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Photography of Alvaro Montoro being a doofus
Alvaro Montoro

CSS Games Developer

A man holds his hand in disbelief while looking at a computer.

Don't make these mistakes when applying for a job

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We've had a couple of openings on our team, and I have been reviewing resumes and running pre-screenings and interviews lately. It's one of the first times that I am fully on this side of the interviewing process, and so far, it has been an insightful and rewarding experience.

I found a series of "common" mistakes that different candidates made during the hiring process. Some were unfortunate human errors, others were attempts to cheat the system... and they raised eyebrows.

Right now, it's a great job market for developers, and you probably won't have much trouble finding a new position. Still, try to avoid these mistakes when applying for a job:

  1. Don't forget to attach your resume
  2. Don't send the wrong resume
  3. Don't have everyone else's resume
  4. Don't link obsolete/unused social media
  5. Don't copy-paste your test answers
  6. Don't sell yourself short

1. Don't forget to attach your resume

Sounds ridiculous and far-fetched? Not so much. Around 5% of the candidates did not attach their resumes to the application.

In some cases, it was not their fault: it was the system they used to apply. Job sites that claim to "submit your profile" may not integrate correctly and send the information, and without a file to review, the only thing we get is a name and/or email.

Man looks desperately at computer
No resume = No application (picture by Tim Gouw)
 

Initially, I would contact the candidates asking for their resumes... but eventually stopped. Of course, it's not the candidate's fault, but I couldn't be chasing them when I already had many other profiles to review.

Did I lose great candidates because of that? Maybe. Could I lose great candidates with an attached resume by wasting time chasing other candidates without an attached resume? Probably. It's not fair for anyone.

When you apply for a job, make sure that the system you use has your resume on file. If not, there's a chance we won't be getting anything at all.

2. Don't send the wrong resume

It is a bit confusing —and suspicious— when John Doe from Tennessee sends the resume of Michael Smith from Texas (names and locations invented).

I am not talking about people submitting their resumes with nicknames or their "American names" (unfortunately, there's still discrimination and using an easier name opens many doors), even I have done it in the past. I am talking about attaching the resume of a completely different person from a completely different place and a completely different background.

I have seen this a couple of times, and it has been awkward. Especially when one of the profiles matched the job perfectly while the other was completely unrelated (still within IT).

While talking about wrong names, if you add a cover letter (most people don't), reread it before submitting it with your application. It looks kind of bad when you add a cover letter with the wrong company's name.

3. Don't have everyone else's resume

This point may be more relevant for positions that require a certain level of creativity, but to some extent, it applies to everyone.

Many resumes have the same template (and almost the same content, too!). As a result, they don't stand out. On the other hand, candidates that have a more original resume are easier to remember.

A field full of yellow tulips with a single red tulip focused and centered
These tulips are equally beautiful, but you'll remember only one (picture by Rupert Britton)
 

After seeing the same resumes repeatedly, most of them with a similar structure, names, and experiences become blurry. It is difficult to tell one apart from the other. Spice your resume up! Add color, use a different template, different fonts and icons...

In some cases, this is not possible because the company requires a specific format. This point is not only for presentation; it's about content, too. There's always something that you can add to stand out.

For a long time, I listed on my resume some experience as a cartoonist at a local/university newspaper. Going to interviews, I was often welcomed with "Ah! You are the guy who draws for the newspaper". My experience was similar to everyone else's, but I had an edge. Something different and quirky that made me stand out and made me memorable.

If you add links to your social media profiles and accounts, chances are we are going to check them. And if they are empty or haven't been updated for 10-15 years, they will leave a sour impression.

Seriously, why link your Github profile if you only have a repo that hasn't been updated in over a decade? Or your empty LinkedIn? Or a Twitter account with an egg photo and a single tweet from 4 years ago? It won't tell me anything good.

For developers, Github is an interesting case. They (we) rush to put a la link on their resume, but then the profile is empty or has zero contributions, or (IMHO, even worse) they have way too many contributions.

One time, we had a candidate who created a script that automatically generated dummy commits and pushes to a repo. That way, their contribution chart looked unrealistically dark green. But, in reality, his unique contribution was... a nicely developed script that generated dummy commits and pushes.

Screenshot of two contribution charts (squares where light color means fewer contributions and dark means lots of contributions). One looks spotty, with more light than dark, many days without contributions. The other looks completely dark. There's a text saying this (arrow pointing to the spotty chart) is better than this (arrow pointing to the full chart)
One of these contribution charts is fake... I wonder which one?
 

I personally love seeing what people develop on Github. It won't affect their eligibility if they don't have anything, but it may make their lives easier. That's because people tend to be more comfortable talking about their passions, and if I see an interesting project, I will likely ask about it.

5. Don't copy-paste your test answers

...or, at least, be smart about it.

If you get a take-home programming test, don't just copy-paste the answers senselessly from the Internet. Google-foo is a great skill to have (I think knowing how to find information online is essential and don't have any problem with candidates searching online on interviews), but remember: interviewers also have it... and they have anti-plagiarism software that will flag your results, too.

At Visa, we perform small programming tests on HackerRank, and as part of the results, we get a plagiarism detection report. And it doesn't look too good if the algorithm flagged all the candidate's answers.

Plus, if/when you get to the next stage, you may be asked to explain the code later. It is ok if you copied it, but at least you should understand it and be able to explain it.

6. Don't sell yourself short

We had some candidates with 15 relevant years of experience applying to positions requiring 2-4 years. Unfortunately, those candidates were almost automatically discarded by the system. This is because their expectations never match the job description, and convincing Human Resources (HR) to upgrade an open position is tough.

There are cases in which this experience discrepancy may be justified: people changing careers or trying a different field within software development... but outside of those and a little more, hiring candidates with too much experience doesn't fly.

Be realistic, and don't sell yourself short. If you have the knowledge and experience to be at a higher level, don't apply to lower levels.

In contrast to the point above, don't be scared to apply if you don't match all the requirements; you may still be a perfect match and get the job. Hiring a candidate with less experience but promising skills is an easier sell to HR than the opposite.


Cover image by Alex Green on Pexels.

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