Are Sloppy Résumés OK?
by Sean Landis
July 23, 2010

Sean Landis, author of Agile Hiring, discusses why he thinks sloppy résumés should not be tolerated.
This article is inspired by
material from the book
Agile Hiring
by Sean Landis,
available from
Artima Press.

Software developers and testers are not writers. Have you ever said this to yourself while reviewing a poorly written résumé? Is it OK to tolerate sloppy résumés? My answer is: Only if you aren’t interested in hiring the best. The résumé is the candidate’s primary selling tool. It establishes the first impression with a prospective employer. So why would an intelligent, thoughtful, quality-conscious person represent herself with a sloppy résumé? The answer is: She wouldn’t!

Our stereotypes urge us to cut software folks some slack. “Developers are anti-social,” “Developers are poor communicators,” “Developers don’t need to communicate as long as they write good code.” Buying into these stereotypes will only lead to bad hiring. Communication, oral and written, ought to be considered core competencies for software developers and testers.

How hard is it to create a quality résumé? There are countless resources on the Internet; placement agencies provide free advice to candidates they represent; other professionals can review and provide feedback; and spell and grammar checkers are ubiquitous. Even if the résumé language is the candidate’s second language, these and other options are still available. There is no excuse.

You might wonder if there is an untold story behind a sloppy résumé. Maybe. What might be the reasons for a sloppy or incomplete résumé?

  • Carelessness
  • Inexperience (E.g., the candidate didn’t research how to write a good résumé)
  • Ignorance (E.g., the candidate didn’t know to do the research)
  • Lack of judgment
You don’t want someone who exhibits any of these traits working for you. The résumé is the most important tool a candidate has. If the candidate can’t do a quality job on the résumé, chances are, the candidate won’t do quality work either.

Be fair about what you deem a sloppy résumé. Keep personal preferences on style and formatting out of your thinking. Focus on bad grammar, misspellings, vagueness, and unintelligibility. A few mistakes are probably tolerable, but a general trend is unacceptable.

I am concerned if a candidate misspells or incorrectly capitalizes technology names. Technology misspellings draw into question just how much experience a candidate has with the technology. One who uses and understands a technology, should encounter the name often enough to be able to spell it correctly.

I take sloppiness seriously. People who are careless communicators, or use poor judgment, are not good hires. Quality is essential in software development. Why would an employer hire someone to shepherd their core software assets who cannot even take the care to do a good job on their own “core assets?”

About the book

If you are convinced that hiring is a mission-critical activity, and you are committed to becoming great at hiring, I suggest you read my book, Agile Hiring. It is strikingly different from what has been written before on hiring. Much of the hiring wisdom is still there, but many of the ideas are new. These new ideas have been developed and tested in companies that are committed to hiring great software professionals. They work. I describe the key technical parts of hiring: resume reviews, phone interviews, on-site interviews, and making the offer.


Sean Landis is author of Agile Hiring, which is available at:

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About the author

Sean Landis, a software architect with over twenty years of experience hiring software professionals, has hired in companies with less than ten developers and ones with thousands. He successfully retooled hiring practices at three companies, leading to significant improvements in the quality and quantity of new hires. Sean is a practicing software professional who today practices agile development and has innovatively applied agile principles to hiring.