuses to see the parallels to job hunting.

Once you get the interview, be a lot more clear about what you have and haven't done. You have all sorts of chances to qualify and modify what your resume says.

In short, your resume is a tool to get interviews -- act accordingly.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Lies are not important in themselves; but everytime you perceive yourself lying, you're humiliating yourself.  It's stating a wish that reality (and you) were different.  I'm not judging; I don't care if people lie, but I think people who see themselves as liars should introspect themselves and see if perhaps there is psychological damage from doing so.

But we live in such a lying world, don't we?  All those people on the FCC who claim a simple four letter word is indecent and profane.. we drown in bullshit and ask why people lie so much.  At least people who lie know the truth.

Tayssir John Gabbour
Friday, March 19, 2004

This "honesty" thing is all great when you are part of the best 10% of developers trying to get hired at a small, eclectic company - like Fog Creek, it would seem.

For the rest of us, we can't afford to be that picky, and we have to include clueless business/HR people in our job search.

I am not advocating flat out lying in resumes/interviews - in fact, I was very honest about my lack of experience at my first real programming job interview, and I got the job anyways. But that was almost 4 years ago, before web development became "respectable" and at a time where educated programmers in the web field were scarce. Times changed fast.

So, no, lying is not good. But, as was mentioned earlier by some posters, most companies wil go through HR people who will:
1) screen applications through a buzzword matrix;
2) put very high and technology-specific reqs on job postings.

In other words, if you want a job, you have to be current with the technology. To be current with the technology, you need to do it on your own time, or learn it on the job. But the latter assumes that you DO have a job, in which case the likelyhood of you needing a new job is somewhat reduced...

Here is a nice example. At my last job, a couple of guys were selected to do a large project in ASP.NET. They didn't have any prior .NET experience, but they learned it as they went, and the product turned out pretty good. This was a golden opportunity for them, since .NET is all the rage now. But most of the time, it doens't work that way, and you are stuck working on projects with an older technology, which is a career dead-end.

As was said earlier in this thread, people are not hired on gereric engineering skils/experience anymore, they are hired on "technology-du-jour" skills.

So the "saving my moral integrity" solutions bandied about by people like Joel and "learn it on your own as a hobby, programming is your life" type of developers,who can by definition afford to be picky, are no solutions at all, they are just the self-satisfied edicts of the elite.

Yes, I am frustrated, and no I am not part of the elite. The only difference between me and "top" developers is that I didnt start programming at 8 years old on my commodore 64, and I don't spend weekends trying to fix bugs in Linux.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Curious, list it as Experience, word it appropriately and carefully, and you'll be fine.  It sounds like you've had one or two bad experiences.  Take the advice above and apply to a swath of jobs, you'll do fine.  And try not to be so negative.

Friday, March 19, 2004

I have had the good fortune to recently gotten a job where a friend of my wife's works.  I did well on the interview and the bizarre aptitude test (finite state machines with pointers and self modifying code thrown in), and got the job based on that, not on any specific experience.  I'm really lucky to have found this place, and really looking forward to working there.

Having said that, it is an *extreme* pain in the ass to try to find something when you don't fit neatly into the boxes that the run-of-the-mill companies (and their HR departments) try to slam you into.

I would say that if you don't fit neatly into a box that most companies use, look for a company whose box you do fit into.  Large companies have HR departments that are overworked and undertrained, and so the only way they can filter resume's is just by using checklists.  If you fit into the checklist, fine.  Otherwise, hit up small companies.  They may well not be advertising - in fact they probably won't, since they don't have an HR department and don't want to be swamped with resume's when they have real work to get done.  Flip open the local yellow pages and look for companies that sound like they do what you want to be doing.  Ask friends.  Research the companies on the web if you can.  Call them on the phone and ask what they do.  If they sound cool, ask if you can send in a resume', even if they aren't hiring.  Maybe they have contacts someplace that can use you.

I was really really tempted to start leaving stuff off my resume' (lying by omission) just to get a crappy mall job to slow the arterial spurting of red ink that is my finances.  I'm glad I didn't.  If I had settled for a crap job I might not have been looking when this one opened up, and then I might have missed out.

Good luck to you.  Network.  It's the most effective way to find a job.

Aaron F Stanton
Saturday, March 20, 2004

Out here in The Berkshires there seems to be no available work of technological nature, of any kind.  Of the few ads you see on, any fewer of them are computer-related. 

That sucks.  It is funny that I, having a two-year degree in Computer Information Technology and have taken generic programming courses at a community college (where you will NEVER see any real "projects", just a bunch of students who want to get together to discuss a Linux User Group but instead find it more interesting to talk about going to a museum in Boston, MA), and am pretty well-versified in my tech skills, and STILL no one calls me for an interview and whatnot. 

So, what have I thought about doing?  This past Thursday I applied for a crap-job at a local motel, and explained to the manager that I hadn't had work in months, that previous employers won't hire me because I am "over-qualified, you wouldn't be happy working here".  The manager at the motel came across as understanding what it is like to try and find work that you are over-qualified for, because work that you under-qualified for doesn't exist near your place of residence. 

Where am I going with this?  On my resume to that manager, I left off anything that would strike one in the head as "he is too technical or nerdy, toss it in the trash".  I'm now playing dumb, and hey it seems to work. 

Still, I hate the fact that I am lying by omission, and that I can't find it in myself to lie by deception on my resume just to get the chance to work with newer technology or even do crap work on a programming job that will even pay me minimal wage. 

If one asked me whether going to college anymore in hopes of picking up employable tech skills is worth it, I'll daftly tell that person that it is far more valuable to go out and buy a bunch of books, work a minimum-wage job just to get by financially, and spend your nights and weekends studying the books and doing projects that turn out be usable and contributable to the community.

THEN apply for jobs only at companies that you know employ technical managers who do the filtering of resumes and hiring.

Tom in Pittsfield, MA
Sunday, April 4, 2004

hi how r u?

Monday, April 19, 2004

2 scenarios:
either you are in direct touch with a small company (like Fog Creek). lying or exaggerating is a no-no for 2 reasons: 1) the company cannot afford someone whos honesty they cannot depend on 2) you are lying to the very same people you want to work with in the months or years to come.

or you are going for the big one with HR departments and recuitment agencies. in that case I still would not suggest outright lying. what worked for me in those cases was to merge true facts with the buzzwords those departments are used to. if you know Dilbert - just mix up reality with your bullshit bingo cards and there you go. you would be surprise how important the most trivial stuff can be made to sound.

having been an external consultant for some years (IBM GS among others) I have learnt  a lot from how my employers were advertising me to their customers. reading my own resume (made not by me but by our HR department, mind you) I often wondered 'cool stuff. who is this guy?'

kind regards,

Carsten Hintz
Thursday, May 27, 2004

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