To Embellish: To make beautiful
To Exaggerate: To give misleading information
To Lie: To provide false statements
No matter which one is chosen, being untruthful on a résumé can have dire consequences; now or in the future. Ever since we were kids, we quickly realized that perhaps not telling the entire story of an incident could be beneficial in the short-term. Whether it was taking an item from a sibling or maybe how that candy bar magically appeared after a trip to the store. Kid’s stuff we say. However, while most of us agree that being honest and never lying is always the best policy at work and our personal lives, there are still some areas that many people feel the need to be less than straightforward.
A good résumé is a ticket to an interview. According to HotJobs, inaccuracies are found in 40% of résumés. And because of these ‘misunderstandings’, HR personnel are spending even more time verifying references, college degrees and checking dates worked.
Candidates need to understand that with social media, the internet, and close relationships in any particular industry, the chances are pretty good that false information will be found. According to a CareerBuilder survey, 93% of employers who found a fib did NOT hire the person who was being interviewed. No matter how good anyone is in their potential new role, ethics questions start entering the minds of hiring managers.
Think it can’t happen? Look up Marilee Jones. She was the Dean of Admissions for MIT and enjoyed a 28-year stellar career there. Jones worked her way up at the college and held the impressive position for many years. Due to an anonymous tip, they found out about her fake college degrees and promptly fired her. She simply lied and it ruined her career.
How about George O’Leary, the ex-football coach at Notre Dame? His application inflated his education in college and lettering in sports. He was forced to resign from this prestigious position after only five days on the job.
Let’s ponder some common résumé embellishments:
- Education: Many people are embarrassed if they didn’t go to or finish college. Stating that a degree program was completed is the riskiest as it is one of the easiest things to verify. Action: State the college name and field of study, but don’t place a bogus degree or year graduated. You can discuss this in the interview.
- Job Titles: Recruiters are wary of job titles that don’t seem to fit the career progression in the years stated on the résumé. Going from one company as a Counter person and then being a Branch Manager at the next company within six months is a red flag. Possible but improbable. Action: If it’s true, state clearly how you attained the job in that period of time. Be careful of inflating your title.
- Employment Gaps: This is the most common exaggeration as people try to hide short stints at companies. Maybe a long job hunt, jail (yes it happens), maternity leave, etc. Action: The cover letter is key here as it will give you the chance to explain the gaps in your job history. Most companies are sympathetic and understand if you are honest with them. But if they find out something that you didn’t reveal, you could be back out looking for a job.
- Fired or Laid Off: This circles around to the above. There are so many RIF’s lately that most companies see that as a sign of the times. If you have been fired from a position, there are many ways to turn that around to a positive. Action: State what you learned from the experience, and how you’ve changed. This could be to your advantage. However, if you’re caught stealing, especially in our industry, it will be difficult to find trust again. But by being forthcoming and humbled by the experience, you may find someone compassionate enough to give you a second chance.
- Age: While companies cannot legally ask you your age, many people try to hide that by not revealing their college graduation year, or may not even include earlier career positions. Action: Entice the HR person with actions and successes that show you still have the passion and can provide a wealth of knowledge to the right company. Again, the goal is to deflect any perception that age is a deficit.
- Salary: Recruiters and companies want a salary progression so we know what positions will be right for you. Action: When asked for your recent compensation, be truthful and aware that the hiring company can legally ask for your most recent paystubs and W2. There’s no way around this one. Your résumé can and will be available to employers forever, so don’t lie, exaggerate or inflate its content.
Remember what mom said to us years ago: “Whenever you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said.”