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For reasons that are not relevant for this question, I went to several interviews at multiple companies in the past few months.

What I noticed is that, in the vast majority of cases, interviewers have absolutely no idea about what's on my resume. They just print it out right before the interview and bring it with them.

I reached this conclusion by mentioning very significant aspects about my work history and / or extra activities and getting genuine surprise emotions in return:

Oh, that's so cool, I didn't know you did that.

I'm referring to multiple and diverse types of information, all of which are clearly visible on my resume.

There was almost no interview in which I didn't experience this. So, my question is: why does this happen ? Reviewing a resume for 5 - 10 minutes for each candidate you're going to interview shouldn't be that big of a time consumer and it actually gets you more prepared for the actual discussion.

EDIT. A little clarification: It's not like I expect them to memorize it or anything. Just skim through it for 5 minutes so that you won't look so surprised if I tell you that I write in a technical blog or that I actively participate on StackExchange or that I actually did work with your technologies in the past. It leaves me a really bad impression of you as a company and/or as an interviewer. Companies keep saying that they need applicants who impress them. Well maybe they should take their own advice once in a while...

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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, Jan Doggen, Garrison Neely, jcmeloni, jmac Aug 7 at 4:09

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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And yet if you turned up for the job interview and said "I didn't know that" about requirements for the job they would think you was a bad candidate who hadn't read the job description. Hypocrites. –  user9993 Aug 6 at 14:37

10 Answers 10

up vote 84 down vote accepted

Why are interviewers unaware of what's on my resume?

There are a number of reasons of course. In my experience, many of the reasons mingle together in different proportions:

  1. Many interviewers are bad. They think they don't need to prepare, and just winging questions at you is sufficient for them to gauge your abilities.
  2. Many interviewers are busy. Usually the most senior, overworked folks are the ones lined up for interviews. I mean, if they had enough people to do the work, they wouldn't be hiring you. If some emergency comes up from a client; if some emergency comes up for the team - your interviewer needs to address those, and prioritizes the client or their team over proper preparation.
  3. Multiple interviewers. As commonly happens with many things, as soon as you give multiple people responsibility for things, each of those people individually don't feel as though they need to follow through. "Oh, Alice or Bob will read the resume", and then nobody does.
  4. "Tell us a little about what you've been doing." Since the common first question of the interview will require you to talk through your resume anyways, why do things twice?
  5. Many resumes suck. Maybe yours is completely clear, targeted for the specific person interviewing you, but it's unlikely. HR people want different items than your line manager than your subject matter experts. And even if it is clear that you are a master widget maker, I'm not just going to take your word on it.
  6. They might not have a say. A sad truth is that not all interviewers have the same say in your hiring. Even if you have 3-5 people involved in the interview, usually only one or two of those people really matter. The others are there to learn how to interview, or to vet specific knowledge/skill, or to make it appear to you that the company cares enough to spend a Director's time on you, or to placate their egos.
  7. Many of your peers suck. I've run into a few scenarios where people are just weary of interviewing. They prepared for the first 4 candidates that week, only to find out they were completely incompetent. "Why should I prepare for this guy when he's likely to be just another waste of time?"

So in short, people should totally prepare for your interview, but you should maybe not be surprised/offended when they don't.

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You might add to that list that interviewers don't always know that they are interviewing you until the day of the interview, and don't always get your resume more than 5min before the interview. It's hard to make time to prepare when you aren't given sufficient notice. –  atk Aug 4 at 17:01
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Many of your peers suck - I've certainly fallen into this trap. After the 6th guy in a row who couldn't answer Fizz-Buzz (programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/15623/fizzbuzz-really), I decided to start reading the resumes while he/she wrote out the fizz-buzz answer. –  sevensevens Aug 4 at 18:59
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Also that they may also be interviewing many people, and going over many resumes. They probably get fatigued and forget which resume said what and who wrote it, or have great difficultly maintaining the kind of concentration to read over resumes when they have to go over that many. –  Kai Aug 4 at 19:06
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I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned here: I know that some interviewers actually want to make sure that you know what's on your résumé. Whether it's an honesty check or just a lead-in to the interviewee talking about their experience, I've known some to ask obvious questions when looking right at the résumé in front of them. –  Eric Aug 5 at 4:14

You asked why some interviewers skip reading your resume before they see you in person.

To be blunt: usually they are lazy. Usually they didn't put enough time into preparing to see you.

There are some situations where not reading your resume before the interview is not because of laziness.

  1. The boss of a department says, "I really like Radu. Please talk with him to tell me whether he will fit in to our department." In that case the interviewer's assignment didn't include reviewing your past work.
  2. The interviewer first learned he was to interview you only moments before you arrived.
  3. The interviewer's assignment is to give you a standardized quiz, either spoken or written, to assess your skills, not your accomplishments. In that case it's helpful for the interviewer to refrain from looking at your resume.

As far as I'm concerned as a manager, when candidates for jobs are in the building, they are the most important people there. They are the company's future. The people assigned to interview them should have time to prepare properly. (I always asked HR people to schedule candidates for days when no customer visits were scheduled, so we could give undivided attention to candidates.)

It has to be said that many individual contributors, both junior and experienced, don't know how to conduct an effective interview. It's a skill, and many companies don't bother to teach people to do it.

As a candidate, don't worry about it. You have arrived at the interview. Your resume's primary purpose was to get you the interview. Therefore, it has served its purpose.

Also, keep this in mind: "wow" reactions to your personal accomplishments by your interviewers are excellent!

If you're a candidate for a manager's position, one of the topics of discussion in your interview should be the interviewing process: the skills you bring and the company's expectation.

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I'm not sure how you can come to the conclusion that "usually they are lazy" when there are so many other possible causes (see the other answers). The reality in much of corporate life today is most of us have 2-3 times more work assigned than we can possibly do. Everything I have to do is a product of prioritization. Detailed review of a resume will not make the list whereas skimming usually always makes it. Committing it to memory is a waste of time when I have it to refer to. –  uSlackr Aug 4 at 17:49
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@uSlackr why bother referring to it? It is more efficient to ask the candidate. –  emory Aug 5 at 22:32

As a software engineer who did a bunch of interviews, here are the reasons why I (and my peers) don't read through all of your resume:

  • The number one reason is that the resume is too long. I used to read everything on a resume, but I found it was a waste of time. If the resume is over 2 pages long, I will only glance through the experience. A lot of it is dated stuff that no one cares about.
  • A lot of the resume is useless. I actually proposed to HR that engineers don't screen resumes since the only thing we get out of it is spelling and grammar mistakes. It's a complete waste of our time. I don't care that you've used every technology that we use. I want to know whether you understand what you've used, and whether you can learn new things. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any of that on a resume.
  • I want to hear it from you. I want to know that you can explain your best projects in a short period of time in words that I can understand. I want you to then go into the details of your project to demonstrate your understanding. I also want to know your exact role in the project.
  • Resumes are filled with a lot of half-lies. Someone who has copied $('#fdsa').hide() into his code claimed to know jQuery. Others have claimed to write bug-free code. Still others claim to have accomplished this project only to have done a tiny portion.
  • A sad reason is that the interviewers are busy, and many don't want to interview anymore. As others mentioned, too many crappy candidates plus a lot of other work means that your resume is the last thing we want to read. If I'm feeling generous, I'll spend 30 seconds going over your resume before walking into the conference room.
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I do agree with this is some sense, but not entirely. When I was required to interview I did "bird's eye" it, and often as stated here the technical is pretty worthless as simply put "people lie". There is value in resumes though... Did they changes jobs quickly several times, did they get their degree, did they list any hard to get certifications, did they list any volunteer programs that are note worthy? These can be gems into what you're looking at. Typically though, I vet your resume prior to even offering an interview, not all people get this luxury. –  RualStorge Aug 4 at 18:56
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@RualStorge Good points. I agree that these insights are valuable, but I don't believe we need an engineer to look over these things. HR can just as easily judge these items. Maybe there might be some technical volunteer programs that HR doesn't know about. –  John Tseng Aug 4 at 22:25

There is often a rule that all candidates must be asked the same questions, this is so HR can prove that the process is fair.

When this is the case, there is no point in the interviewer reading your CV, as it cannot change the questions they ask.

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Interesting. However, isn't the whole point of the interview that you can tailor the questions to the situation and the applicant? If you ask everyone the same questions, you could just put them on a form and let them submit it. –  sleske Aug 5 at 10:52

The interviewer

  1. Wants to know that you are real
  2. Wants to know that you can communicate verbally, as well as on paper.
  3. Wants to know what you think is important on your resumé, because it tells a lot about you to know what you feel you have accomplished well
  4. Wants to hear your tone of voice when talking about different jobs that you performed so they can hear what your strengths are.
  5. Wants to hear how you describe different jobs.
  6. Wants to see your body language when describing jobs you like, jobs you didn't like, jobs you were let go from, jobs you were fired from, jobs that you performed well, jobs where you liked what you were doing.

None of these things can be read from a good resumé, that is why it might seem like they haven't read your resume. A good interviewer will scan the resumé for information to start conversation relevant to the job you are interviewing for, or read the entire interview to get some background before the actual interview.

Some interviewers may read the resumé after the first interview so they know what to ask when they follow up with your previous employers or references. so they will use the interview to pinpoint what to actually read, and what is fluff.

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There are a number of possible reasons which will be partly dependent on the person interviewing you, the company you're applying to work for and the way in which you applied or were discovered.

It might be that they don't have a very good memory and have read your resume but not retained some or most of the details. This is more likely if they have had a long day and/or already had to interview lots of other people.

They may have also read your resume but not fully, only focussing on the parts of it that interest them or specifically apply to the position you are applying for.

You can remedy these to an extent by reviewing the layout of your resume and assessing if it will stand out amongst others and keep the attention of the reader, especially for the important things like your experience.

If the information you mentioned was not considered relevant to the job, it is less likely that it will be remembered. It may be interesting to the interviewer that a candidate is part of a casual sports team but as it is unlikely that it's relevant to the position.

The person interviewing you may not have had the time or inclination to read your resume. They may have only printed it off as a reference and perhaps to check that it matches up with what you are telling them in the interview.

If the way you applied or were found is through a job site or some other method that meant they didn't see your resume straight away then the likehood of them reading it thoroughly is probably less. If the person who is interviewing you was not involved in selecting you for the interview process this could also reduce the likelihood that they will have read it yet.

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Many people can get involved in the interviewing process, but not all of them are critical. Sometimes they have to wait until the last minute before they even know they'll be available for a particular interview, so I wouldn't expect them to take a lot of time reviewing and committing your CV to memory. The less someone is involved, the less likely they are making the hiring decision.

An alternative would be to schedule interviews weeks in advance, so everyone can be available and well prepared. As a job candidate, I don't think you'd find this preferable.

Sometimes you just spend so much time fighting the alligators, that you have no time to drain the swamp. If only everyone could devote significant amounts to the hiring process, there wouldn't be so much work to do.

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As an interviewer I can tell you that from my perspective, the only real purpose of your resume is to get you in the door. Five or so minutes before an interview, I will glance at the resume and pick out things of interest to talk about. Other than that, I agree with the other comments regarding long, bloated, acronym-soup resumes. When someone with 2 years’ experience submits a five page resume, I am put on my guard for inflated/fake/overstated experience; one guy even told me, "My mother told me to put that on there to get in the door". Others have used resume writing services that just spew half-truths, buzzwords, and fill the resume with fluff (I hate fluff). Conversely, I have had people with twenty years’ experience submit a clear, concise, and accurate 1.5/2 page resume. No BS, no inflation of accomplishments, just the facts. These are the people that I am interested in, generally (i.e., resumes that are clear, concise, and accurate).

Above all, just remember that you are not hired based on your resume, you are hired based on the interview. If there are things on your resume that you want to emphasize (e.g., significant accomplishments, amazing skills, etc.), direct the interviewer to that part of your resume and follow-up by demonstrating your knowledge and understanding. Personally, I am more impressed and excited by candidates who come in and show passion, drive, and honesty than those whose goal is to simply "get a job". Just be yourself and let your love of what you do shine through in the interview; that alone is worth a thousand gold-plated resumes.

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When I read resumes, I'm scanning for specific things: company names and dates, length of stay, particular tasks done that are relevant to what I'm hiring for [or things to suggest that someone is not suited for the kind of role I have open]. If I'm curious I will read cover to cover, but many resumes will just get this sort of scan treatment. Unless it stands out in some way or is one of the things I'm looking for, it's not going into short term memory.

If you're noticing important things seem to be surprises to others, things that you really want to stand out, then odds are you should improve your resume. Modify the layout so that the thing you're seeing people miss shows up. Bold it. Whatever you need to make sure it's present there.

Ultimately, though, your resume is probably fine, and these things you're focusing on are probably just not that important. You've gotten in the door at several places - so your resume does its job. If people aren't reading about your blog or SO/SE posts, then so much the better: you've got a nice talking point for the interview.

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In my profession (computers: network operations, system administration, devops) the simple answer is: people are too busy. They just don't have time. They are running from meeting to meeting, putting out fires, setting up servers, configuring software, and collaborating with their team. There is just no time to prepare for an interview.

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