Tag Archives: Interviews

When you inflate your experience, you may deflate your chances

I’ve given something in the neighborhood of 100 interviews (probably more, but why overestimate) in the past dozen years.  When our teams were expanding and when people left I was given the opportunity to lead, craft and perform the technical interviews for my teams at Symantec and was given the opportunity to see the process of finding a new job from the other side on a large number of occasions.

However, I want to lead this off with a discussion about my own resume. Even now, looking at it, I think there are things on there that would get me into trouble in interviews.  Things that I’m not 100% certain of that I would have to remove when applying for a real job if only to give the most honest accounting of my skill set.  Raid Arrays being one of them,  I have worked with them, but they are not my specialty and I don’t “work” with them all day or even frequently.  I don’t do hardware work at all in my current job save placing Units in racks on occasion.  I put this out there to dovetail into a discussion about veracity on ones CV and how it caught me and catches interviewees that I’ve met in the past.

When I was interviewing for a fairly awesome job in San Francisco for a firm that my friend worked at I was asked a question about TCP/IP that a TCP  “expert” like I claimed on my resume should have known the answer two off the top of my head.  I answered evasively  on the whole matter and eventually had to embarrassingly admit that while I had an idea how this particular concept worked, I could not answer any detailed questions about the subject (TCP Headers and routing questions if you are interested)  I still don’t have a strong grasp of the concepts I was asked about.  I understand TCP/IP and can dissect packet captures easily, but I am no expert, simple and plain.

This event led me to attempt to make my resume more honest, more complete.  A statistical view of my work instead of a florid description of me.  Discussing it with HR I noted that for the most part when your Resume is screen they look for “the points” and discount the rest.   So while you may have designed and integrated a home brew Directory Service and implemented across 1400 workstations, if you don’t write LDAP or Active Directory on your resume, your accomplishment may go for naught.  So too with Hard Facts.

If you say “I have an MCSE” you’re going to meet someone with an MCSE who will ask you questions about the test or concepts therein.

If you say “I have experience with Linux” it better be more than putting a LiveCD in a machine and running it for an hour or so.  If you want to claim experience with something, have a realistic view of it in your head.  If you can’t answer questions about it that are technical, you don’t know anything about it.

For example, I cannot honestly debate the merits of EXT3 vs NTFS.  I am not an expert in either file system and am not aware of their relative strengths or weaknesses, I know they exist and have installed machines that use them, but beyond large disc handling, I can’t on a professional level, tell you why NTFS is better or worse than EXT3.  I have no well-formed or well-informed opinions on the matter.  Thus I don’t claim file system knowledge on my resume and if the question came up I would answer in much the same way I have discussed it here, I’m not a subject matter expert on this and cannot answer questions on it.  That said, in free form discussion, I might, but professionally, no way.

All of this leads me back to another anecdote about interviews.  For the most part, when hiring for gateways support in Symantec, we hired from within.  This sometimes led to disaster on small teams, as poor chemistry led to unresolvable conflict.  As the team grew larger and it became clear that the skills we needed were not internally available, we started looking externally.  This led to a series of what I would describe as “monster” resumes, resumes that looked very very impressive.  At first we sent some back saying “this person is overqualified” we were assured that these individuals were aware of what they were interviewing for so we accepted all comers.

Which was illuminating.  Of the 27 or so resumes I looked at, only a handful people were able to meet the minimum standards we were trying to meet and in one hilarious episode an esteemed teacher failed to grasp the very basic concepts of what he claimed was his area of expertise.  We had a set series of questions, so it wasn’t an opportunity to pick apart someone’s resume until we completed the set questions.  If people didn’t do well on the set questions, the interview was over and the resume didn’t even enter into things.

However, when given the chance, I like to just wander through the candidates resume, asking questions about the concepts discussed there.  Sometimes I meet a networking expert and I finally get to ask them how TCP Headers and routing work and eventually I’ll meet someone who can tell me.