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Please note that this is a two year old question that has just been migrated from Stack Overflow. Please take your time to read all the answers and ask yourself "would my answer add anything to this?".

I'm conducting technical interviews to fill a few .NET positions. Many of the people I interview really do know .NET pretty well, but I find at least 90% embellish their skillset anywhere between "a little" to "quite drastically". Sometimes they fabricate skills relevant to the position they're applying for, sometimes they don't.

Most of the people I interview, even the most egregious liars, are not scam artists. They just want to stand out among the crowd, so they drop a few buzzwords on their resume like "JBoss", "LINQ", "web services", "Django" or whatever just to pad their skillset and stay competitive.

(You might wonder if a person that lies about those skills is just bluffing their way through a technical interview. My interviews involve a lot of hands-on coding and problem-solving – people who attempt to bluff will bomb the hands-on coding portion in the first 3 minutes.)

These are two open-ended questions, but it would really help me out when I make my recommendations to the hiring managers:

  1. Regarding interviewing etiquette, should I attempt to determine whether a person really possesses all of the skills they claim to have? Can I do this without making the candidate feel uncomfortable?

  2. Regarding the final decision, should I recommend candidates who are genuinely qualified for the positions they're applying for, even if they've fabricated portions of their skillset?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jan 24 '11 at 6:33

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

closed as not constructive by Mark Trapp Oct 21 '11 at 8:59

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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@jmein: Nope. It is not programming related, therefore it should not be here. –  Geoffrey Chetwood Feb 19 '09 at 19:00
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Just because something could be relevant to non-programmers doesn't mean it can't live on SO. This is highly relevant to developers responsible for hiring and developers looking for jobs, and here we can focus on hard technical aspects, rather than generic "lying" as you'd find on Monster.com –  Rex M Feb 19 '09 at 19:48
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Kinda hard to earn a living at it if you can't get a job –  kajaco Feb 20 '09 at 16:10
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@m4bwav: there is no criteria that defines what should or shouldn't be wikified. Wiki is used to prevent people from gaining rep (read "winning the pissing contest") for "fun" questions. My question is not "fun", it's technical merit and utilitarian value is certainly applicable to programmers. –  Juliet Feb 20 '09 at 16:21
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Stack Overflow is not a career advice site. You might be interested in either careeroverflow.com or advice.personforce.com. –  Roger Pate Apr 7 '10 at 10:42

37 Answers 37

What I would do is give them a complicated piece of code and ask them to tell you exactly what's going on, or some similar test. Watch them closely - often they'll be able to guess, but you will be able to tell from their facial expression what they're thinking.

If they look like a deer caught in the headlights, then chances are they did lie.

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1) Regarding interviewing etiquette, should I attempt to determine whether a person really possesses all of the skills they claim to have? Can I do this without making the candidate feel uncomfortable?

This is very dangerous ground. If you are an EOE (equal opportunity employer), questions not related to the actual job can get you into some hot water. I'd recommend putting together a solid list of the known skills that you believe the position requires now. It wouldn't hurt to add a few of the nice to haves for future projects.

Also just to play a little devil's advocate... Just because they put something like LINQ or JBoss on their resume does not imply in itself that they are not being honest. They may know a little bit about it, but are not experts. This is why you'll see people score the needed competencies for a job on a 1 - 10 basis to make sure they have the required skill base for that technology for the job.

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Not everyone might asess their own skill set as accurate as you. That's especially true if they are less experienced. Because of that, not reflecting the resume accurately may not be sign of lying but a different understanding of one's own capabilities.

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There are too many reasons to lie on a resume/CV to call people out on every single bullet point in their skill set.

  1. Sometimes you have to put on stuff you don't know very well to get past HR. How many job descriptions have you read that say things like "knowledge of MySQL, SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase, Postgre SQL, C++, Java, Com, Win32, ASP, ASP.Net, VB" etc blah blah. Like they just went to a site that listed out programming acronyms and technologies. HR doesn't know anything about what we do, all they can do is do a comparison. "I see SQL Server and Oracle, but I dont' see Sybase or MySQL. Hmmm...well, then they must not be able to comprehend our really difficult 25 table database that we have."

  2. A recruiter/head hunter might have encouraged emphasis on certain technologies, or at worst, actually ALTERED the resume before you see it. I've had the latter happen to me. Got to an interview and the interviewer said, "wow, so you have 12 years in .Net? Interesting since it has only been around for 6 years." I had to spend a lot of time really explaining my experience that looked contradictory to "my" resume. I was not offered that position.

So, really, use the resume as a jumping off point. Find out what they mean by experience, and see if it jibes with what you understand that word to mean. I mean, I've had "experience" doing PHP. A 3 month stint at a side job that was nothing more than a CRUD web app. So, yeah, I've had "experience" in it. It's on my resume. Am I qualified to jump onto a PHP project and be a tech lead? Hell no.

Other people have said it best -- look at the job and app experience and ask them about that stuff. Dig deep. Don't spend a bit of time on the bullet points. You really never know who put those things down.

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I lied before but only once because don’t know on how to impress my employer and call me up for an interview. On the next day when they called for an interview I said the truth, everything was embarrassing. Well advice me if you’re getting difficult with your resume and don’t know what will be the content is use a resume template.

But guess what after a week they called and I’m hired because of my honesty.

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There is no law that states a person must tell the truth in a resume. Don't be petty.

I rarely read a resume because they are only a calling card. I glance at the first page in order to make sure the candidate has the required skills so we are not wasting each others time. During the interview, I ask specific technical questions. If they cannot answer to my satisfaction then I do not hired them or recommend them. Everyone lies. I really do not care if they lie or not, I just want them to do their job if hired.

To be honest, I lie more during the interview then I do on my resume. (I do not lie on the resume, because there is not enough room to fit on two pages.) Yet, I have never had a client or employer that was dissatisfied with my performance or skills in the two decades I have been in the industry.

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Are you "Still Hiring" from Bob Lewis' blog entry?

It seems to me that virtually every "expert" I have talked to or read recommends that one embellishes one's resume if it will help get the interview.

Not original to me here, but yes, it's okay to ask about the interviewee's skill set, especially as it pertains to the job for which they are interviewing. If they really have the skills, they shouldn't get any more uncomfortable than they already are. If you ask the question correctly (i.e. don't just ask "Do you know about technology XYZ?", to which the answer could be "Yes" even if they only read a single blog entry about it yesterday) it should be possible to tell if they have embellished a bit; at this point you want them to be honest and say they only have a little knowledge in the area.

As for hiring, if it's a minor embellishment, I don't see a problem, since that's what's advised these days (and would they have gotten through the door if they hadn't done that?). If it's something major, turn them down.

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