Aug 262016

You would think a lesson as simple as “always tell the truth”, something that parents teach their children from an early age, wouldn’t be such an issue in adulthood. But of course it is for some. I’ve wanted to write this post for a while, and with the recent media reports about US Olympic Swimmer Ryan Lochte lying about being robbed in Rio de Janeiro, the timing seemed incredibly appropriate.

It’s Pretty Simple

When applying or interviewing for employment, don’t lie. If you do, and you aren’t caught right away, chances are pretty good that sooner or later someone will find out. You either won’t get the job to begin with, or if you’ve already been hired, your tenure may end very quickly. I can’t help but think back to George O’Leary, the Notre Dame Football Coach who was caught falsifying information about both his academic and athletic accomplishments. He resigned five days after his hire was announced, once people started taking a harder look at his qualifications.

A Few Tales

In my years of conducting interviews I’ve had plenty of candidates where things seemed strange or just didn’t add up. Two stories of lying on a résumé stick out in my mind as being especially amazing.

The first was a candidate who wanted to stress that they “lived and breathed SQL Server.” One comment to me during the interview was “I dream in SQL”. Yeah that sounds kinda creepy, but by that point it didn’t even matter, because they put the following line on their résumé:

Regular attendee of Chicago SQL Server User Group meetings

Many interviewers would probably see that as a plus, but not me. I’ve been regularly attending meetings of that user group since 2009, have been part of its leadership for the past few years, and have never seen that person before in my life. I know my memory isn’t perfect though, but fortunately our attendance records are pretty extensive. You see, we meet in a secured office building. Anyone attending our meetings has to RSVP ahead of time, so we can get their name on a list that’s given to building security. If your name isn’t on the list, you don’t get into the building.

Being database people…we keep all that data! I was able to look back several years and prove that this person had never attended a meeting in recent history, and more than likely not at all. This wasn’t the only reason they didn’t make it past the first round of interviews, but it sure made our decision easier.

Then there’s “Dr. Mario”. If you were preparing to interview someone, looking over the résumé and saw an education section that looked like this, what would you think?

Faber College
Bachelor of Science, Biology
Pre-Law / Pre-Med

Adams College
Master of Science, Cell Biology

Cornjerker State University
Medical Doctor

Would you think they’re a doctor, or at least have an M.D. degree? That’s certainly what we thought. About halfway through the interview the candidate casually mentioned “oh yeah, I dropped out of that program after one year.” Then why is it on your résumé? Or if you’re going to put it on there, it should probably be denoted that the degree was not earned. As it was written, the logical assumption would be that the degree was completed.

I’ve interviewed plenty of people mid-way through a degree. All have been very careful to note on their résumé that the degree is “pending”, or to explicitly state an “expected graduation date” or something along those lines. “Dr. Mario” (who, much like the actual Dr. Mario, is not a real doctor) had nothing at all.

Don’t Make It Easy

In short, don’t lie. Even if you aren’t lying, if anything at all makes your interviewer think you aren’t being fully truthful, chances are pretty good that you won’t be hearing back from them. There are plenty of reasons for a job interview to not progress to the next stage of an organization’s hiring process. Some of those reasons are fair; others are not. But if you lie either in person or on paper, or in any way appear to be hiding something, you just made your interviewer’s job way easier. If an organization can’t trust you to present yourself and your qualifications accurately at the earliest part of the employment process, how can they be expected to trust you with their data?

But the responsibility doesn’t lie solely on the candidate here. If you’re the hiring manager, make sure you’re doing your due diligence. Contact references, verify qualifications. Check everything. Don’t blindly assume that just because you see something on a résumé, it is true, and that it means what you think it means.

Nov 212013

There was an interesting debate on Twitter the other day over whether or not it’s important for an interviewee to know what a company does, or if they should just know whatever technology the job description calls for and nothing else. Jen McCown blogged about it in detail and included a lot of comments.

There are definitely valid points on both sides, but in general I think it’s always a good idea to know what you’re potentially getting yourself into before you head to an interview. This way, should you find there’s something about the position you object to beforehand, you can save both yourself and the interviewer a lot of time by canceling.

Even more importantly, taking the time to learn a little about the company and what they do shows your interviewer(s) that you are really interested in the position, and may separate you from the other candidates. If someone is faced with two similarly-qualified applicants and one of them put forth the extra effort to do some research about the company in advance, which candidate looks better?

True story: back when my brother was a senior in high school he was applying for all the local scholarships he could find, one of which was offered by the local Masonic Lodge. They decided to bring him in, and I can remember him mentioning to my father one morning that the interview was later that afternoon. My dad asked if he knew anything at all about the masons, and if not, maybe he should look up some facts about them. Adam heeded my father’s advice before heading off to be interviewed.

A few days later, the Worshipful Master (awesome title!) called my brother to say they decided to award him the scholarship. This of course was awesome and we were all very happy, but even more entertaining was why they decided to award it to him.

It turns out they only invited 2 people in for interviews, and one of the questions they asked was “What do you know about the Masons?” Adam came prepared, and said he knew they were one of the oldest fraternal organizations in the world, and that several U.S. Presidents, including George Washington, were all Masons as well.

They said the other candidate, when asked the same question, replied something along the lines of “You guys are a cult, right?”

So if you want the job, or the scholarship, or for whatever reason find yourself needing to impress someone, do your homework ahead of time.