tiny answer Tuesday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s tiny answer Tuesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Dealing with an explosive coworker

I have a coworker who somehow manages to manipulate and control everyone in the office with her anger. She’s very sensitive and explosive. You never know what is going to “set her off.” I’ve had a couple of run-ins with her. Although I voiced my concerns to the office manager, it seems her antics are noted and overlooked . Fortunately, I’ve not had to work closely with her but, now she is being assigned as my backup and I have to train her. Which is another thing that baffles me — they keep giving her more duties which would make it even more difficult to replace her if they were to fire her. I think the office manager is handling her in a cowardly way and letting this woman control her. I’m hopeful that the training goes well but, going by history I know that at some point she will explode. I think next time I will go straight to the boss rather than the office manager when she does. Am I correct in this thinking? How would you handle the situation?

If she speaks to you inappropriately, tell her on the spot that it’s unacceptable: “Jane, please don’t speak to me that way.” And if it continues, “It’s not okay to speak to me in that tone. Let me know when you’re ready to resume this conversation more calmly.” And yes, you should absolutely speak up to your boss about the problem, pointing out that (a) it’s not reasonable for you to be subjected to hostility from this woman and (b) it’s getting in the way of you training her.

2. Following minor policies when you’re new to the job

I am interested in knowing how management would like a new employee to behave when it comes to minor rules and policies that other employees don’t follow, such as wearing headphones at work. Let’s say I am a brand new employee to a company for which I have never worked before. The other staff there have been with the company for, say, 6 months or longer. I have minimal training and new hire orientation, but there is a policies/processes/procedures manual/code of conduct. My mind tells me to do what it says, but my heart is inclined to take cues from my coworkers.

Those rules are there for a reason, so you should follow them. When you’ve been there a while, you might realize that there are rules that everyone breaks without consequence, but when you’re new, you really can’t tell. The people around you who are breaking the rules might not be model employees who you should base your own conduct on.

3. When a new hire didn’t disclose a past firing

If you knew a person you worked with who lied on their resume (omitted a job they got fired from 2 months previously for sexual harassment/hostile work environment) and got hired onto a company, would you feel that it would be my place to report it to HR or Ethics committee? Would you report it anonymously? A friend is having a dilemma.

Well, first, is your friend absolutely sure that she knows what happened? Unless she had first-hand involvement in the investigation, she may not. And you don’t go around ruining someone’s career over rumors. And second, what’s her position at this company? If she isn’t in a managerial position, reporting it might be seen as overstepping — and even if she does have a managerial position, that wouldn’t automatically make it her business; it would depend on details beyond what we have here, and there’s a good chance it’s still none of her business.

Regardless, don’t report anonymously. That’s cowardly.

4. Reference check from a company that never contacted me

One of my references mentioned to me in passing about being contacted for a reference recently, but it wasn’t for a position that I recently interviewed for (and got an offer today from, happily!). It was from another job opportunity that I had submitted a cover letter and resume for over a month ago. I never received any form of communication from this organization at all and thought it was a dead end, and I was really quite surprised to hear that they were contacting my references without interviewing, calling or even emailing me.

My reference said that the reference request email she received was off-kilter as well, using extremely casual language, and cautioned me against working with this individual. Now that I have a job offer, I won’t be needing this opportunity, but what, if anything, should I do? I feel a little embarrassed at being caught off-guard by this, and I’m not very pleased by this approach. Can I politely ask for them to disregard my application?

I’ll never understand why some companies contact references without even interviewing the candidate; it’s an enormous waste of time. In any case, yes, contact them and tell them you’ve accepted another offer and are withdrawing your application.

5. Listing a job when the employer changes but the job doesn’t

I have been in the same job for a year and a half, but when updating my resume I have a dilemma. During this job, I have worked for three different companies; the contracts change but the client wants to keep me and so my job stays the same. Only my email address and who pays me changes. How would you recommend showing something like this on a resume without looking like I’ve job hopped or been let go of every 6 months?

Like this:
Chocolate Teapot Maker – Teapots R Us (contract also held by Teapots United and Teapots For All)

6. Technical accomplishments on a resume

I know you’ve said you don’t deal with technical stuff too much, but I’ve come to a place where revamping my resume from the ground up is a bit of a must. It’s collected several pages, has an ugly and unorganized half page heading on the first page that a recruiter has put there, and just needs a good sprucing up, condensing of information, etc. I’m sort of surprised I’ve gotten hired now that I look at it and can take in all the unorganized horror myself. I’m basically going to open a new Word document and start over rather than hoping to simply modify what’s there.

Given your advice that resumes should present what you did at a position that no one else could do, how does that advice conform to more technical roles such as programming where any peer worth his salt can do the day-to-day parts of my job? I would guess I should more highlight soft skills and what I bring to the team as a person rather than someone who knows how to implement feature x with language y. Is this correct? Does the fact I’m transitioning squarely into more senior roles modify this advice?

I’m hoping readers in the I.T. field will jump in and answer this. But my basic take is that it’s not so much about listing things that you did that no one else could do, but rather simply listing your accomplishments. In I.T., that’s probably not as much about what you bring as a person and more about technical achievements.

7. What does this statement from a recruiter mean?

I have been interviewing for my “dream job” and went through rigorous interviews. During the process, the recruiter did a great job staying in touch. After the final interview, her feedback was “The team and manager liked you a lot but are a bit unsure of your background and interests. However, don’t give up on this, they don’t want to make a final decision until they meet other candidates.” Would you say my odds are slim? She has also stopped replying to my follow-ups expressing interest

I have no idea what that means. Ideally, when she said that, you would have asked her what it meant. It’s totally fine to do that — don’t feel like you’re supposed to just nod and agree when you have no idea what someone means.

But don’t send her follow-ups expressing interest; ask her for an update on their timeline for making a decision.

{ 94 comments… read them below }

  1. Charles*

    #1 – explosive co-worker; yep, do as AAM suggests (that’s what I do if I have someone like that in my training class); But, I would like to add – make sure that you keep calm! Don’t let her angry be reflected in your tone of voice, that could just make her behaviour worse.

    P.S. it could also be that they aren’t letting her walk all over them, but, rather are trying to find something for her to do in the office that she won’t “blow up” over.

  2. Charles*

    #2 – OMG! yes! Never break the rules like your co-workers do when you are new unless you know for sure that what they are doing is okay, even if is a “minor” infraction of the rules. Doing so could very quickly get you label by management as “one of those employees.”

    1. Catherine*

      Quite true – and also, if you see employees breaking these minor rules, don’t assume that it’s just company culture. Those employees may have been reprimanded about those very things on multiple occasions and they simply don’t change their ways.

      That being said, don’t worry TOO much about it – you don’t need to do your job in fear that you are breaking some minor rules. And the rule-breaking/bending can also vary department to department. At my last job, our department was expected to be on the very businnessy side of business casual, whereas other departments could get away with jeans and t-shirts.

    2. Kelly O*

      Plus, you don’t know that the management team isn’t trying to get rid of what everyone thinks are “minor” issues. Culture changes take time. If something was simply allowed because no one ever said anything to the first person and now everyone is doing it, there may be a certain level of almost entitled-feeling push back.

      Now, I will admit it can be hard to feel like you’re the only one, or one of few, following a rule that most everyone else seems to feel is “minor” or “not important” but it’s one of those times that standing up to the peer pressure and doing what you know is right, even when it’s hard, is more important.

  3. moe*

    #3 – didn’t disclose a firing: Just a nitpicky thing, but it’s not quite “lying” to omit something from your resume. People do that all the time. Perhaps OP meant this person left it off an application too, or some other place where a complete work history is required/expected?

    I’m also curious whether Friend works at the company that fired this person, or new company, or neither.

    1. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady*

      I totally agree. Unless you were involved in the actual termination AND were present during the interview you have no idea if lying took place. If she left the job off the resume, no lying. If the job was on the resume and they didn’t ask why she left, no lying. If she had negotiated with the previous company the termination reason (voluntary, layoff), and used that reason, there was no lying.

      If someone did come to me with the above information, it’s doubtful I’d investigate it, as it didn’t happen at this company. If I’d made a big point of asking about terminations in the interview or what have you, I might be curious. But, by golly, the recruiter should have checked references if they cared.

      And, it would leave a bad taste in my mouth towards the tattler.

      1. Kelly O*

        Totally agree that this one depends on so many variables, it could easily make the person who feels the moral obligation to bring this up look like a tattler or a complainer.

        The other thing your friend can’t know is whether or not this person disclosed this privately, and the hiring manager agreed to keep it private (and really it’s none of anyone else’s business anyway.)

        It would make me feel differently toward the person who felt it her moral, ethical, whatever obligation to bring up something about a coworker. (And to a point as a manager, would it make you wonder if the tattler thought you didn’t do any sort of background checks, or something similar?)

      1. Kelly O*

        Alison, let me ask you this one though – when I’m dealing with third party recruiters especially, they seem to treat the resume more like an application. So they want to know about the six month gap I spent working in a pharmacy at the grocery store. They want to know about the four weeks I temped between permanent jobs. They want to know something farther back than ten years.

        I told one that the four week temp job was simply working with someone during a gap between most recent job and the job I was already planning on starting, and that it was more a favor to that person with whom I’d developed a relationship over the couple of years I’d known her. This recruiter told me it looked “deceptive” and wondered what I didn’t want people to know about that. (I didn’t work with him, but I was sorely tempted to say “because I’m pretty sure she didn’t want it spread around that her old office manager embezzled some money and she needed help cleaning up the office discreetly.”)

  4. Charles*

    #3 – OP, sorry to be rude here. But, my God! What is up with all these folks who write to AAM asking if it is okay to report “anonymously”?

    Since when it is ever okay to “snitch” on someone without letting folks know who you are (reporting on mob, gang, or criminal activities being the exceptions)?

    1. KayDay*

      Major ethics violations, or even less minor ethics violations where you know that there is a good chance you it would severely damage your career are a reason to report anonymously.

      1. Charles*

        KayDay; yes, perhaps I should have included those. (although whistle-blower protection might apply – not guaranteed, of course).

        But, I was just ranting about some of those who do write to AAM; so many of their concerns seem to be trivial to me (although, certainly not to them); such as my co-worker hums, or does not bathe properly, clips her nails, eats smelly food, shows off her inappropriate tatoo, etc., type nonsense. then they ask: “AAM, can I anonymously leave a note on their desk?”

        It is this type of situation in which I find the idea of doing something anonymously to be unacceptable. What a way to make someone paranoid about ALL her co-workers. If my humming (or whatever) bothers someone, please tell me directly.

        Perhaps, I should also explain why I think this way. Years ago (back in the stone age) I worked part-time at an office while in college where there was one woman who did not wash her beehive hairdoo often enough – the smell wasn’t really bad unless you were stuck in the computer room with her. Seriously, at first we thought there was a dead rat under the raised floor – we actually looked for one!

        However, once someone figured out what the real issue was, how did my boss handle this? Did he have that “difficult” conversation with her? Nope, the coward of a man left a bar of soap on her desk anonymously!

        While everyone else in the office felt that it was great; needless to say, this really hurt this woman’s feelings . (I’ll repeat that – this really hurt her feelings) She had no idea who did it! I wasn’t there when it happened and maybe that’s why she told me about it. She clearly did not feel comfortable working with anyone there after that. What a way to ostracize an employee!

        I was a bit surprised that, even though I was the young “inmature” college kid and everyone else was an “adult”, I was the only one who saw this a wrong move on the boss’s part. It was one of my first lessons in the “working world” that not every manager/authority figure knows how to properly handle things.

        1. fposte*

          “While everyone else in the office felt that it was great”–urgh. That sounds like a junior-high group of kids whispering by the lockers about how they’re going to do this to Brittany “for her own good.” They’ve gotten high on the group excitement and lost track of sanity.

  5. Henning Makholm*

    As a programmer/developer, I’m somewhat dumbfounded by #6’s description of the job as one where “any peer worth his salt” is just an interchangeable cog in a machine. Without meaning to get into a bragging match about whose field has the greatest variability in talent and productivity, programming can certainly stand its ground in that area. Perhaps you have an unconventional idea of what salt is worth, but — you’ve never had a colleague who, despite being apparently qualified for his job, turned out to be clumsy, struggling, slow, and shouldn’t be trusted with tasks that involved design? And if you haven’t, did you never have a colleague who you knew could program in circles around you either? You must have had a sheltered life, then.

    Furthermore programming has the particular problem that there’s no consensus about what job titles mean, so you need to take special care to make sure your resume explains what you actually did in each position, rather than just what it was called. Maintained a mature codebase? Implemented someone else’s grand design? Designed a free-standing system starting from functional requirements? Decided what the functional requirements should be in the first place?

    Of course the particular technologies you worked with are important and should be mentioned, but what employers are really interested in is how much technical autonomy you can handle, how much of a self-learner you are, how complex a design space you can navigate. And since there is no standard terminology for these things, you have to be extra careful to describe what your role in each project was in language outsiders can understand.

    Of course if all of your experience consists of items like “added new field to existing web form using copy and paste”, then the interchangeable-cog model may be somewhat relevant. But otherwise…

    1. anon-2*

      That comment about “any peer worth his salt” is the result of the contemporary management thought that “anyone can do that job, get the cheapest options wherever you find them.”

    2. Alisha*

      Lots of orgs. in my area and my clients, too, have been using the Programmer Competency Matrix last I saw. The OP can Google it for more info and see if it applies in terms of language on the resume, job level, competencies, etc. – and Indiangeek (dot) net has a copy as well where the sections change color on mouseover.

  6. Neeta*

    #6 I’m a computer programmer, and have generally gotten really good results with a format of the following type:

    Phone number

    March 2011 – present Java developer for Company X

    Project 1 – The client wanted a piece of software which would create customized rabbit animations. My tasks were to animate certain movements of a certain type of rabbit.
    I used the following technologies:
    – programming languages
    – frameworks
    – database management systems
    Number of developers working on this team: 6

    Project 2 – The client wanted a basic stock management website.
    My job was to create the HTML template, starting from an existing design, as well as implement the rest of the features.
    I used the following technologies:
    – programming languages
    – frameworks
    – database management systems

    September 2009 – March 2011 PHP developer for Company Y
    List here the projects you worked on, same as above

    2003 – 2007 BA in Computer Science at Z University

    eg: Sun Certified Java Developer, Microsoft Certified .NET developer

    Foreign Languages:
    language 1 : writing good, reading excellent, speaking excellent

    programming languages
    IDE (eg: Microsoft Visual Studio, NetBeans, Zend, Eclipse)
    Source Control: SVN, Git
    other software: Photoshop, Flash, Flex…

    I’ve used this type of CV, for the past 5 interviews, and everyone was very impressed by how detailed (and helpful_ it was.

    1. Neeta*

      Also, I never really claimed to have done something that no one else could. I think you’re misunderstanding the term “achievements”

      1. Chris*

        This is similar to what I use. I also put a small table of the skills I am most comfortable. It allows someone browse the resume quickly to see if there is a skills match. I don’t know if I should.

  7. Anonymous*

    #2 Minor Policies:

    Just be careful too when you are there long enough to start breaking the rules. At my job, one person is allowed to get away with so much more than the rest of us. In a retail setting, we are not allowed to use our cell phones unless we (a) have permission from the manager due to a family emergency or (b) are on break and away from the work station. My coworkers are attached to their cell phones at the hip, and they cannot go 5 minutes without sending a text message. One of them is constantly told to put the phone away. The other is allowed to stand in front of customers and text (for example, one day a customer was fishing for her credit card in her purse, and the coworker stood their texting while waiting for the customer). Nothing was done to punish that coworker – not a peep out of the manager who was standing less than 10 feet away and could not have missed it. Also, you can always hear this person’s cell phone ding every time a text message comes in, and the coworker stops everything to check it. So just be careful; for whatever reason some are allowed to get away with these minor policies while others are not. I haven’t found out where I am on the spectrum in regards to the cell phone because I can separate myself from my phone for the duration of my shift.

  8. Wilton Businessman*

    1) When she throws a tantrum, just say “Why don’t we continue this when you are rational”.
    2) The policies are written down because somebody thought it was important enough to write down. Therefore, they should be followed. If your dress code says business casual and half the people are wearing jeans, get yourself some khakis. You are responsible for you, nobody else.
    3) MYOB
    4) What a waste of time. I wouldn’t even contact them saying I wasn’t interested anymore.
    6) I hire technical people quite a bit. Quite frankly, I like to see your skills in a separate section (languages, databases, protocols, etc) and your accomplishments under each job. Maybe you were on a team that brought product XYZ to market in 6 months. Maybe you made ABC 22% more reliable. Maybe you automated process 123 which saved 12 man hours a week.
    7) No clue.

    1. -X-*

      “I wouldn’t even contact them saying I wasn’t interested anymore.”

      But it’s potentially hurtful to the OP to have his/her references contacted. The OP should contact them for that reason.

      1. Anonymous*

        #4 OP here.

        Yes, my primary concern was that my references were contacted ‘out of thin air’. I would have preferred to let them know that they may be contacted. I want to be respectful of their time. (One reference in particular is pretty high level, so I am extra aware of this. )

        It would have been nice to know I was still in the running, too!

        1. Anonymous*

          Then you should contact your references to let them know what happened, NOT the company that didn’t even keep you in your own loop!

          1. JT*

            Maybe both, but if you not trying to stop it at the source is weak – it’s not caring for your references.

        2. irena*

          I would suggest not providing your references until they personally request them (in an interview or w/e) and that way you can avoid this in the first place.

    2. Student*

      I think that, if you are going for business results rather than the personal satisfaction of cutting down someone who is annoying, this advice for #1 is very bad. It is likely to escalate the problem rather than end it, and it certainly won’t improve the OP’s relation to the obnoxious co-worker. Frankly, this is the kind of verbal poke that can escalate a shouting match into a physical altercation. Remember that the OP is not this woman’s boss. If you want to end a sh*t storm, you don’t fling more poo.

      OP #1, I would suggest you take a much milder version of this.

      “I’m going to give you some time to calm down. Come by my office when you’re ready to resume the training.” Then leave.

      “I see that you have other things on your mind right now besides training. Let’s resume this later when you have more time for it. How’s 4PM work for you?” Then reschedule.

        1. jmkenrick*

          For better or worse, I hate it when people tell me to calm down. I would much more prefer Alison’s suggestion.

      1. Charles*

        Sorry Student; but your first suggestion of telling someone: “I’m going to give you some time to calm down. Come by my office when you’re ready to resume the training.” is, in fact, “flinging more poo.”

        AAM’s suggestions and your second one (without the leaving part) are better. But, telling someone to “calm down” rarely works. It is too accusatory.

      2. Kelly O*

        Perhaps even say “Why don’t we take a break and process this? Let me know when you’re ready to start again.”

        Take all the emotion and evaluation of the emotion out of it. You’re not judging, you’re just recognizing this is going nowhere and giving an outlet. And I know how hard this is, and how stupid it can be.

        But, I’m a pretty rational person, and I hate being told to calm down. My fuse is fairly long, but when it blows, I need a few minutes to deal with it and move on.

        1. Jamie*

          “But, I’m a pretty rational person, and I hate being told to calm down. My fuse is fairly long, but when it blows, I need a few minutes to deal with it and move on.”

          Has anyone in the history of the world every responded to being told to “calm down” or “relax” by doing so? Oh yes, thank you so very much for pointing out that I should opt to relax right now. I’m not upset at all anymore now that I see I have an option to be calm.


          On the other hand telling someone to calm down as shorthand for letting them know you see them as being irrational at the moment does work. It won’t diffuse the situation at all, but will get the point across that you think they are out of control.

          1. fposte*

            Yes, I’d certainly hope she’d grasp that notion at some point. I’m inclined to favor a short “hell no” approach akin to AAM’s though, though, because I don’t even want to suggest that I’d be involved in calming her–why waste time on this potential time suck? “I’m not doing this while you’re yelling. I’m available again at 2,” and then go make better use of your time. I’d be particularly uninclined to leave the rescheduling up to her since she’s the one who blew this one–I’m not making myself available according to her moods.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I like this response–“I’m not doing this while you’re yelling,” et al– since besides letting the trainer get away from the situation, it also lets the screamer know that the trainer will NOT tolerate it. It’s something that can be said without bringing any more emotion into the situation.

              Most screamers can control themselves if they have to. They don’t if no one ever calls them on their behavior.

      3. Wilton Businessman*

        The screamer is the problem, not the screamee. You are a human being and a professional. If someone is treating me in an inhumane and/or unprofessional manner, I refuse to be part of it. Sometimes making nice-nice and backing down undermines your self-respect.

        I have been in this situation with a previous manager who would scream at the top of his lungs with language that would make a sailor blush. I walked away.

    3. Anonymous*

      To #1, I would be inclined to say when the person has had her say, “Are you done? Okay, next…” But that’s probably not productive.

    4. JT*

      “Why don’t we continue this when you are rational”

      I say that kind of thing when my intention is to set someone off even worse, or help them embarrass themselves even more.

  9. Andy Lester*

    #6: In the bullets for your different jobs, tell what you did. “Provided support for 400-seat Windows and Macintosh infrastructure.” and “Created help desk ticketing system using WhizBang Pro to help set service level of all tickets responded to in 45 minutes.”

    Then, have a separate section on your resume that is just tech details, a laundry list of tech that you know. There you can say you know Windows XP, Windows Vista, Mac OS X, Whizbang Pro 4, etc. All those names will break up the narrative of your bullets, but they make sense in a “Keywords” section. Explicitly label this section “Keywords” or “Skills”, too, so the reader knows why it’s there. And put it at the end of the resume, not the beginning. Nobody wants to read through that laundry list as the first thing they see. There may be some overlap with what’s in the work history, but that’s OK.

    It’s important to have those explicit keywords on there, because you never know what someone in HR is filtering on and doesn’t know. For example, say you’re an expert in Oracle and DB2. However, if the clerk in HR is told to find someone who knows “SQL”, and you don’t have “SQL” on your resume, you won’t get found, even though knowing Oracle requires you to know SQL. The HR clerk doesn’t know that.

    1. KellyK*

      I think you’re right that “when you’re rational” is likely to be more provoking, but I also think your examples are a little softer than called for with a coworker (though they might be great for a jerk manager or jerk customer who you really don’t have the leeway to tell to quit being a jerk).

      I think it’s perfectly acceptable to say point-blank that you’re not going to tolerate being yelled at, cussed out, or whatever the inappropriate behavior is.

      1. Student*

        This is true. However, trying to have that discussion while the co-worker is having a fit isn’t going to work. It might work with a toddler or a subordinate, because you have the authority to enforce consequences immediately.

        As a co-worker, you don’t have the ability to do much more than walk away and refuse to deal with them while they’re having a freak-out. You have to seek out someone else with the authority to actually hold them accountable, and that takes time, and it’s not guaranteed to work. If you want to sit a co-worker down and tell them they can’t treat you like garbage, it’s best to do so after you have a consequence to back it up – after you’ve talked with management. If management won’t back you up, then all you can do is withdraw your personal support in whatever ways you can and look for a new job. It also means the co-worker, having had time to cool off, might listen to you and have some regrets. In the heat of the moment, the co-worker is likely to just get defensive or more aggressive with someone who can’t actually do much.

    2. just another hiring manager...*

      Generally, I prefer to see a Skills section at the end of a resume, after Experience. However, when I am looking for a specific set of technical skills, you have them, and you’ve tailored your resume to showcase them, I have no problem reading through “that laundry list as the first thing.”

    3. Jamie*

      This. I use the IT resume template in Office (it’s okay – I never claim to be creative) and it has a sidebar down the side where you can list the tech skills and software proficiencies. That saves the real estate of the resume proper for accomplishments.

      Loved the example using Oracle and SQL. That’s another benefit to the sidebar is that it’s text so the keywords are all there…you never want to rely on HR to drawn the correlations in your example – none of us would ever get past the first screening.

    4. Scott M*

      Thanks for this. I haven’t had to hunt for a job in 20 years, but I figure I should probably update my resume just in case.

  10. Student*

    #6 – The current trend for technical people, such as engineers and programmers, is to list your skills / competencies in a separate section. This lets the hiring manager figure out if you’re familiar with the tools / languages / software / OS that he needs without combing every job in your resume. It’s especially nice if you’re familiar with lots of different programming languages but don’t necessarily use them all in your current job, of if you use Unix at home but Windows at work, etc.

    Then, in your experience section, talk about the programming projects that you’ve accomplished, with only brief mentions of the specific tools that you used when they match up with things the employer specifically wants. For example, if you wrote payroll software in C++ that reduced data entry errors by 5%, leave out the reference to C++ if the job description indicates that the new employer does everything in Fortran or Python. Keep the C++ reference if the job description says that they’re looking for someone with C++ skills. In either case, describe the programming project and how it improved things for your employer.

    I had a lot of good luck with a skills section on my resume. I got asked a lot more questions about things in my skills section than any other part of my resume in interviews, because other tech people can relate to it instantly and ask follow-up questions to gauge your experience with each thing you listed.

    1. Laurie*


      It looks best if an IT person has taken the time to learn what their programs/reports/queries translate to on the business side, and is able to report metrics in the language that is understood by management.

      TeaPot Company
      Technologies used: platform A, B and C, software 1, 2 and 3, language X, Y and Z.
      – Created new report/query using software 1, 2 and 3 to identify anomalous costs that resulted in a $1M savings to the company
      – Developed program to parse 500K rows of data automatically on a daily basis, saving 2 hours of manual work
      – Coordinated launch of program responsible for financial reporting for a $250M division, with a 250+ user base

  11. Seal*

    Re: #1: I worked with a fellow unit head who behaved just like this, but she was also a horrific manager to boot. Over the years she created quite a bit of space around herself because people were afraid to deal with her. When I became a unit head I was expected to collaborate with this nightmare of a person on projects and the like. After the one and only time she blew up at me, I went straight to my boss, told him what happened and flat-out refused to work with her unless I was assured she had her temper under control. Long story short, she was fired within a month. Turns out no one had ever actually spelled our for our boss the havoc this woman’s bad behavior was wreaking in our office and, more importantly, how much money it was costing us.

    So definitely say something to your boss – don’t assume someone else already has.

  12. Clobbered*

    #6 don’t bother using up valuable resume space for soft skills unless they map to a direct result (like, took over a demoralized team 9 months behind schedule and turned them around). Fundamentally no employer will pick a resume on the basis of soft skills a candidate claims to have. They will pick up a resume because of technical skills, and *if* they care about soft skills, try and establish them in the interview.

    If you are in IT and believe your resume does not stand out, your best chance of success is to up your technical game. Write a library, extend your framework, contribute to an open source project, pick another language or platform.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! Never, ever include soft skills on a resume unless you’re demonstrating them by stating what you achieved with them (in which case, you’d state the achievement, not the soft skill anyway).

      1. Jamie*

        This. One of the commenters here (maybe Josh S? I don’t recall the thread or I’d look it up) has a real knack for communicating technical information in layman’s terms. If that were to go on a resume, and it should, there is a good and bad way to do that:

        Bad: Excellent communication skills. (What does this mean? Ability to send an email not written in text speak? Will respond to greetings with a hello and chin jut of recognition (*tm Sheldon) instead of the IT grunt? Has kept thousands enthralled by the most dynamic speeches on technology this side of Steve Jobs? It means nothing.)

        Good: Liaison between programming and internal departments/customers/management (whathaveyou) communicating technical issues/requirements to people at all levels of technical expertise.

        The verbiage is clumsy – but the general idea. It isn’t vague, it’s a soft skill but it’s a real skill and wicked useful…so show them how you’ve used it.

        1. Josh S*

          Thank you, I do have a knack for that. Oddly, it tends to come out more during informal situations rather than in anything that I would call an ‘accomplishment.’

          But I *do* try to highlight that in my cover letter when I’ve applied for positions that require me to liaise between clients and researchers or techies and laypeople. I usually say something like, “I’m the sort of person who makes things understandable to my audience, no matter who they are. I have explained research methodologies to creative marketing folks, accurately translated end user requests into technical requirements for software developers, and helped co-workers get up to speed on complex tasks. My friends even look to me to clearly explain the nuance of the impact of current political events on Facebook.” …to a greater or lesser degree depending on how much that sort of role is valued for a position.

          In any case, thanks for thinking of me! :)

  13. Max*

    6) Even if you think everyone with a specific technical skill is equally capable for the job, there’s plenty of other things that can set you apart from the rest. Working in teams and groups, leading teams and groups, project management, interacting directly with clients, adapting to new technologies, and communicating with non-technical persons are all common things I’m asked about in interviews. Finding someone with programming skills is easy, but programmers who also have communication and organization skills are in high demand right now.

    Of course, there’s no point in listing these if they’re just soft skills – you need to have specific experiences or accomplishments to point to. You can’t say “I work well in groups” without pointing to specific groups you have been in, and you should expect to be describing your role in that group and why you fit so well there during an interview.

  14. Anlyn*

    As a security administrator, my alarms went off a little at #4, especially the “casual email”. For one, I thought managers usually called for references, and two, the odd “casual” questions combined with no company interview immediately made me think of social engineering. I don’t know what kind of personal information someone would try to get if they’re using a resume to social engineer…regardless, OP might want to contact references and reiterate caution in what the references say regarding personal info.

    1. Stells*

      Recruiter here – I do send out emails from time to time because I tend to get a better response rate than trying to catch someone on the phone (or waiting for them to call me back). However, I make a huge point to explain in detail who I am, who I am reference checking, and for what position they are being considered. I also attach a form with the most personal information (although that is really is just the candidate name and job title information) so that the reference knows that I’ve been in contact with this person.

      To AAM’s point – what a HUGE waste for someone to do reference checks without at least a prelim phone screen. Sometimes peers in my field make me ::facepalm::

    2. Anonymous*

      #4 OP here.

      What a frightening thought wrt social engineering!

      I should hasten to add that this individual IS a known quantity, and is legit. My former boss (still on very good terms) who knows the stealth reference checker from the industry we’re in, was the one to alert me to the job opening.

      In that same line of thinking, maybe I’m somewhat of a known quantity too? But I really would have liked to talk to someone before they started contacting my references.

      1. Jamie*

        The only time I can see checking a reference before even contacting the person would be in a casual way, if I happened to know someone who knew them.

        If I get a resume and I see you worked at Choc. Tea Pots Inc in the division where my friend was a manager, I might give her a call and ask if she knew you before I set up an interview.

        Not if you were still working there though – never contact a current employer – just saying I can see this if it were a weird coincidence. Otherwise contacting referneces before an interview is ridiculous, imo.

        1. Anonymous*

          Absolutely I could see giving my (now former) boss a call, especially as I mentioned in my cover letter having heard about the opportunity from him.

          I’m less charitable towards the emails, though.

          1. Anonymous*

            One more thing…I still haven’t heard anything, and I know from the job offer I did recently get that my references are outstanding. My future boss was really wowed by them, and made a point of telling me that.

            So, this other person doesn’t contact me at all, they check all my references (using casual chatty language like they know them well – they didn’t), they get really good feedback on me, and I still don’t hear anything!

            It’s just odd.

  15. Ivy*

    #1. I have only once had the pleasure of dealing with a similar situation, and it didn’t last very long. A coworker of mine “lost her cool” on me a few years back. Now she had every right to be upset (as it was due to a mistake I made); however, there is a certain level of professionalism and respect that I treat others with and that I expect to be treated with. The second my coworker started to yell and use explicit language, I cut her off and said, “do not speak to me that way.” That, said in a calm voice, combined with a stern look, did the trick. She went from 1000 to 0 in a flash. In the same way I think you need to lay down the law and establish some boundaries with her. While it may not be your place to tell her how to treat others in the office, it is certainly your choice to allow her to treat you a certain way.

    Sometimes waiting for management to take action isn’t the best way to handle things. Because sometimes it takes management a long time (if they do anything at all), and until they get their act together, you still have to work with this person.

  16. Anonymous*

    #3 – I’m confused as to whether this person has been hired to your “friends” company, or has just been hired to another random company and is a past colleague of your “friends”?

    Either way, I’d leave it. It’s possible he’s learning from his mistakes, or never made one to begin with (depending on what the actual situation was) and is trying to move on with his life. If you got fired from a job, how would you feel if former co-workers called every place you applied to in order to make sure they knew you were fired? I’m not justifying any past actions that may have occurred, but everyone needs to earn a living and you have no right to chase this person down everywhere he goes.

    If it is that he is moving to your company, as others have said, make sure you are 100% up to date on the circumstances of his past firing. If you just heard it through the grape vine then it’s heresay and shouldn’t be reported, if you know about it first hand, bring it up like an adult to the next person in the chain of command. Don’t do it anonymously, it’s cowardly and takes validity away from your concerns.

  17. Evets*

    #7 It could be you’re on stand by while they interview a few others. They probably “like” you but uncertain. They want to interview others as you may have been the first group they interviewed. They could also be dangling the carrot to keep you from accepting another job…

  18. Anonymous*

    #1 It could be that they are giving her more duties/responsibilities because the manager is considering that the cause of her blowups might be due to being unsatisfied with her current role(s). By giving her new duties, perhaps they are testing to see if it could have any sort of change in her satisfaction in or attitude toward her work.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That would be a pretty inept management response, if so … but on the other hand, there’s clearly a management problem here since they’re allowing someone to have chronic blow-ups in the office!

  19. khilde*

    #1 – Get your hands on a copy of the book “Working With You is Killing Me.” There is a description and prescription for dealing with an Exploder. It’s a great resource – I am too puny to even try to capture the essence of it here.

    1. Charles*

      “Working With You is Killing Me”

      LOL! I just had to do an Amazon search for that – the title fits so many of my previous co-workers! Really it does. Now, I have to see if my local library has it – thanks!

      1. khilde*

        Charles – it’s a great book and there’s even a training curriculum put out by one of the major training video companies. We ran that class in our organization a few years ago and people really responded to it. Even better, there’s a companion book called “Working For You Isn’t Working For Me” about difficult bosses. Great stuff. Hope you find it!

  20. #6*

    Thanks for all the responses re: my resume. Perhaps it was too broad to say “any” other programmer could do my job. My intent was to say that any other similarly-skilled programmer could: meaning, anyone with experience with the same languages and frameworks. I work mostly with web stuff and MS SQL databases so the vast majority of what I work with has published, well-known standards and documentation that pretty much anyone who has an inclination toward computers can pick up and understand. That’s how I learned, actually.

    At this point my resume simply feels a bit bloated but I can’t exactly pin-point why. Here’s an excerpt from one of the previous positions I’ve had:

    >>>Utilized .NET 3.5 to develop a web solution that utilized the Script Manager and Update Panel objects within 3.5.
    >>>Oversaw new development and maintenance of existing e-commerce platforms and data mining tools written in both ASP and ASP.Net 2.0 (C#) using a MS SQL Server 2005 database.
    >>>Developed and coded a single-database ASP.Net 3.5 solution to combine several legacy ASP e-commerce applications which acted like a multi-store e-commerce solution. Provided access to multiple URLs and stored from a single admin interface.
    >>>Integrated site personalization and preview engine with QuarkXPress Server to display and generate Quark documents and PDFs with customer personalization choices and powered print-on-demand solutions.
    >>>Linked QuarkXPress Server with MS SQL Server to dynamically determine output settings for various documents.
    >>>Consulted directly with senior management on projects, project feasibility, and planning.
    >>>Ensured quality of systems in a highly competitive e-commerce environment by pushing for more standards compliance in future projects and helping make sure decisions were made from an informed perspective.
    >>>Utilized code generation software to save several dozen hours of coding time to generate an entity class and appropriate MS SQL Server 2005 stored procedures for CRUD operations.
    >>>Developed a Proof of Concept system that would make an entirely home grown personalization system freeing the business from QuarkXPress licensing needs utilizing System.Drawing and System.Text namespaces and iTextSharp for PDF
    >>>Created code standards document to be used in new development projects.
    >>>Worked with a China based developer to get the personalization system for a sister company up to speed.
    >>>Responsible for day to day site and database maintenance.
    Ensured Payment Card Industry compliance in the handling of credit card data.

    That feels fairly scatter-shot to me. Perhaps it’s the lack of customization of my resume that simply feels off. Several of your responses have been to model the resume for the position yet recruiters often just keep your resume on file, want everything you’ve ever done on it and simply press ‘send’ when they think you’re a good match.

    1. Neeta*

      It looks fine to me. Perhaps the only thing I’d change is to group them by companies you worked at (or by clients, if you did freelancing).

    2. Andrew*

      This is an excerpt? From one position?

      I’m not in IT, so maybe I’m off-base, but this is much too long and detailed. Also, if you mean for non-IT management types to react to this, be prepared for incomprehension and boredom.

      I am not saying this to be snarky or mean, but I think you might want to get some outside help with this.

      1. Neeta*

        Oh wow, I missed the ” from one of the previous positions I’ve had”. In that case yes, you definitely need to trim things down a bit.

        How about trying to explain it in more layman terms, eg: I had a project which listed all the companies overachievers. My responsibilities were: x, y,z. Don’t go into too much detail about how exactly you implemented this. If you really want you can mention that you used ASP.NET 3.5 and MsSQL server or whatever… but just leave it at that.
        More details can be provided during the interview.

    3. Unmana*

      If this is just one of the positions, I think you can trim down a bit: just include a few most impressive accomplishments and delete the rest.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it needs some word-smithing. For instance, “consulted directly with senior management on projects, project feasibility, and planning” is pretty vague — talk about the outcome. Also, “Worked with a China based developer to get the personalization system for a sister company up to speed” is pretty vague too — “up to speed” doesn’t really communicate much. I’d try to tighten this up.

    5. Dan*

      I think the problem with your resume is you’re not presenting a coherent picture of your skill level. Like, here’s what you said:

      >>>Utilized .NET 3.5 to develop a web solution that utilized the Script Manager and Update Panel objects within 3.5.

      So you made a website.

      >>>Oversaw new development and maintenance of existing e-commerce platforms and data mining tools written in both ASP and ASP.Net 2.0 (C#) using a MS SQL Server 2005 database.

      So you wrote code.

      >>>Developed and coded a single-database ASP.Net 3.5 solution to combine several legacy ASP e-commerce applications which acted like a multi-store e-commerce solution. Provided access to multiple URLs and stored from a single admin interface.

      So you wrote another website.

      Assuming you’re marketing yourself as a mid- to senior-level generalist developer, the things you’ve listed so far are all minimum requirements of any job you’re going to have. Putting them on a resume is like a chef putting “can chop stuff up into evenly-sized cubes” and “knows what temperature to roast a chicken at”. If you didn’t have the skills, that’d be concerning, but you don’t have to spell it out. (Don’t have to spell it out in the accomplishments/job history section, I mean — of course you should have ASP, .NET, SQL Server, etc in the skills section.)

      >>>Consulted directly with senior management on projects, project feasibility, and planning.
      >>>Ensured quality of systems in a highly competitive e-commerce environment by pushing for more standards compliance in future projects and helping make sure decisions were made from an informed perspective.
      >>>Created code standards document to be used in new development projects.
      >>>Worked with a China based developer to get the personalization system for a sister company up to speed.

      These ones might be interesting, but as written they’re too soft to count as accomplishments (and some of them, like “wrote code standards” may also be just part of what’s expected for senior developers). You can probably leave them out entirely, and talk about them in the interview if they ask for stories about past work.

      >>>Integrated site personalization and preview engine with QuarkXPress Server to display and generate Quark documents and PDFs with customer personalization choices and powered print-on-demand solutions.
      >>>Linked QuarkXPress Server with MS SQL Server to dynamically determine output settings for various documents.
      >>>Developed a Proof of Concept system that would make an entirely home grown personalization system freeing the business from QuarkXPress licensing needs utilizing System.Drawing and System.Text namespaces and iTextSharp for PDF generation.
      >>>Responsible for day to day site and database maintenance.
      Ensured Payment Card Industry compliance in the handling of credit card data.
      >>>Utilized code generation software to save several dozen hours of coding time to generate an entity class and appropriate MS SQL Server 2005 stored procedures for CRUD operations.

      These are the ones that are specific enough that somebody might be like “hey, we’ve got that QuarkXPress integration project coming up” and give your resume a boost because of it. Even so, nothing you talk about here is interesting enough to get more than a sentence: I’d do one sentence for dynamic QuarkXPress generation, another for iText*, another for PCI compliance (the first sentence there is again “see, I did the basics of my job” but PCI compliance is a big deal if you really know about it because it’s expensive if it’s screwed up), and another for code generation**. There, four sentences for this job. Do the same for the previous couple jobs, but you only get two or three sentences for each, and call it good.

      *If you’re being hired by a technical person, then the vast majority of the time they’re just not going to care about resume bullets like “I saved my company $X million by doing Y”. But “I replaced pain-in-the-butt commercial software package X with Y” is something they can relate to.

      **That said, you have to be careful about this one: if I was interviewing you, I’d be asking why you’re not using LINQ-to-SQL or one of the other ORM packages out there that sound like they do the same thing as what you’re talking about here off-the-shelf.

      1. #6*

        Thank you for combing through that like you did. I do have one question that keeps coming up when I look at my resume: while I understand that you should separate the wheat from the chaff, how exactly do you distinguish “just part of the job” from those that are supposed to help you stand out as a worker? Every accolade or “great job” comment I’ve received has been from simply doing what I thought was fair and part of due diligence concerning my role at the time. There are also several other times where in performing the same level of diligence in my roles where I haven’t received compliments. How do I know which to include? Just the ones that have gotten managerial feedback? If the goal is to remove any status quo entries from a resume, I could very well boil each position down to one bullet point: I do my job well.

        1. Neeta*

          IMO it’s perfectly normal that not every single line of code you wrote deserved a medal.

          You can just list your work as normal, and mention your merits where needed. And you don’t need to mention that “you were just doing your job” at the rest. Different companies, may very well have different scales of appreciation.

          It’s actually one of my weak points when I have evaluations at my current company. Tend to always downplay my achievements.
          Basically treat everything as an achievement, and pay particular attention to achievements which really impressed people.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m getting the sense that you think you should only list things on your resume if they’re all above and beyond normal work, and that’s not true. You want to list accomplishments as much as possible, but not every single line needs to be god-like.

  21. Hannah*

    #6- Software developers (“programmers”) are not in the IT field. Maybe there was more to that email to indicate that the OP actually is in IT, but it’s not generally a good assumption to make!

      1. #6*

        It’s something of a debate and honestly depends on the org structure of the company in question. IT is some times divided from software to focus on hardware, machine and network configuration, etc with etc being all things not programming, which paradoxically predicates heavily on certain hardware specs, configuration, etc. :)

        1. Scott M*

          If programmers are not in I.T. (Information Technology) then what field are they in?

          This is news to me since I’m a programmer (application developer) and I’m in the I.T. department at my company. Although I would consider myself to be in the industry associated with my company, since I.T. has to support the business. But that is another discussion.

          1. #6*

            Some say informatics, some say they’re their own field who knows. It’s one debate I don’t participate in.

      2. Neeta*

        I think this is mostly the case for companies whose main activity is IT related, since in the that case 90% of the employees would be in the IT department.

        Eg: In my company, I am in a “developer” department, while the IT department consists of techies who help us set up our computers, install Operating Systems, fix any issues we might have with our computers (hardware, or connecting to the printers etc etc).

        Keeping that in mind, some people might be “offended” to be called IT guys, when they’re doing programming, instead of fixing others’ computer problems.

        To me though, that’s really just needless nitpicking.

        1. Anonymous*

          Indeed – in general, dev and test break systems, while the IT guys fix them. Of course there is some overlap – any sysadmin worth their salt is going to be able to program when it makes their life easier, while dev and test will be fully capable of running their own machines (although I do not generally want that responsibility).

  22. Sara*

    #6 – some other commenters have touched on this, but there is good programming and there is bad programming, even among people following the same standards. Yes, most programmers can, say, create a form with a submit button following best practices and consistent with RESTful API principles. But that doesn’t mean it’s designed optimally. How did you build this form? Is it flexible enough to accomodate a broad sweep of potential future changes? Have you added extra user feedback, such as useful error messages when data validation is violated (i.e. “Orders for chocolate teapots must be in multiples of 5” rather than “your chocolate teapot order contains an error”?) Is the source code commented well? Is it full of confusing hardcodes? If there are other, similar forms, are you using some kind of template or building them all independently? That is the sort of stuff that sets you apart from other programmers, and you can highlight these traits through achievements on your resume: “Redesigned chocolate teapot order form to improve scalability and user-friendliness, reducing support calls by x% and time to implement changes by y%”

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