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Don't make these mistakes when applying for a job

Alvaro Montoro
CSS aficionado ⊆ Web Developer ⊆ Software Developer ⊆ Person
Originally published at alvaromontoro.com ・6 min read

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.

4. Don't link obsolete/unused social media

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.

In our team, 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 normally 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.

In the end, it all boils down to: don't sell yourself short and aim high. If you are a match, great. If you are not, the company will tell you if there's a lower position that you would fit into.


Cover image by Alex Green on Pexels.

Discussion (12)

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial • Edited

Two things I have seen that really made me "sit up and pay attention".

The first was someone had obviously read a marketing book and sent us some "lumpy mail". Their CV was in an envelope where they had stapled a tea bag to the letter with the text "please enjoy a cup of tea while reviewing my CV, thank you for your time".

It stopped the letter being thrown away as the envelope has a lump in it (plus...it was a letter, a physical letter!) as immediately we were intrigued and the cup of tea bit made us all laugh. They didn't get the job...they got the interview though, and they did end up working at the company 9 months later!

The second was someone sent us their CV and it had a QR code on it that says "why I want to work here".

They had bought a URL to point the QR code at: "thisiswhyiwanttoworkat{company}"
and put a two minute video together instead of a cover letter, highlighting what they like about the projects the company was working on and how they thought they could help.

I can't remember if they got the job, but yet again, they got the interview.

I think the crux of what I am saying mirrors point 3 -> stand out!

Do you know what I think would work today (for the right size company...the type you are more likely to be applying to not FAANG), pick up the phone and ask to speak to who is responsible for recruiting.

Tell them you are just researching the company and ask maybe one or two questions about the company culture, expectations, how long the recruiter has been there etc.

When the 50 different applicants come in you might be the only one where the recruiter goes "It's InHu, right, we spoke on the phone"...you are already 50% of the way there!

Anyway, great article! I got distracted and started writing an essay as always instead of what I intended writing, great points and did you get the person you were looking for yet?

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opeolluwa profile image
ADEOYE ADEFEMI OPEOLUWA

Thanks for sharing, if you don't mind I'd like see you write more from the abduance of your exprience.

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial

What exactly are you hoping for? Is there a particular topic you are hoping to get covered that you haven't seen much on?

I did contemplate writing a piece titled "marketing is the most important skill you can possess as a developer" to explain how "putting your best foot forward" is an important skill many people lack?

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opeolluwa profile image
ADEOYE ADEFEMI OPEOLUWA

Writing CV as a Developer & the tips for getting first job as a developer

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial

@alvaromontoro who wrote this and others would be far better positioned for that.

I have been involved in hiring quite often, but I am rarely part of a typical hiring process and often encourage companies away from typical coding interviews that you are most likely to deal with.

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opeolluwa profile image
ADEOYE ADEFEMI OPEOLUWA

Thank @inhuofficial and yes! Writing on the topic "marketing is the most important skill you can possess as a developer" would be a blessing to start-ups like myself and those who have been in this game for a while, I'll look forward to it.

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opeolluwa profile image
ADEOYE ADEFEMI OPEOLUWA

@alvaromontoro could you please write on tips for getting first job as a developer especiall as it concern writing cover letter and CV

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waylonwalker profile image
Waylon Walker

I've all too often seen links to github profiles that have three repos created 4 days ago, one commit each, no readme, and a sloppy jupyter notebook as the only file. If you are going to link your github, show us you know git, commit somewhat regularly, show us you can communicate, have a good readme, your side project is not expected to be the best code, but it shouldn't have anything detrimentally wrong.

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chrmc7 profile image
Chris ☕️

Thank you very much for posting this. Articles like this are extremely helpful. I especially liked your input on social medias and GitHub. 👍

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blossom profile image
Blossom Babs

Thank you for sharing

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alvaromontoro profile image
Alvaro Montoro Author

Thanks for reading 😊

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opeolluwa profile image
ADEOYE ADEFEMI OPEOLUWA

I'm trusting to get my first job soon as a junior JavaScript Developer and this is of great help