Dissing a previous employer, embellishing your resume and acting cocky. These should seem like obvious “don’ts,” but tech employers still run into them. That’s too bad: They can quickly bring a promising conversation to a screeching halt.
Of course, all of these can result from the frustration that goes along with trying to find the right job. But, even if your search is stretching itself out or you’re desperate to get out of an existing job, resist the temptation to stray into negative—or dishonest—territory.
Sometimes, it can be especially difficult. For example, there may be times when an engineer has to meet with five or 10 people, or even more. Despite such pressure, you can’t let yourself slip into negativity when you’re talking to the ninth or tenth person down the line, observes Derwyn Harris, co-founder of Portland, Ore.-based Jama Software.
“I had an experience where the interviewee was incredibly negative about the prior job,” says Harris. “The conversation was a ton of should ofs and could ofs. There was a lot of blame and negativity.” Harris points out that employers want people who are conscientious and loyal, and being negative isn’t ever going to play well in an interview, no matter what your situation.
His advice, then, is to stay positive whenever you’re talking about a previous position. Instead of kvetching about your old company, describe how you fit into the organization and what you brought to the table. Play up your tech and soft skills and explain how they can be better utilized by the prospective employer.
Another thing to avoid: Never exaggerate your technical skills. Unfortunately, employers say this happens quite often. “We often see job seekers embellish their resumes with work experience that is made out of their imagination,” says Mike Salem, CEO of Vorex, a professional services automation software company in Plano, Texas.
One extreme case occurred early in 2013, when Salem sat down for an interview with the holder of a particularly impressive resume. “A few minutes into the interview, the candidate openly told me that his resume was not ‘completely’ accurate,” he recalls.
The candidate said that in his rush to create the resume, he used a canned online template, making changes to the biographical information but leaving the technical sections intact. “Needless to say, his true experience amounted to no more than 20 percent of what his template resume stated,” Salem says. “At least he was funny otherwise, and we enjoyed the cup of coffee.” Coffee or no, Salem’s is a door the candidate has probably closed for good.
David Packer, principal of X by 2, a Farmington Hills, Mich., consulting firm, says there’s no excuse for even small fibs. He’s also put off by what he calls other “integrity or ethics” issues, such as people revealing that they’re secretly working on their own product or invention during office hours. He looks for a certain level of professionalism in candidates, whatever their situation. For example, he says, he doesn’t like people who are willing to “screw over” their current company by leaving without notice.
Packer makes another point: Be polite. “No matter how smart and capable a candidate is, I won’t hire someone who is a jerk,” he says, so don’t disparage people or act like you’re better than others during your interview. People like accomplished professionals, but they also want to know you can be a team player.
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