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Thursday, February 8

Don't Lie On Your CV

It sounds simple doesn't it? Tell the truth on your CV? Maybe that will mean that you won't ge an interview. Maybe if you do lie and get an interview, then your sins will find you out. Maybe if you do lie and you interview well, it will be a long time, if ever, before you're found out. However, there's an argument for not putting yourself into a role you're unsuitable for, especially by deceit.

Let's imagine that we're talking about technical jobs here. Let's also imagine that, for some weird reason, the people interviewing for technical jobs actually KNOW their stuff. They may not be perfect at doing what they're planning to employ you to do, but they know enough to see any holes in your ability. Let's also imagine that they're reasonable people who reckon that you could learn things you don't already know, but that you should be, at least, good at doing the things you say you can do. Seems like a reasonable interview scenario.

Now let's look at the job application stage. You're trying to write your CV. You could amalgamate a list of acronyms that you've heard of and dabbled with. You could even mention a bunch of projects you've worked on and "big up" how important you were in their success. Then you pass this CV on to an employment agency. Their money comes from successfully placing you with an employer. They're not going to lie for you, but they will make you admit to skills you don't really have, if you're not careful. These skills that you've hinted at having, but don't really have, might be the core skills required by the role that our friendly but perceptive interview panel plan to interview you for. See the problem?

So, you've blagged your way into the interview. The first thing the company does is set you a test. The test is an adaptive positive AND negatively marked online piece of wizardry which fairly reliably establishes whether you were bullshitting. Bad luck if you fail the test, you shouldn't have claimed to be able to do that which you actually couldn't do. Maybe you scrape through. In which case, you're in front of the panel. After the initial yada yada, they want you to show them that you know your stuff. Amazing breadth of knowledge with no detail would be bad. Amazing depth of knowledge in one area would be great, provided it's not a narrow and limited thing. A fair depth of knowledge in a few areas would be very good.

Step one, you're asked to describe the last thing you were working on. How did it work? Could you draw a standard diagram on a whiteboard of it? What you can't draw a diagram? Really? Ok, well, can you explain this technique? Really? You can't get any consistent terminology, or ge the message across? And you claim to have the skills for communicating software design? How does that work? And you claim to have skills for managing projects efficiently using an "insert buzzword here" method? How did that method work? What? You're describing something that's almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the method you claimed? Ok...

...it's amazingly frustrating being the person on the panel in this situation. I want to believe that the basic things I know are so basic that any computer programmer who expects to be paid more than £22,000 per year ought to know them without thinking. They're in all the textbooks, they're standard, they're the basics. That's how they got their name. They're basic!

Maybe I'm misremembering how much I knew when I joined here a year ago. Though I think I'm not.

The upside of interviewing is that I'm starting to feel like I, at least, have some sort of rating in the software engineering world. If there are people out there with salary expectations similar to my own, and they can't even draw a frickin' diagram to explain the basics of a system, and they don't even know the fairly standard methods of designing software... well, maybe I'm not as useless as sometimes I feel.

Or maybe I go into interviews to try to make the other person look stupid?

Though, in fairness to me, I tend to ask questions intended to make the interviewee's eyes light up with joy at the obviousness of the answer. I am, to job interviews, what my French teacher was to French Oral exams. The exam would be taped so that it could be marked by the external examiner. Though it was under exam conditions, the teacher could still point to the exam paper to show exactly which bit of the conversation we were at. He wasn't telling me the answer, but he was telling me when to say which bit of the conversation. He was also giving me smiles and a big thumbs up when I got stuff right.

I am Mr Milner. As far as job interviews go.

Maybe I should go and work in France?

Too far to commute.

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