Angelina Lee, a Bay-Area based software engineer with a stacked resume of top jobs at Instagram, Zillow and LinkedIn, had no problem getting interviews at Reddit, Airbnb, Atlassian and other well-known tech companies. Lee added qualifications such as “Team coffee maker — ensured team of 6 was fully caffeinated with Antarctican coffee beans ground to 14 nm particles” and achievements like “Connected with Reid Hoffman on LinkedIn” as bullet points and continued getting requests for interviews from Robinhood, Dropbox, Airtable and more.
The only problem is that Angelina Lee doesn’t exist. When I called her on Monday, a deep male voice answered the phone. “Hi. It’s Angelina, I guess.”
The person who posted this resume is a software engineer, and he does live somewhere in the United States, but Protocol agreed to keep him anonymous for fear of retaliation from his current employer and future job prospects. He started this little job experiment with a fake resume because he and his software engineering friends have always had a tough time securing interviews, even when they send hundreds of applications. (He said he chose a woman’s name because he thought it would make it harder for the fake resume to be traced back to him.) He wanted to test whether there’s any truth to the notion that where you work and where you went to school really do make all of the difference.
Turns out, it’s more true than he ever could have guessed. Sure, getting interview offers just because of a stacked resume makes sense, to a certain degree — what tech company wouldn’t be impressed with jobs at LinkedIn, Zillow and Instagram? But it’s when Lee took things a step further that the experience became surreal. No matter how many bizarre, reputation-harming bullets he added, the interviews kept coming. “Phi Beta Phi — fraternity record for most vodka shots in one night” even got him some callbacks. Protocol reviewed screenshots of his conversations with reruiters.
Lee’s experiment suggests that many tech companies haven’t seriously evolved the way that they recruit and hire, even though they are in an extremely tough war to hire whomever they see as “top tech talent.” And it’s not just the application stage showing notable flaws in the system. At Google, the famously brutal recruiting system has many people turning down interviews when they realize the process could involve months of prep work. At Facebook, nearly half of the company’s engineering candidates turned down job offers in the first quarter of 2021, leading a senior recruiting member to write a “Why hiring is hard right now” memo for engineering staff.
Once recruiters kept asking Lee for an interview even after the “Phi Beta Phi” addition, he wanted to figure out if they were actually reading his resume. His persona started to ask “Would you be able to let me know which parts of my resume stood out for this job?” And the recruiters would reply with generic comments about his skills and his past achievements.
“It went downhill from there. I tested how far can I push these bullets before I stop getting replies. I literally didn’t stop getting replies,” he said. “There were so many, I didn’t want to deal with it. I tried to, like, get them to look at my resume, I replied, ‘Hey which part of my resume for this job fits the best?’ ‘Oh, your skills and the company you work at are solid.’ And I’m like, ‘OK.'”
Lee’s experiment also lends credence to the anecdotal stories that emerge almost daily on Twitter, Reddit and elsewhere that accuse tech companies of having a bias toward people who have experience at elite institutions. While almost all of the companies tested by Lee profess to have hiring practices that consider people with a range of backgrounds, there’s a clear system designed here that favors certain elements on a resume.
The most likely explanation for what’s happening here involves, of course, automation. Most companies use an electronic tool that filters resumes based on keywords — in this case, those keywords probably included Microsoft, Instagram and UC Berkeley. While that is slowly becoming common knowledge outside of the recruitment world, the average job applicant probably assumes the recruiter at the very least reads the resumes that are successfully filtered through the system. Given Lee’s experience, they clearly do not.
“I don’t know on the recruiter’s side, maybe this is me totally being ignorant, but it can’t be that hard to read a couple of bullets each,” Lee said. The last time he applied for an engineering job with his actual resume, he applied for nearly 300 jobs, got about 3% of the interviews he applied for and ended up choosing between two job offers.