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Some background, we are a small Dutch tech startup of currently two people looking to expand with another engineer. This hire seems therefore quite crucial for us.

I just had an interview with a candidate, which I asked beforehand to send me a resume or a list of previous projects, which he did not have.

In the interview I got the impression, as much as you can tell from just a talk, that he knows what he is talking about engineering-wise. However, when I asked him again where he worked before, he said that he would rather not tell. Even after I tried to explain to him that it is going to be impossible for me to come to a positive conclusion without any employment-history or at least a good reason for not listing employment-history, he still did not want to give any.

For me this seems like he left some scorched earth at his previous projects, but could there be another valid explanation for this?

Additional notes:

  1. The applicant does not live in this country (but a neighboring one), so the interview was over Skype.

  2. He doesn't have a CV, a LinkedIn profile, or a written employment-history.

  3. He said that he mostly did freelance work. Presumably for multiple clients which he got by word-of-mouth referrals.

  4. There seems to have been some confusion here over what I meant by "references". I was not asking for a reference person or a letter of reference. The question now talks about employment-history.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jun 8 '18 at 2:02
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    Was this guy the only applicant? Why are you even considering him? In fact, why did you even talk to him without seeing a CV? – Mawg Jun 8 '18 at 5:54
  • Have you asked him why he can't give you a CV? – Mehrdad Jun 9 '18 at 8:06
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    @Mawg No, but I am a developer too and I do not have a cv at hand. It wasn't unreasonable to me that he first send an email to gauge if this is something he is actually interested in without sending anything. I then scheduled a skype call and asked for the cv/list of projects in order for me to prepare. His answer came two days before the meeting so I thought I will just ask him in the call. Like I said, its our first hire and I do not have experience in hiring, so next time I will not go forward if something like this happens. – Philiiiiiipp Jun 9 '18 at 12:09
  • @Mehrdad He said he does not give out that information. – Philiiiiiipp Jun 9 '18 at 12:14

10 Answers 10

149

I think it's important to separate two things: the resume/CV and the references.

Refusing to give references

This usually indicates that the applicant left their previous employers on bad terms, or that they've completely lost contact with them. This is not necessarily an indication that this is a bad employee however: we all know that some employers are unreasonable, managers can be spiteful and it's easy to lose touch with former coworkers.

In summary, this is a reason to be cautious, but should not be a deal-breaker.

Refusing to give a resume or CV

This sounds odd and unacceptable. If you're looking for a job, you should be able to give prospective employers a description of yourself, your skills and your experiences so that employers can judge whether or not you'd be suited to their job opening. There are valid reasons why a resume might not have the exact details of employers such as names, but at the very least there should be descriptions of when the person worked for the same employer and what kind of work they did for said employer. Even for freelance gigs, a section of [date] to [date]: various freelance gigs - [skills obtained] seems like the bare minimum even when you don't want to mention your customers.

This is a reason to be highly skeptical and for me would be a deal-breaker

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jun 8 '18 at 6:03
  • Exactly. If I was OP, I would just reject him quoting inability to determine his experience level as reason. It's candidate problem, not employer. – VarunAgw Jun 10 '18 at 12:09
97

For me this seems like he left some scorched earth at his previous projects, but could there be another valid explanation for this?

It is really hard to say unless the candidate is willing to share, but the outright refusal to share any details regarding past experience is a legitimate cause of concern. You have two options:

  1. Continue the interviewing process anyway, and see what you think. If you really, and I mean really like them bring them on via a contract to hire (temp to perm).
  2. Move on from this candidate.

Regardless of the situation, these are your two options. With the candidate unwilling to provide a CV, I would recommend passing on them.

Note: If you have a candidate that is unwilling to provide a CV and references too, then I would definitely hard pass on the candidate.

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    @Crossedtheriverstyx Could be, but I think the candidate can say that they are under such an agreement. – Mister Positive Jun 7 '18 at 13:17
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    I think you are allowed to say you signed an NDA and cannot say more about it, but IANAL. @JamesWhiteley – Mister Positive Jun 7 '18 at 13:18
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    Certainly, but for all former employers? Quite the life, I suppose. – Adonalsium Jun 7 '18 at 13:40
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    In the US, some government employees and Intelligence/DoD contractors are secretive enough that the name of their employer/client is classified. A very small number of these people are doing things for which the fact that their employer/client is classified is classified. That said, these people get specifically trained on what to say in job interviews and things like that, and generally have cover stories that the government sets up for them. That doesn’t seem to fit the responses that the OP has described. – Stella Biderman Jun 7 '18 at 14:06
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    @Acccumulation But at this point your actually spending company dough for stuff like a background check... – Mister Positive Jun 7 '18 at 17:37
45

There are lots of ways to craft a CV to show what your experience is, without divulging secondary details. You can say "wrote a donations-management system for a major regional religious congregation" without saying that you were a member of a contentious sect; or "data management support for three-time candidate for political office" without naming a party. Even "1985 to 2017: freelance programmer; over 200 total clients" would be something. Heck, you could just make it a list of skills and technologies, and not even mention employment or education; it'd be something.

But not submitting a CV is simply opting out of the normal hiring process, and to me, presages the guy opting out of half your business processes too, if you hire him.

I would say, "you're a great candidate, and we'd like to proceed with further interviews, and we can do so as soon as we get your current CV" and leave it at that.

26

There is multiple reasons that someone would not like to share his resume:

  • working with religious organization that may have bad reputation depending of the perspective view
  • working with military or secret agency
  • working with criminal organization
  • working with porn industry
  • leaving a job to another and burning the bridge each time
  • not declaring his income to the government (from the comments)
  • under a witness protection program (from the comments)

Personally, someone that do not want to share his resume is a red flag.

Not because of his work past but because he was not able to compromise. The guy could give you at least a vague resume, projects oriented without any name, instead of sticking to his guns: you get nothing from me.

If it is already hard to deal with him before hiring him, I expect it will be difficult to enforce office policy, code review from a team mate, etc.

  • You seem to neglect that one is not forced to put everything on a CV. – Nemo Jun 7 '18 at 17:31
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    @Nemo I agree that one is not forced to put everything. But not putting everything in a resume and declining to give a resume are two distinct things from my perspective – Sebastien DErrico Jun 7 '18 at 17:36
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    Assuming he's legitimate I would figure it's one of these--but he could still list what he did at the job without listing the employer. – Loren Pechtel Jun 8 '18 at 3:32
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    I'd wonder whether this person is present in the country (albeit a country neighbouring The Netherlands) illegally. Their references may thus be outside of that country - and may prompt awkward questions. – Magoo Jun 8 '18 at 13:44
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    In Israel it is very common to have to serve in the army, people just write "mandatory military service" or "Software Engineer at classified (security clearance)" or any one of other many things to bypass that. As for tax - he can simply send a CV with his name, his school and that's it! Not supplying one is weird. Can you please address the fact people can overcome these things you've outlined in a CV :)? – Benjamin Gruenbaum Jun 9 '18 at 10:17
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I see multiple red flags with this applicant. Forget him and move on. As a small start-up, ask yourself whether you can risk it. You probably can't, since there's no capacity to deal with the possible backlash.

Even after I tried to explain to him that it is going to be impossible for me to come to a positive conclusion without any employment-history or at least a good reason for not listing employment-history, he still did not want to give any.

You warned the applicant. Failure to comply is an explicit refusal for the job here.

Another way to look at it: if the applicant isn't willing to share a history after knowing the consequences for doing so, what does it tell you about:

  • You for still hiring the applicant. What else will he/she try to get away with after getting the job?

  • The applicant. What else is kept hidden, a criminal record?

Employer and employee should have at least a tiny amount of trust to one another. That trust is build. What you present here, is not a good foundation to build that trust on.

8

Big red flag. Very big and very red.

There is no reasonable argument for not providing a CV and work history. All of the answers given so far are not good reasons for doing so.

Even if you worked for bad reputation companies, left in bad blood, worked for the military or secret projects, even if you signed strict NDAs, nothing prevents you from putting something like "6 months lead developer for an e-commerce application" on your CV.

I work in information security and for a time did so as a freelancer. Several of my projects had NDAs that explicitly said that I could not name the project and/or the company in my references. So I list them in the style I outlined above, and if asked about them in an interview point out that I cannot disclose details due to an NDA.

Sure, that means they cannot verify these projects, but I have other projects that they can check all they want, so these ones they will have to take on faith, but unless you were born yesterday you understand that sometimes there are such projects.

There is one reason I can think of that someone would not provide his CV **at all*, even if large sections were blacked out CIA-style: The person might have some mental illness. They might be on the autism spectrum or have a severe issue with writing that somehow doesn't affect writing code (but will affect writing documentation!) or some such. It's a long shot, but it is literally the only reason I can think of that would make me hesitate to walk out on this person.

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    Good last point. I'd think there are people out there who are brilliant at coding - but nothing else, more or less. That's not useful in a small company, of course. – Volker Siegel Jun 9 '18 at 12:48
  • Or they have no work history. – kagronick Jun 10 '18 at 12:30
  • Why are the other answers not good reasons? Witness protection seems pretty legit. – user53651 Apr 4 at 18:16
  • @Steve even in witness protection you would do something and can list it. – Tom Apr 4 at 20:31
  • @Tom so you're saying that work history doesn't necessarily need to be something you get money for just needs to be something you've been working on in earnest? It's essentially a list of accomplishments and projects more than it is proof that someone else thought you were worth paying for? – user53651 Apr 4 at 20:33
3

Let's think about this:

My first thought was that this is a free lancer and they are... free from the bounds of the job market, however...

Free lancers have referrals, they also have portfolios of previous work to demonstrate previous projects.

Thereby this candidate is on the shady side, and unless he's your only one, it might be safer to pass.

If you do insist on pursuing the candidate, a contract to hire or a straight b2b relationship is advisable.

1

Other comments and answers mention criminal activities, but what if this person was in prison and didn't want to divulge that?

Even if they had been wrongly imprisoned, they simply may not want that kind of questioning. It's not fair to you, and it only makes this person sound less legitimate by not sharing.

All anyone can do at this point is assume "the worst", other than legitimate super security related positions.

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    Time in prison is time spent not coding. His skills would suffer. – Loren Pechtel Jun 8 '18 at 3:33
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    Except when ... wired.com/story/san-quentin-inmates-jolt-the-last-mile – Mawg Jun 8 '18 at 5:58
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    @LorenPechtel: How do you know? And how do you know for the Netherlands? Any source? – phresnel Jun 8 '18 at 12:36
  • @phresnel Unless that source includes Belgium, Germany and possibly the UK, it doesn't matter. Applicant is from a neighbouring country, so if prison was involved, it would likely be in one of those countries. Or even abroad. Point is, we don't know. Nobody except the applicant does. Not knowing is the real problem, not whether or not skills suffered. – Mast Jun 10 '18 at 6:32
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Unfortunately usually you do need verifiable information about previous projects. At the very least you'd want to see work examples if applicable in your business. They often are more testament to the actual qualification than a degree.

If you feel this person would be a good fit for your company and you know they are qualified, you could hire them. It seems odd though and I'd be on the lookout for other candidates.

0

Since you didn't disclose exact profession, it's hard to know if this specific reason applies but there may be two other reasons not mentioned by prior answers:

  1. The person may have been involved in projects that are not supposed to be disclosed publicly - national security types stuff.

    Back when NSA scouted me as a student, their guidelines explicitly stated "If you will be employed by NSA, you aren't supposed to disclose that, in present or in the future".

  2. They may worry about their prior employment being counted as a dark mark against them for ideological/political reasons.

    E.g., someone who worked for military contractors or national security, clearly has valid reasons to be concerned that the people at Google who run the show (including HR) would count that against them, especially given recent news. Or maybe they worked for Cambridge Analytica or Monsanto, or some other such company with (deserved or not) bad public reputation.

protected by Mister Positive Jun 8 '18 at 13:51

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