7

Some time ago I was hired for a .NET developer position. My (then) boss, after praising my abilities as a developer ("We didn't know you were this good"), confessed that she was about to throw my resume into the garbage because my qualifications were "those of an Electronics Engineer, not a programmer" (I have an Engineering background).

But the thing is, I did claim to have programming knowledge! Now, sure, at the time I didn't know anything about C# (.NET) or any other similar languages, but for the most part, the rationale behind some of its features and semantics was obvious, because I know C, which was actually mentioned in my resume, quite simply, as "C".

The situation became clear after I read the resumes of many friends I knew well, and I discovered that most resumes are full of nonsense.

Here's a (representative) conversation I recently had with a friend:

  • L: "Adrián, your resume says you know C++, but you don't. You don't know what pointers, classes, or even functions are, let alone templates or RAII. I do know these things, and still, C++ is not even mentioned on my resume".

  • A: "It doesn't matter. I used C++ for some of my Arduino exercises at school, and you know what? My programs worked, and that is what matters. I know C++. End of story".

So, while my standard for mentioning something on my resume is knowing the topic inside out, other people have very different standards, and I've even seen outright lies. I guess those people make it hard for honest folks to get their resume noticed.

I wonder if there is a way to compete with that without lying. All I know is that they got hired a lot sooner than I did, so embellishing their resumes obviously worked for them; but in my case, claiming to have skills or knowledge that I don't actually have feels dishonest.

And just for reference, whenever I receive effusive praise (and not just for work purposes, but also in my personal life), I am told that I should learn to present myself better and "stop being so modest". But again, I am in a country (mx) where most people prioritize appearance over substance. I'm starting to wonder if the grass is greener elsewhere.

  • 3
    I used C++ for some of my Arduino exercises at school, and you know what? My programs worked, and that is what matters. I know C++ Don't worry about it. This person won't pass a C++ interview. – RJFalconer May 23 at 17:27
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    This seems way too broad to answer in general. If you want to know how to present certain specific things on your resume in the best way possible (like which languages you know), we may be able to help with that. Also, your question really seems to be how to best present yourself, so you can probably drop the whole "how to compete with liars" part from your question completely. But there wouldn't be much left after dropping that, which is also part of the problem. – Dukeling May 23 at 18:03
  • @Dukeling Why is it not relevant?. Like it or not, they are your competition in the job market – Lehonti May 23 at 18:04
  • @Lehonti Because there will always be other people with better profiles to compete with, regardless of whether they lie, and there will always be liars, so focusing on that distracts from the issue of how to best present yourself (which, as stated, is already too broad by itself). You may get some reassurance regarding why you don't need to worry about them and why you shouldn't resort to lying yourself, but this is a very different issue from how to best present yourself, and the overall answer quality would likely suffer from trying to address all of that at the same time. – Dukeling May 23 at 18:20
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    @Lehonti If you don't believe you can compete regardless of how you honestly present yourself, what are you looking for here? There isn't any magic formula. The most we can offer there is reassurance and encouragement. Such as: sometimes the immoral end up on top, but the world is big, full of opportunities (like the position you mentioned getting in your question) and people who know how to catch liars. Although that's arguably not on topic. – Dukeling May 23 at 22:14
14

I am told that I should learn to present myself better and "stop being so modest".

That's true.

In other words, how much ever good something is, if it can't be sold, it's of no use.

As you might have already figured out, a resume / CV is your gate-pass to the interview. What you know and don't know, and whether you are fit for the role will be decided based on the outcome of the interview /discussion result.

Remember, no one is asking you to lie, presenting better != telling lies.

However, just having a basic outlined resume is also not a very good way of getting into the interview. You need to know, understand and adapt to the requirement. You should be updating the CV / resume for each different position you apply for, reflecting the required capabilities for that role, which you posses.

Example:

Say, you are an experienced C programmer, and you have worked on networking and telecom domain, as well as handled assignments which involves porting the applications and debugging the environments, which involves knowing and debugging the associated codes written in C++, Java, HTML etc. Also, you have automated some tests using python, shell script - so you have a moderate knowledge of the scripting.

Now, you are applying for

  • One role which requires knowledge in Linux kernel and device drivers - so the CV should be updated to reflect that you have strong C skills, and understanding of data structures, debugging skills etc.

  • Another role, which is application development, where you should highlight your experience in C (as primary), and you should also list C++, Java, HTML as your secondary skillset. That says, you are not an expert, but you have a fair idea of those skills/ languages and you have some work experience relating to those cases.

  • A third role, which is for development of an automation suite for a product. Here the primary focus will be on C and whatever scripting language you have worked on.

Once again, no one is asking you to lie - but there's something called primary skills and something called secondary - you need to make use of them while presenting your skills.

That said, you absolutely no need to think about getting into competition with people with fake qualification in their resumes. That fake resume may get them into the interview, not a successful result out of that.

  • Interesting. What is, in your opinion, the best way to mark skills as "primary" or "secondary"? – Lehonti May 23 at 15:51
  • @Lehonti Primary is obviously which you know inside out. For secondary - it's which you have work experience and can handle if assigned some work. For example, a school project using assembly programming does not count, but work experience with enhancing an automation framework in python counts. – Sourav Ghosh May 23 at 15:53
  • Yeah, I get it, but should I put them into separate sections of my resume, or maybe assess my skill levels in each of them and grade them using a 5-star scale (C - 5 stars, C++ - 3 stars, etc.)? – Lehonti May 23 at 15:57
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    If skills are listed, quite often they are given in the order of proficiency (at least that is what I do and have others see doing with programming languages, spoken languages) or you personal feeling of importance (often in the case of soft skills where proficiency is not easily measurable). – skymningen May 23 at 15:59
8

You do not have to compete with people who fake their CVs.

On one hand, it's true that you must learn to present yourself in the best possible way: this involves having a quite mature conscience on how you communicate both on your resume and during interviews.

On the other hand, do not fake anything nor feel pressured by people who do so. People who fake will always face problems in the long run; if the selection process of the company is mature enough, they will be spotted and discarded.

If those people happen to have success, though, it may be a red flag on how the company hires. And even in that case, it's a process that some company still adjust with time.

3

On my resume, I indicated the strengths of my various skills with what boils down to a progress bar or star ranking. This lets me note job description-related skills that I have some knowledge of but that aren't my core strengths. I think the "float" is more precise than a "boolean" anyway, so it works for all parties.

As an ascii-art example of what I'm talking about:

##### JavaScript
##### CSS
###   React
##    Wordpress
##### Performance
####  PHP
#     Java

See what I did there? If the job wanted wordpress experience, I could have just listed it with the other areas as a bullet point. However, that "all skills being equal" strategy could be misleading or get me a job I wasn't capable of, based on my relatively limited (but actual) wordpress experience.

With this approach, your friend could rightly mention C++, but rank it low to reflect that he knows some C++, even if not the full subtitles of pointers or templates.

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    +1 because I've never seen this done before. I can't make up my mind whether or not it's appropriate to do this in a CV. It is a good idea, but I usually verbally describe what I can and can't do well; what my core strengths are. This would take away that flexibility and I'd never know I'd been passed over, being prefiltered by ascii. I need to think about this some more. – Justin May 24 at 7:49
  • you could make it look a lot better using a gradient or icons or bullets or solid bars. my resume uses thick vertical bars of gray and black... – dandavis May 24 at 9:52
  • I never liked this idea. Those "grades" are only meaningful when compared to your other grades. You could be awful at JS, but even worst at Java, or you could be the best JS dev there is and still be an excellent Java dev. – IEatBagels May 24 at 20:01
  • @IEatBagels: yes, it's a relative scale. If you know an objective one, please share. I use it more as a "rosetta stone" that unlocks the other areas once my proficiency in one area is established by other means. – dandavis May 24 at 20:23
3

I don't think you really understand the purpose of a resume / CV.

It is a sales document, not an affidavit (document submitted to a court).

... confessed she was about to throw my resume into the garbage because my qualifications ...

What a great thing you just learned!

Most people who write lousy resumes never hear this from someone that matters... and no one's opinion matters more than a hiring manager's.

Here's your problem: "A" is correct.
IF s/he used C++ to code Arduino exercises at school, then they know it.
Not well maybe, but they used it, so they know it.

If you knew more C++ than that, then it should have been on your resume.
You are selling... yourself. Don't undersell yourself!

You should have left C# off of your resume.
But I hope it is on there now; add C++ too.

And for the record, in my opinion, "A" should not have C++ on his/her resume.
But that does not mean "A" told a lie.

2

You should only "embellish" in written form what you would be comfortable explaining under duress (e.g. a tough interviewer).

Short anecdote: I once inflated my competency in an uncommon foreign language by writing on my CV that I was 'fluent' and was caught off guard by an interviewer who switched into that language. It was a totally embarrassing moment. Later on (I unexpectedly got the job) the manager responsible said he was impressed by how I kept my composure when it was obvious I was "caught out". So I guess that was a very rare lucky break and a lesson to not go too far.

To summarise and get back to your situation and question: you are the real judge of whether you are competent enough or not. Sell yourself well, by using appropriately positive examples and "self-assessment scales", but never lie and don't think about the other people who might occasionally get away with it, but more than often do not.

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