Rejected! 3 lies sink tech contenders

In a hot job market, good hires are crucial, but sometimes, a resume can be too good to be true

Rejected! 3 lies sink tech contenders
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Over the course of my IT career, I’ve hired a lot of people. My track record isn’t perfect, but overall I did pretty well in finding good candidates for the jobs. But there have been lessons along the way. For example, I’ve learned to never accept a resume at face value. Here are three stories to illustrate the point.

It was the height of the dot-com era, and I worked for a large tech company that put me in charge of a joint venture with another large tech company.

This venture was a small one, but it was a web-enabled business-to-consumer entity we’ll call “jointco,” and we were all excited. During this time, our web-capable technicians were billed out, so I outsourced our web development to a small services firm, and we got up and running in fine fashion.

The services firm had a pretty good recruiting staff, and one day its top recruiter came in with a resume of a developer that listed experience with our website and thought we might be interested in it. We looked over the resume, but none of us recognized the person, and we knew everyone who had ever worked on the site. Our tech lead, “Mack,” decided to take the resume and follow up.

Mack called the guy, we’ll call him “Mark,” and the conversation went something like this:

Mack: Hi Mark. I got your resume off one of the job boards, and it looked pretty good. I had some questions and wanted to follow up.

Mark: That would be great. I do have a lot of terrific experience.

Mack: That’s it what it seems like. I was especially interested in your experience on the jointco website. Was wondering if you could tell me a bit about the technology.

Mark:  Oh, sure.

Mack:  What database did you use?

Mark:  Oracle. [The site did not use Oracle.]

Mack:  Which app server did you use?

Mark:  Apache. [The site did not use Apache.]

Mack:  Who are some of the people you worked with on that project?

Mark:  Ahhhhhh [big pause]. “Dave Johnson” was one guy.

Mack: Can you hold on a minute?

Mark:  Sure.

[Mack goes off and gets Dave Johnson.]

Mack: I’m back, Mark. Dave Johnson is here with me on the speakerphone. You see, I’m the tech lead for jointco site development and Dave Johnson works for me, but you aren’t on this team, so I’m trying to sort out how you got experience on this website.

At this point, the truth came out. Dave had been in a bar frequented by techies. Mark walked in, struck up a conversation with Dave, and learned that Dave was working on the jointco website, and decided jointco would be a good website to add to his resume. Little did he know he'd be called out for it.

Telling tales out of school

A few years later, I left that large tech company and joined another large company as a director in systems development. We were in a hiring frenzy, and the first candidate I identified looked like a solid find. We sailed through the interview process, and I made a job offer that he quickly accepted. The offer was contingent on the results from the usual background check.

Sadly, the educational credentials didn’t check out. The school he listed as granting his bachelor’s degree was not licensed or accredited to grant degrees, and the job required a bachelor’s degree. That experience didn’t work at all, and the offer was withdrawn.

Later, I had a contract employee who worked for me as a project manager. He ran a number of difficult projects very well, had been in the military, and worked for a very large tech firm in a very senior position. Eventually, I asked him if he’d be interested in coming in-house and working as an employee. He liked the idea, and from there we proceeded with the usual contingencies, including a background check.

The job required a bachelor’s degree. His resume showed an associate’s degree and work completed on an MBA with an expected completion date of eight months out. That was good enough to meet the company’s job requirements: I could get an educational waiver for him as long as we had a firm date as to when he would complete his degree. The college was in Europe, which made sense given his previous work for the large tech company was in Europe. This was one of the universities that was suited to military and other foreign service personnel with distance learning needs. Shouldn’t be a problem, I thought.

The background check took a long time, and I made a few inquiries as to the delay. The answer was that given the overseas institution, it would take a while to get the confirmations—fair enough.

Finally the background check came back. The feedback from the European university was not good news. The university reps said he was accepted into their program, enrolled in one class, then dropped that class and was never seen again. Sigh.

I now ask lots of detailed questions to try to find out in advance if there is any resume inflation going on. A lot of times, there is.