How to Get Your Résumé Tossed

February 26, 2010

Posted in Higher Ed, Small Business, and Web Industry.

Note: I know very well that the word is spelled résumé but for whatever reason my blog won’t display the é character unless I explicitly state it with an HTML entity code . Argh.

I’ve been doing a lot of hiring lately. This time around, I took careful note of the factors I considered as I reviewed resumes, interviewed candidates, and made decisions. If you’ve read the book Blink or had to pore over dozens or hundreds of job applications, you’ll know what I mean when I say that decisions are often made very quickly and sometimes arbitrarily. But it can help to be aware of your process and biases, which is what I’ve documented here.


1. Scan resumes

Look at the overall look and feel of the r̩sum̩. You can often tell where the applicant falls on the designer to programmer spectrum. See what info they put in the headers Рusually name, address, phone, email. If they have a Hotmail email address, go no further. Generally not good:, Better:, Best: Your own custom domain name. Why are some email addresses better than others? They tell me whether the candidate fits into the culture. A web candidate with his or her own website and domain name is more credible than one who slapped together a MySpace page and listed a Hotmail address.

2. Resume content

Check out their most recent two or three jobs and see what they’ve done. Look for specific URLs to check out. Scan their education, but I don’t really pay much attention to this. The best have a wider array of experiences with different web technologies and kinds of projects. The current job market is tough, so I don’t put a ton of weight on this. Some great people are jobless or have been working outside the industry and I won’t count it against them. Keeping busy and being involved are good signs of a self-motivated candidate.

3. Portfolio or sample links

This is a major part of how I decide. Quick glance at the sites or pages, and the next step is to View Source and check out the code. It takes five to ten seconds to see whether it’s decent code (semantic, web standards, no tables for layout) or not (tables, software-generated, etc). Show me your best work and I will mentally rank you on a scale from 1 to 100. This is important – I’ve already decided where on that scale I need to hire. If I’m looking for someone with relatively little experience (maybe a 30) and your work suggests that you’re a rising 60, my next thought is whether I can afford you. But that’s a good problem to have.

4. Look for a trail on the web

Do they have a website? LinkedIn? Twitter? If they’re out there, they’ve left a trail. This can be tough if it’s a common name, but this industry involves a good deal of self-promotion and if you can’t be found you’re not doing a very good job. Blogging is hard work, and someone who has invested that time in their professional development is bound to continue it after being hired.

5. What have they done?

If I’m hiring a designer, I look for little signs - good padding, decent typography, etc. Not that I’m skilled at these myself, but I do recognize some good design work when I see it.

For developers, I look for contributions to open source projects and the source of any pages they’ve posted. I tend to be pretty lenient on these.


6. Ask loaded questions.

I’m not psychologist, but it’s worth paying attention to how people answer the questions you ask. For instance, I like to ask about how they would solve a problem they didn’t know the solution to. A good response involves knowing how to find the answer. Self-determination is a good thing.

7. My favorite question: Tell me a joke.

I don’t ask this in every interview, but for some jobs and some candidates it can be a very helpful test. I simply ask the candidate to tell me a joke. The response is very informative. How quickly can the candidates think on their feet? Is the joke appropriate? What’s their personality? What’s their delivery style? Do they have a sense of humor? I don’t count this against people usually, but I certainly give major props to those who can handle it. When I’ve asked this and other people are in the room, they are usually horrified that I would do this to a candidate.


Hiring takes a lot of time. Reviewing resumes, scheduling interviews, conducting phone and in-person interviews, etc. are all time-consuming. I like to try and make a choice as soon as possible, paring down candidates quickly and decisively. 50 resumes might turn into five phone interviews, and that may lead to 2-3 in-person interviews. Or I may have a clear choice after conducting phone interviews, and may only proceed with one candidate.

So how do you get a job on my team? Let your work speak for itself and make sure your resume isn’t the only way I can evaluate your reputation.