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Can You Believe It?

How to tell the difference between a resume con and a typical dotcom

You're finally hiring again. You survived the dotcom crash and the economic slowdown, and now you're flipping through resumes that highlight amazing accomplishments at once-high-flying, cutting-edge companies. But how do you evaluate the resume of a 26-year-old who held management positions at two or three failed start-ups?

It's a growing issue for entrepreneurs who want to hire innovative and ambitious managers but question whether dotcom refugees have enough experience. There's concern these employees "came too quick and haven't seen enough," says John Challenger, CEO of Chicago outplacement and research firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Then there are those dotcom job titles, where every other employee was a vice president or a director. "Titles are cheap," says Scott Testa, 37, founder and COO of Mindbridge Software, a fast-growing 5-year-old technology company in Worcester, Pennsylvania, with 45 employees and annual sales topping $1 million. "They may have had a title, but they may not have had the responsibility or the competence."

Former dotcommers like Carol Klimas of Phoenix have felt the heat. Klimas, 29, went from being a marketing coordinator to the director of public relations at a dotcom that folded in late 2000. She found herself defending her background during job interviews.

"People were like, 'You've got to be kidding. How did you go from marketing coordinator to director?' " she says. "I really had to back up my skill set with proven results." She's since found a job as a director of public relations.

Drilling Down

If a former dotcommer knocks on your door, what should you do? Start with first impressions. Is this person savvy enough to realize we can't party like it's 1999? If the applicant hasn't adjusted his or her expectations, it's a bad sign.

During the interview, your challenge will be getting to the bottom of what these former dotcommers did every day. How did they use their time? What did their jobs involve, and does it jibe with their titles? Testa always asks how many people they managed and how they kept people and projects on track.

At the same time, you'll be checking references. But how do you investigate someone who worked for companies that no longer exist? To make matters worse, the applicant may have been unemployed for a while. It's the applicant's job to give you up-to-date contacts. If you're interviewing the founder of a defunct dotcom, ask to speak with venture capitalists, board members and anyone else who held sway over him or her.

Consistency is key, says Carla DeLuca, a former dotcommer and now principal of Luca LLC, a marketing consulting firm in San Francisco. "An applicant whose employers have similar, glowing remarks is usually a good indication."

Learn applicants' views on procedures and hierarchy, and where they see themselves fitting into your company. Also, ask why they think the dotcoms they worked for failed. "If a former dotcommer says the only reason the company no longer exists is it couldn't secure funding, you have to wonder how much they were clued into the decisions being made," says DeLuca.

Testa isn't bothered if dotcommers have worked for a failed company or two as long as they can articulate what they learned. He's hired four of them. And many former dotcommers have stellar educational backgrounds. Dotcoms hired the best and brightest because they could-many of those coming out of top business schools in the late 1990s shunned the stodgy IBMs and GEs to join innovative dotcoms.

One Bad Apple

Some bad apples continue to give all dotcommers a bum rap as arrogant and money-grubbing, and it's hard for "old economy" employers not to feel vindicated now that the dotcom bubble has burst. "It's such an easy group to parody and stereotype," says John Doffing, CEO of StartUpAgent Inc., a technology recruiting firm in San Francisco. "But at the same time, they're entrepreneurial and well-educated." Not to mention creative, flexible and comfortable with risk.

They're also realizing that the onus is on them to show you their accomplishments. "A lot of people are rearranging their resumes to show skills and not job titles," Klimas says. "It's an employer's job market."

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the July 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Can You Believe It?.

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