Sunday, November 20, 2016

Resume Advice: Whether to List Interests

Should you list non-work-related interests in your resume?  Does it add flavor and make you stand out, or is it a distraction?

My stance is that you should add it if one of the following is true:
  1. it conveys a positive work trait such as self-discipline, perseverance, teamwork ... OR ...
  2. a job related to this interest would be your dream job
I once interviewed a finance person who listed on his resume that he had won an Olympic medal in track and field.  This immediately made me think that he has patience, and the ability to withstand mental pressure.

When interviewing applicants for my company Evertoon, I'd love to find people who have a passion for moviemaking.  If a job related to moviemaking would be their dream job, that's a great match.  If they enjoy movies but only to the same extent that they enjoy 20 other things, then it doesn't need to be listed.

Sometimes people list interests that many others share, and are passive activites.  e.g. 

Interests: traveling, reading, eating amazing food

 This is not going to make you stand out.  Can you imagine this conversation:
Interviewer A: "What did you think of Elizabeth?"
B: "Which one is she again?"
A: "The one that likes eating amazing food."
B: "Oh, her!"

No, that is not going to happen.  So don't put those interests on your resume.

I also think there's a lower relevance bar for interests that you put on your LinkedIn.  It's fine to list these passive activities there.  Recruiters might be sourcing LinkedIn and use this information to strike up a conversation with you.

The resume demonstrates your ability to be concise.  Don't squander it by writing interests that are cliche.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Resume Advice: How to Handle a Gap in Work History

Yesterday I gave advice to a former classmate about his resume.  Specifically: how to deal with a 5-year gap in work history.

It made me think about two years ago, when I was advising a friend Sally about her resume.  She kept mentioning a 6-month gap that happened because she was waiting for a work visa.  Should she proactively address the gap and explain it?  Should she not mention it, and hope the interviewer doesn't spot it?

I've never heard the word "gap" said so many times in one conversation.  The only type of gap that causes more obsessive worry is the stupid thigh gap.

The only type of gap that causes more worrying than a resume work gap.

Here's my advice.  First, understand why a work history gap is problematic.  A work gap can make the interviewer worry that:

1. You're not serious about working.
2. You might be rusty at the skills needed for the job.

A number of people in this world are flaky when it comes to working!  They'll do things like suddenly not show up to work for a day, without letting anyone know, and without making plans to cover their tasks.  Or they abruptly quit halfway through a critical two-month project, leaving their teammates stranded.  Or they make it known that they think work sucks and anyone who enjoys work is a fool, gradually poisoning the team attitude.  When I interview people, I'd estimate 3% of applicant are like this.  Out of people with big gaps in their work history, maybe 15% are like this.

When reading the above paragraph, if you felt horrified and thought, "People actually do that?!", then the situation is easy peasy.  I'll show you below how to reassure the hiring manager.

If you read it thinking, "I feel so understood!  Of course anyone who enjoys work is a fool.  Can you teach me how to get away with suddenly not showing up to work?", then please close this browser tab, and never apply for a job at a company I'm affiliated with.

Now, onto solutions.  If your work gap was for less than six months, don't worry about it.  It's unlikely anyone will mind, or even notice.

If it was longer, the most optimal solution (which addresses both concerns of the hiring manager) is to list any work-related projects you did.  Do this even if the project was unpaid, or if it only covered a fraction of the time period.  e.g.

2012-2014 Wrote python for open-source coding projects RecipeSearcher and DogPhotoAnalyzer. 
2012-2014 Read 20 books about improving my sales skills.

The hiring manager will think:

1. This person is so serious about working that they did unpaid work!  They had enough self-discipline to make progress on their own.
2. They were using their skills during this period, so their abilities will still be current.

If you didn't work on any projects directly related to work, but you did things that required being organized or teamwork or self-sacrifice for the greater good, put those.

2012-2014 Volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and built 4 homes.
2012-2014 Took care of an ill family member.
2012-2014 Competed professionally in ultimate frisbee.

While this does not solve concern #2, at least it somewhat addresses concern #1 because it shows you care, and are responsible.

If all you did during the gap was to passively consume entertainment, or sit around feeling sad, then just don't mention the gap.  The worst is to specifically call attention to it, while saying something that exacerbates the worries.

2012-2014 Traveled the world, sampled amazing cuisines, hiked Machu Picchu.

The hiring manager will think: If this is so important to you that you're listing in your resume, how do I know you're not going to complain every day that you're at work instead of traveling?  How do I know you won't suddenly drop an important project to go sample amazing cuisines again?

Hiking Machu Picchu doesn't signify that you can commit or be dependable.  It only signifies you can commit for a 4-day hike.

Just leave that gap off your resume.  When it comes up in the interview, say something like, "I thoroughly enjoyed traveling, and now I'm really eager to find a company that I can commit to for the next X years."  (assuming this is true)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Brain making poor analogies

This is the longest I have gone between blog posts in the past 12 years.  I still jot down thoughts, six to twelve times every day, but in private.

I realized recently that I pattern-match current situations to ones I have seen before, to predict how things might turn out. But the bad thing is that my brain will pattern match to situations that are very superficially similar, and also to fictional accounts like tv shows.

E.g. I will catch myself thinking things like "I have been working on this for 2 years. Last time I worked on a product for 2 years, the team faced challenge Y.  So I need to stay alert for Y."  But length of time is a meaningless signal!  There are much more direct signals like user feedback.

Or I will think "I am really happy with Aff.  On Sex and the City, how long was Samantha happy with Smith before problems arose?  If we've been happy for longer than that, I can feel reassured."  These are fictional characters!  

I welcome any tips for stopping these inaccurate comparisons.

Friday, June 10, 2016

the most alienating thing that ever happened to me, as a female engineer

Recently I had dinner with a colleague Raf from my old job on Microsoft Flight Simulator.  I told him how I felt that Microsoft had a less diverse culture than Google.  He asked why.  I told him one story in particular.

For two months before shipping Flight Simulator, we'd stay late every evening.  Management would bring in dinner, and the team would watch television while eating together.  My team always wanted to watch baseball.  Every evening, without fail, there would be baseball on the television.

Once, I asked if we could watch "Friends" instead.  This was met with incredulity and laughter.

A few weeks later, as a joke, my colleague Mike changed the television show to Friends, and then took out the batteries from the remote control.  He placed the empty remote on the conference room table near the door.

Our coworker Steve walked in, saw Friends on the television, and immediately grabbed the remote to change the channel.  He jabbed the remote with increasing fervor, walking up many steps until he was nearly touching the television.  He pointed the remote with outstretched arm, looking puzzled as the screen continued to show Friends.

As Steve was looking confused, Mike laughed so hard that he fell to his knees on the floor.

Steve finally turned over the remote, saw the missing batteries, chuckled, and put the remote back on the table.  Moments later, Todd walked in and immediately grabbed the remote to change the channel.

Now both Steve and Mike were laughing.

This repeated several times.  Mike laughed harder with every subsequent person that fell for the prank.  Eventually he was red in the face and could hardly straighten up from how hard he had laughed.

I think this may have been the most alienating event that occurred during my time at Microsoft.  If I had walked in, and baseball was showing on the television, it would be completely unthinkable for me to grab the remote and change it to Friends.  If I had done that, the outcry would've been thundering.  People would question my social skills.  They would tell me that I lack social etiquette.   And yet every person who walked in that night felt completely at ease to change the channel without clarifying.  They didn't bother to ask, "Oh, are we watching a different show tonight?"  They assumed that of course it's natural that they should change it to their show.

There were many other little things like this.  Morale events were always go-kart racing.  When we got new T-shirts, there were never women's sizes.  I remember being amazed and gratified my first week at Google in 2003, when they handed out T-shirts at TGIF and there were women's sizes.

When I was having dinner a couple days ago with Raf, he asked me, "When this happened and you felt out of place, did you ever question whether you really liked engineering?  Did you ever feel like 'Wow, maybe engineering isn't the right line of work for me'?"

Me: "No.  I had such a good time writing code at Caltech, and programming as a kid.  I knew I loved it.  That was never in doubt.  I just didn't know if I'd ever find a company where I felt at ease."

Raf: "Do you think that if it were a different woman who went through what you did, she might have concluded that she's not meant for engineering?"

Me: "..."


More overt things happened too.  My official work mentor offered me a ride in his fancy sports car, and then reached over and buckled my seat belt for me, touching me a lot in the process.  A manager told me I need to be more assertive, and then later when I was more assertive, that now I was too confrontational (issues that magically disappeared when I got a new manager).  In a way, the overt problems were easier for me to discount.  I could tell myself that one person was being an asshole, but most of the team were probably not assholes.  It was harder to tell myself that when the whole room was laughing at the ridiculous notion that maybe my preference could be given equal treatment to theirs for one day.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

grrr objective-C

me: do you know objective-C?
aff: no. when i need to make mac changes, i just add square brackets until that shit compiles


I find objective-C to be such a confusing language.  Sometimes the syntax is, and sometimes [foo bar], and yet other times it's [foo param:bar].

We use unity3D with C# at Evertoon, which spares us from having to touch objective-C most of the time.  I never thought one day C# would be the language I turn to thankfully.