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further random questions from the newly-unemployed

   From: "Bill Horne" <bill at>
   Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2002 08:55:27 -0500

   The biggest problem with text-formatted emails is that you can't
   predict what font the recipient will use to read them. Since it's
   common for both OE and Messenger to use Proportional fonts for text
   emails, the work of lining things up is often lost at the receiving
   end. HTML, although a bandwidth hog and inappropriate for posts to
   a reflector, is nonetheless useful for assuring that a message is
   seen as the sender intended, and I use it for all my email r)B?sum?

As a software development hiring manager, I detest HTML-formatted
email, whether for resumes or any other purpose.  For one, I use a
purely text-based mail reader that doesn't do HTML (and I don't want
an HTML-enabled mail reader that makes me susceptible to every webbug
a spammer chooses to embed).  Secondly, even with HTML you're not
really guaranteed that the result will match your intent; Mozilla and
Netscape 4 render things quite differently, and I have no idea what IE
and Opera do.  If you send PDF the recipient will get your exact
intent, but that has other problems (harder to search, for example).
Word causes lots of problems (we're decidedly *not* a Microsoft shop,
and while OpenOffice or StarOffice works, it's somewhat of a

I'm used to getting text-formatted resumes that are mangled by various
outbound mailers (usually stupid clients that decide to insert line
breaks where they think they should be).  That doesn't bother me; it's
not hard to reformat them so that I get the desired information.  If
you're worrying about losing fancy column formatting, you're worrying
about the wrong thing.  I'm not impressed by your skill at formatting
your resume; I want to find the information I'm looking for (evidence
that you can do what I need done) without having to look too hard.  In
other words, keep it concise, hit the highlights (these days you do
need to use buzzwords, unfortunately), and make it ask the questions
you want to answer.

That last point is motivated by interview technique.  The most common
interviewing methodology that's pushed these days is called
"behavioral" or "behavior-based" interviewing.  It's a somewhat
high-falutin' name for a very straightforward concept, which is based
on the theory that the best predictor of how someone will do in the
future is to examine how they've done in the same situation in the
past.  The basic behavioral question is of the form "Tell me about a
situation in which you did X".  X might be just about anything; "wrote
a program from scratch with weak requirements" is one possible
example.  The interviewer then follows up with increasingly detailed
questions about that situation.  If your resume gives tantalizing
glimpses of what you want to show, without answering the questions
outright, it helps steer the discussion.

This kind of question is very hard to fake one's way through; the
interviewee doesn't know exactly what's going to be asked, so it's
hard to prepare a lot of fake experiences.  It's also hard to keep it
going through the drill-down; a faked experience is likely to collapse
under its own weight.  At the same time, a strong candidate who's a
poor interviewer (which typically means someone who isn't terribly
spontaneous) will usually find it easier to remember specific
experiences and remember how he or she handled them, with only light
guidance from the interviewer to keep it flowing in the desired

A lot of interviewers ask about hypothetical scenarios ("what would
you do if this were to happen") or gimmick questions ("if you were a
plant, what would you be and why").  The former question doesn't prove
anything other than someone's good at memorizing things; it doesn't
say how well someone will recognize a situation developing or how they
really will react under pressure.  It's also hard for someone who's
good, but not very spontaneous, to answer.  Determining how someone
actually *did* behave when that kind of situation *did* happen is much
more useful.  That's probably true even if real-time reaction is
important for the job.

As for gimmick questions, the less said the better.  Usually the
interviewer has a specific answer in mind, and since the question has
nothing to do with the job, the desired answer won't either.  If you
really want to determine how the candidate will handle tough
questioning from the customer (for a sales position, for example),
where behavioral interviewing might not work as well (in that case, it
might be easier to pick an example in which the customer pressure
wasn't really that bad), do something like ask the candidate to "sell"
you a product that he's sold before, and raise the nastiest objections
you can.  That's more of a real-life scenario.

Back to resume formatting: obviously, if you're applying for some kind
of graphic design position (web designer, even technical writer) the
considerations are very different; in that case the appearance really
does matter.

Robert Krawitz                                     <rlk at>      

Tall Clubs International  -- or 1-888-IM-TALL-2
Member of the League for Programming Freedom -- mail lpf at
Project lead for Gimp Print   --

"Linux doesn't dictate how I work, I dictate how Linux works."
--Eric Crampton

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