Resume Follies -

Resume Follies

I worked with an analog designer for many years, one whose skills were adequate but less than stellar. A nice guy, though, he became a close friend during the battles of getting products to market. One day I asked about his background; turns out all of his education was in the digital arena, his analog expertise limited to that learned in college.

“How did you get this job?” I asked, somewhat aghast.

“I needed work, and this looked like a good opportunity. Don't tell the boss, but I just tuned my resume to meet the skills requested in the advertisement.”

“You lied, then,” I countered.

“Well, let's say I emphasized my bit of analog experience and embellished the rest.”

Decades have passed since then, and I've often wondered where our ethical boundaries lie in creating a resume. Moralists might claim that absolute unrelenting honesty is the only policy in any ethical quandary. I have doubts.

My late grandfather was a tough old salt, a tugboat captain whose unedited honesty made my grandmother's existence a living hell. Never would a banal kindness pass his lips unless provably correct. Even a “you look nice today, honey,” the sometimes not-quite-true social grease necessary in all relationships, was to him an unacceptable violation of the ninth commandment.

Parents practice a bit of truth management when they praise the young child's random crayon slashes, comparing these to great art. We help budding drivers gain experience and confidence by complementing them for their lurching start in first gear because it's far better than the gear-crunching whiplash start of just a few days earlier. When the big boss pushes for C++ on an 8051, a wise employee will cite the dearth of compilers rather than publicly explore the depths of the boss's ignorance.

So where's the line on resumes? How honest should they be? The oldest trick in the book is editing by omission. It's self-destructive to note that you were fired from that job; better wait and see if questioning during the interview drags up that unhappy event. A short stint from 6/99 to 8/99 might look a bit better if described as “1999.” And I'd recommend leaving off the detailed description of that stint in the mental ward (which one resume I had the dubious pleasure of reading described at length).

Wholesale fabrication of experience, though, strikes me as being unacceptably dishonest. Though companies are getting quite aggressive in looking for felony convictions, debt problems, manufactured diplomas, and much else, it's still rather hard to prove that Joe Coder never actually did write the Linux TCP/IP stack. Careful questioning at the interview may reveal the deception, but a surprising amount of experience listed on any resume goes unchallenged.

What do you think? What resume-polishing advice would you give to a developer who has experience shortfalls or employment gaps? How much truth management is ethical?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. He founded two companies specializing in embedded systems. Contact him at . His website is .

Reader Feedback

I agree that you must be honest on your resume. It is a small world especially in the embedded system world, and it you can never know who will be your perspective boss at your next job. I don't even answer ads unless it is I have about 90% of the requirements.

But lately the ones that I do answer, somehow are not even good enough for a call back. There seems to be so few jobs, and looking at how much the Embedded Systems magazine is shrunk, I beginning to wonder if embedded will disappear entirely.

I have not luck landing an interview let alone a job since I was let go in Feb of this year. I have 19 years doing embedded, in aerospace, telecom, industrial and medical apps. Nobody seems to be hiring.

Stephen Lam
Software Engineer
Mr. Lam seeks work in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware area.

The purpose of a Resume is not to get you a job, but rather to get you an interview. A resume should highlight your best points, not dwell on your worst.

I look at it like this: a resume is your chance to talk about what you want to. If your resume gets you an interview, then the prospective employer will get the chance to ask you the questions that you might not want to answer. The resume is the counterpart to the job application.

Never lie an a resume–it only leads to grief. But you may embellish or exaggerate, especially to illustrate skills you have that are not easily documentable. But do not write a resume that will get you a job you cannot do. It's counterproductive.

That being said, I believe that all else is more or less fair game.

Michael Badillo
Engineering Technician

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.