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I have been programming for a very long time and I have in depth knowledge of several technologies. Recently I applied for a web development job and in my resume I had listed all the skills - HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, AJAX, PHP, ASP, JSP, C/C++, ARM. Except for C/C++ and ARM I had shown the skill level for all technologies as expert.

Many of my friends had applied for the same job and they did not have any web development experience. ALL of them got a call for interview. However I got a rejection saying that we have received applications from very high level candidates and you have not be selected to go to the next level.

This has seriously demotivated me. I do not understand why I have been rejected when I had all the required skills and all those who did not have any of the skills have been selected. One reason which I think is that the employer might be thinking that how one person can be an expert in all the technologies. Once in another interview I was told by the HR manager that it is unbelievable that you know ASP, JSP and PHP all in depth as we have different programmers for each of the technology.

Such incidents make me very unhappy as in spite of being highly capable of the position I am rejected. Should I not list all my skills in the resume to avoid such situations?

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How much experience have you with web development? Knowing a language is only part of what companies look for. I ask because a question of yours on stack overflow (stackoverflow.com/questions/2297383/…) asked just over a year ago indicates you're pretty new to MVC, a key concept for any serious web application. Your resume says "expert" and you claim to have been programming for a "very long time" so if I read your resume I would expect to see 3-5 years of working on MVC web apps. –  Qwerky Jun 30 '11 at 10:03
    
"expert" is a very, very high level of skill, much more than "in depth". What don't you know about any of HTML, CSS, Javascript, JQuery, AJAX (this one is actually quite hard), PHP, ASP and JSP? –  user1249 Dec 21 '11 at 23:59
    
The list of skills is merely what will get you past the keyword searches, and might get your resume a quick glance. The thing that gets you the interview is a work history that demonstrates you have what the employer is actually looking for. –  Angelo Dec 22 '11 at 0:14

10 Answers 10

up vote 29 down vote accepted

The people who fine-tune their resumes to the job for which they are applying are the most successful at getting interviews. I've experienced this from both the applicant side and the reviewer side.

If I'm hiring for a web developer position, I'm probably not going to be concerned about whether or not the applicant knows C++ or Objective C. It's also been my experience that applicants don't know things as well as they claim, so depending on the experience (in terms of job history) of the candidate, I take that information with a grain of salt.

I think a lot of employers who have a tech background may be skeptical if an applicant says they are experts in a lot of different areas - even if it's true, there's likely to be a skepticism of the resume reviewer.

The other thing to consider is that a person reviewing resumes may have hundreds to sift through, and its quite easy to over-filter resumes if it's not immediately evident that the applicant has the required skills.

My advice: tweak each resume you send out to cover as many possible requirements of the job as you can, limit exposing technologies that are irrelevant to the job you're applying for, and if you don't have explicit experience with a particular requirement, be prepared to make the argument why your experiences translate well to that requirement.

Good luck!

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Sounds right. But one question on "It's also been my experience that applicants don't know things as well as they claim". It may be the case for most but there will be some who really know what they have claimed. You can always test their knowledge during the interview rather than directly rejecting them. –  Cracker Jun 27 '11 at 19:49
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@Cracker Usually the employer will get resumes for more people than they can talk to. If they have a doubt about your sincerity then its easier just not to interview you. –  Jeremy Jun 27 '11 at 19:58
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@Cracker hiring managers don't have time to dig through the all the dung for the prizes, they pick the smallest piles of dung to dig through. :-) Reading a resume takes a few seconds of your time, doing an interview can take hours off your day. They know what they were looking for, you weren't it, it is a one way feedback relationship, that is the nature of the game. Spend more time learning how to market and sell yourself if you really have the technical chops, instead of learning more technical stuff. –  Jarrod Roberson Jun 27 '11 at 20:00
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@Jeremy, @Jarrod Reberson - Got it! So I need to learn a bit of marketing now! ;) –  Cracker Jun 27 '11 at 20:03
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A resume is not a biography. It's a tool to get a job. –  JeffO Jun 27 '11 at 21:56

aim small miss small

For a developer position you only want to list what is relevant to the position you are applying for, nothing more ... nothing less.

Before you submit a resume talk with the recruiter / HR representative and get a real feel for what they are looking for and make sure it is a good fit. Not just job description but salary, culture, commute, all that stuff. Then if you really want to apply, tailor a very detailed resume for that position and that position only.

Any one of those is off, then you don't want to apply or will get rejected if you do.

That said you have to have demonstrable experience listed on your resume as well, if you have this laundry list of technologies and don't back that up with demonstrable experience, it looks like abbreviation padding.

You should not expect to just tell someone something and them automatically believe what you wrote down, there is more sales psychology in getting a job than what you know and your many years of experience technically.

Maybe they were not looking for an expert, maybe they might have wanted someone junior so they didn't cost as much as well. We can't see your resume or the job description or read the employers mind, so this is all speculation at this point.

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The job title in the requirement was "Web Developer" and not PHP developer or J2EE Developer. Also the required skills mentioned experience in server side technologies. So I think all the skills except C/C++ and ARM were relevant. –  Cracker Jun 27 '11 at 19:40
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as a hiring manager, C/C++ and ARM would scare me off of you for a web development position because those are so far away from the requirements and signal that you are an embedded developer and not a web developer. –  Jarrod Roberson Jun 27 '11 at 19:42
    
"They might have wanted someone junior". Hmm, maybe this is the case as the salary which was offered was much lower than what other companies pay. –  Cracker Jun 27 '11 at 19:43
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You should have researched the company and found out what kind of shop they were and tailored your resume to their needs. Anything you know that doesn't directly fulfill their needs is completely irrelevant to the point of negativity. Example: You might have 5 years in each of those technologies, they would rather have someone with 10 years in just what they do. –  Jarrod Roberson Jun 27 '11 at 20:03

The skill list should be tailored to the job that you are applying for.

Another consideration is that you may have appeared "over-qualified" for the job. Based on all the expert skills, you could look like someone that would expect greater compensation than what they are prepared to hire someone for.

Not getting a call for an interview may have been for any number of reasons, your skill list may not have been the only reason. Polish your resume some more and try again.

Good Luck.

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As for me, when I review a candidate's resume that has a laundry list of skills, especially with a self-assessment of "expert", that isn't placed into the specific context of the projects and accomplishments where you've applied those skills, I think that there's at least some inflation of skills, and potentially some Dunning-Kruger effect going on there.

My resume is far from perfect, but it does get me jobs, and I rarely make special effort to customize it for specific employers, other than deleting items. But I don't have a laundry list of skills in there. I have a list of employers and projects, and the technologies I've used are mentioned in some variation of the form "Built a Norbert Fizzbuzzer Management System with a REST-based WCF web service for Fizzbuzz provisioning in C#, and a Ruby-based client to support automated Norberting and Provisioning" or "Refactored SQL database schema to reduce application errors, reducing customer support incidents related to data errors by 75%".

I am a generalist, and I am pretty comfortable in, say, C# and Ruby, Asp.Net MVC, and Rails. But I don't use the word "expert" because, at least in the town where I live, I could easily land in an interview where Eric Lippert decides to do a deep-dive about some esoteric C# feature that I've only heard of or have used by accident, and I'll look like a bit of a fool. In my resume, project context gives the employer enough information to guess what's probably fair game, no self-assessment required. The keywords are still in there, but in context, so recruiters still find my resume when they're doing a rough screen.

A laundry list in absence of context suggests relatively limited experience, at least from my perspective. When I've interviewed candidates that claim to have "expert" knowledge on anything, I have often been disappointed, because I may know just enough about technology X to ask intelligent questions about it, and find that the candidate has never heard of the feature I ask about or doesn't understand how it works.

Being humble may help you. Granted, I've been pitched jobs from companies that expected me to come back and pretend to be a rockstar with deep understanding of unspecified esoteric algorithms, and they bounced me because I gave them a contextualized view of my expertise and they wanted either arrogance or genius, but that keeps both of us from wasting each other's time in an awkward interview where I claim expert-level knowledge of C++ but can't explain the difference between a virtual copy constructor and a non-virtual one.

Being specific may help you. Don't claim a skill level. Just explain what you've done with technology X, as briefly as possible while still being descriptive enough to be intriguing.

Being targeted may help you, but I'm going out on a limb here and suspecting that most of your experience is not in a professional setting. If your history is mostly on personal projects or academic work, that's fine, but be up front about it. Feel free to put those project details in your resume.

Being visible may help you. If you aren't restricted by intellectual property constraints, publish some of your best code on Github or Bitbucket, and link to that on your resume.

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I take your point -- an expert at, say, using C# might not be considered an expert at designing C# -- but that said, I try to not ask interview questions about esoteric subjects. I'm not interested in hiring people who know a lot of trivia; I'm interested in hiring people who have really strong design, coding and debugging skills. That's what I tend to emphasize in my interviews. –  Eric Lippert Jun 28 '11 at 15:47
    
Granted, you were just my local example of why one shouldn't claim "expert" level knowledge, especially without context. In Seattle I have more than once worked on teams with ex-Visual Studio developers even after I left Microsoft, so there's always someone who's more expert than I. Over time, I've learned not to take seriously any self-assessment from junior candidates, since I know that, at best, they rank themselves against their nearest peers. –  JasonTrue Jun 28 '11 at 17:07

I have been programming for a very long time and I have in depth knowledge of several technologies.

Whenever someone tells me that they have "in-depth" knowledge of several technologies, especially unrelated technologies, I begin to ask questions. In-depth knowledge is something that not only takes a lot of time (many years), but dedication and participation. You don't say what kind of education or work experience you have, and that would make a difference. At face value, your words are simply fluff.

I only have 2 1/2 years or work experience in the industry. However, I have been programming since I was in school.

This is one of your comments. There's absolutely no way that you can be an expert on that many technologies in that short of time. I started programming in C++ and Java in 2004, just graduated from university in May 2011, have 2 years of experience as a software engineer, and spent most of my combined time (with the exception of about 6 months) as a Java-focused developer. I would only rate myself as intermediate in Java (SE) development and a beginner in JEE development.

Given this, I think you should rethink what you consider to be an expert-level or in-depth knowledge of a language.

One reason which I think is that the employer might be thinking that how one person can be an expert in all the technologies. Once in another interview I was told by the HR manager that it is unbelievable that you know ASP, JSP and PHP all in depth as we have different programmers for each of the technology.

I would question that too. I highly doubt that one person can truly be a master of so many disparate technologies. I'm sure that there are people out there capable of it, but they are few and far between. In my experiences, HR is the first one to look at your resume. If the HR personnel don't think your resume is legit, you have no hope of getting to a hiring manager or team lead for review.

Recently I applied for a web development job and in my resume I had listed all the skills - HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, AJAX, PHP, ASP, JSP, C/C++, ARM. Except for C/C++ and ARM I had shown the skill level for all technologies as expert.

I don't list skills on my resume outside of job descriptions, and there are very good reasons for that.

The skills that I have are clearly show by my job history and academic transcripts. In addition, the mention of skills within some kind of context allow the person reading my resume to see how exactly I applied these technologies, and then it comes to a discussion point during an interview. A laundry list of skills doesn't provide any kind of context - did you use them at work, in academic projects, or did you read a stack of books?

I also don't list any skill levels on my resume. Skill levels are very subjective. What one person considers to be an expert knowledge, someone else can consider to be intermediate knowledge. Again, providing a number and duration of projects, jobs, and coursework in various tools and technologies provides a context that can be used to compare candidates on a much more reasonable level.

If you feel the need to provide extra emphasis on your previous experiences and skill set, that's what a cover letter is for. Emphasize the jobs and projects that use the specific skills and conditions that the job posting is discussing.

Another point to consider when thinking about discussing skills on a resume is that during the application process, many companies have all applicants fill out a standardized form. In every place I've ever applied, this form had a section for "skills" and "experience" where I could enumerate various tools and languages that I have used and how much experience I have with each one.

I do not understand why I have been rejected when I had all the required skills and all those who did not have any of the skills have been selected.

There are also many reasons for rejection, and not all of them are technical. If you have spoken to someone from the company (either HR or a hiring manager or a team member), they might have found you to not be a suitable fit for the project or team, as an example. Software development is about a lot more than tools and technologies.

Every time that I have been rejected, I've always asked the company why. Sometimes, it's just that the team didn't think I would be a good fit. Other times, it was that they just found someone with more experience. It can be touchy, and some companies have policies not to discuss interview results other than a yes/no answer. If the company can discuss reasons for not hiring you, then you should take advantage of that and learn from it.

Such incidents make me very unhappy as in spite of being highly capable of the position I am rejected. Should I not list all my skills in the resume to avoid such situations?

I'm not sure what position you are currently in, but I would start by reviewing my resume and getting it in order. Given the wording of your question, it sounds like you were passed over even before an interview. That means your resume didn't get past HR and/or the project manager responsible for hiring. There are other questions here about resume design and how to present them - I would start there, and use other resources available to you. Examples include your friends and perhaps your university (even if you already graduated, services might still be available to alumni) career services office.

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Be careful when listing yourself as an "expert" in anything. The resume reviewer will usually construe that as meaning you could write a book in all each of those technologies. When listing technologies in your resume, be humble and rely on your work experience and open source contributions to be more indicative of your abilities with each language.

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That is a very good point. Saying you're an "expert" in too many things may cause reviewers to roll their eyes and move on. –  B. VB. Jun 27 '11 at 20:34
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There's also the always fun part of the interview where the local expert for the technology sticks their head in for a few minutes... –  Timo Geusch Jun 27 '11 at 21:57

Such incidents make me very unhappy as in spite of being highly capable of the position I am rejected. Should I not list all my skills in the resume to avoid such situations?

Just take into consideration what I say (i.e., don't take this too seriously):

On my resume, I list my objective first, followed by a set of interests and fields of expertise. I basically try to present myself as a general "computer scientist" (i.e., someone whose expertise is in solving difficult problems and architecting software solutions). Way, way, way down at the end of my resume -- almost as a footnote -- I list in small text the various languages and frameworks I'm familiar with. At all costs I never label (i.e., constrain) myself to be a "PHP developer" or "C programmer" or, generally, "[certified] xyz {programmer, developer, expert}"

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You have to understand that employers receive hundreds of applications for jobs. They go through resumes extremely quickly with the idea of weeding down to a few who might be useful to interview. Generally they don't have time to interview that many people even if they appear well-qualified.

And sometimes people who appear overly qualified are eliminated because they know their job isn't that challenging and they assume you might not want it or want the salary level they can offer.

Sometimes people get eliminated becasue they do not appear to be a good fit (and yes this can abe thinly disguised way to practice rasicm or sexism or sometimes the person just comes across as arrogant or unbelievable) or because they have a lot of errors in the resume so they are assumed to not be detail-oriented enough.

There are literally thousands of reasons why you might not get interviewed or might not be selected if you are interviewed. Many of those are not in your control (for instance, you have no way to control what your competitions says in an interview - no matter how well your interview went it is always possible someone else's went even better).

So, first, don't be discouraged because one company weeded you out. Just move on to the next one. If many companies don't want to interview you, then you need to look at how you are presenting yourself.

What would be a flag to me is the self-labelling as expert (if you haven't published a book for a major publisher or spoken at major conferences or have the equivalent of a Microsoft MVP) coupled with the small amount of professional experience. Real experts get pursued by companies; they don't generally need to apply for advertised jobs. Another flag to me would be the long list of technologies coupled with what is definitely little experience. (Yes we consider personal projects and school but they don't carry the same weight generally as professional experience; to the person reviewing the resume, you are a junior programmer.)

What does impress me is a list of accomplishments that are pertinent to the job I have available. If you have just a list of technologies and then your job experience is something on the lines of "Responsible for ..." without any mention of actual projects you completed or places where you did such things as successfully improve performance or implemented unit testing (if I happen to be looking for someone to do the same), then I will probably pass on you.

Another issue with claiming to be an expert is that the questions I will ask you in an interview if I decide to interview will be decidedly more difficult. I will want to see if you really are the expert you claim to be. I'm not adverse to hiring an expert but only for a senior job and only if I really need that depth of experience. Experts are expensive. People don't hire them for lower level jobs.

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"What would be a flag to me is the self-labelling as expert (if you haven't published a book for a major publisher or spoken at major conferences or have the equivalent of a Microsoft MVP) coupled with the small amount of professional experience. Real experts get pursued by companies; they don't generally need to apply for advertised jobs." +1 for excellent point –  B. VB. Jun 27 '11 at 21:26
    
Hmm... Thanks! I think I should publish something. –  Cracker Jun 28 '11 at 9:57

I have been programming for a very long time... Many of my friends had applied for the same job... ALL of them got a call for interview. However I got a rejection...

It sounds like you have a problem with your resume. I know quite a few very experienced, capable programmers who have run into this, and here are some things I've seen:

  • It's not in a modern format. Yes, it's weird, but resume styles go in and out of fashion every few years. I used the same style when applying a couple of years ago that I did around 1995, and got no response. Then I ran it by a professional resume counselor, took their suggestions, and the phone started ringing.
  • It's too long. Most people who get a resume more than two pages long immediately toss it in the wastebasket. I know a guy who is super-capable, but has been in the industry for almost forty years, and he won't send anything but his ten-page-long "everything I've ever done" resume, and wonders why nobody calls him.
  • It's too detailed. Seriously, nobody looking at your resume cares about the hacks you did on your TRS-80 in junior high school. If you use the same technical word more than once in your resume, it better be something you're really trying to emphasize as a career path.
  • It's too hard to read. Use a legible font, an attractive layout, and enough white space to make things stand out. If that means you have to remove details, then do it. The point is to get in the door; you can discuss details when you're actually talking with an interviewer.
  • It has information irrelevant to the job. I maintain two basic resumes (Mac and Linux), and customize them for what I'm applying for. My Mac clients don't care about my GTK+ contributions, nor do my Linux clients care about code injection on Mac OS 10.4.
  • It has spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors. This is the kiss of death for a resume: most HR departments and managers feel if your resume is sloppy, when you're supposedly presenting yourself in the best possible light, you'll be worse as an employee. The OP's question shows a few of these - for instance, it needs lots of commas, and the sentence "Such incidents make me very unhappy as in spite of being highly capable of the position I am rejected." is not correct, colloquial English.

I strongly suggest having your resume reviewed by a professional. I thought my wife was being a bit silly when she suggested it, but she was right on the money, and I'm thankful I paid attention and did it.

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Read through the houses-for-sale section of your local newspaper some weekend afternoon. Some of the ads say "charming" or "quaint" or "traditional". That's because they could not get away with saying "granite countertops", "recently re-roofed with twenty-year composite shingles" or "original 1908 hardwood mouldings in immaculate condition". It is wise to avoid "charming", "quaint" and "traditional" houses unless you're looking for a fixer-upper. They say those vague things because there's nothing objectively good they can say.

I have been programming for a very long time and I have in depth knowledge of several technologies. ... I had shown the skill level for all technologies as expert.

(Emphasis added.)

As someone who reads a lot of resumes, absolutely none of that would impress me. What you think is "long", "deep", "several", and "expert" I might think of as "short", "superficial", "few", and "journeyman".

Or I might agree with you. You haven't given me any reason to believe that you and I are calibrated on the same scale. (*)

You're giving employers the resume equivalent of "charming". Frankly, employers don't care how highly you think of your skills; give them some objective facts. Don't say "long"; state the objective time and let the employer decide whether that is "long" or "short".


(*) When I interview people who have resumes like yours that claim to be "experts" in a dozen things, I attempt to calibrate the scales. I'll often ask "how do you rate yourself from one to ten as a JavaScript programmer?" That question is useless; everyone says eight. The actual question is the follow-up: "what is something that you understand but a seven would have difficulty with?" If they say "for loops", that tells me that their eight and my eight are very different. If they say "how to discover and eliminate memory leaks due to accidentally tying short lived and long lived objects together via closure semantics" then that tells me that their eight and my eight are rather closer together. Either way, I learn a lot about the candidate.

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The calibration part is particularly interesting as I believe studies have shown that experienced people tend to "under-rate" themselves whereas inexperienced people "over-rate" themselves - presumably because experienced folks have a better grip on just how complex almost any topic ends up when you stare at it hard enough. –  Jon Skeet Oct 27 '11 at 19:23
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Jon: you're thinking of the Dunning-Kruger effect: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect –  Eric Lippert Oct 27 '11 at 20:35
    
Yup, that's the one :) –  Jon Skeet Oct 27 '11 at 20:40
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@JonSkeet: that's a natural consequence of the "unknown measure of the universal knoweledge": Anyone is "more expert than yesterday" but no-one can compare with his tomorrow experience, since he cannot completly figure out what it will be. If today I know 1 (and yesterday 0) I know infinite more than yesterday. If today I know 101 and yesterday 100 I know 1% more than yestreday. But knowing just 10 doesn't make me aware that 100 exist, while knowing 100 (after I knew about 10) makes me wonder about 1000. –  Emilio Garavaglia Dec 21 '11 at 22:26

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