A 2012 study by Accu-Screen, ADP, and SHRM revealed that more than 50% of the résumés contain lies. Most jobseekers are tempted to lie to make themselves look better than they are and even take the risk of getting caught after they land the job because they think that once on- board they are safe. Many recent examples prove otherwise.
There are various rankings of these lies, but the following order seems most commonly accepted: Education, Job Title, Responsibility, Achievements, Employment Dates, Courses & Certifications
With the ubiquity of easy Internet search it is a mystery why anyone would still lie on their résumé, since the consequences of getting caught in a lie can be a career ender for most. High-profile examples of résumé lies abound, and yet the lies continue, despite their notoriety and ignominy they garner.
So, why do people still lie about their past?
One of the most common reasons for résumé lies is that everyone wants to stand above the crowd when it comes to getting selected for a job. One major antidote for the temptation to lie on a résumé is to honestly showcase your accomplishments—not just your experience—and let them speak for you, rather than an inflated statement—or an outright lie—about any of the items listed above (and some that are not). ‘
So, how can you truthfully differentiate your résumé from others, and how can you stand out from the crowd without lies or without stretching the truth? Here is what I’ve done working with clients who transitioned well, but who were first tempted to take the dishonorable shortcut to pursuing a new job:
- First be clear about what job you are after and then understand what the employer or the hiring manager is looking for as your winning value proposition. Often, candidates mistake the required qualifications for a job from a compelling value proposition.
- Looking back at your past work history separate your experience from your accomplishments. When you are merely listing your experience you may come short of showcasing your shining moments because the most experience statements sound transactional and do not tell a story. This is why many resort to embellishments and lies.
- Understand the difference between Experience, Responsibilities, Assignments, Tasks, Role, and Accomplishments. All except the last item in this list—your accomplishments—deserve a bullet that tells a compelling story (in 3-4 lines). Everything else belongs as a description of your stint at the top of the bullets cluster for a particular job, not as bullets themselves.
- If you claim a solo credit for a team accomplishment, someone could challenge that claim and get you into trouble. Take the credit due by clearly stating the facts and give the remaining credit to those who deserve it. (“Conceived the idea of virtual storage using software and helped a team of 12 execute the idea to make it a commercial success.”)
- An accomplishment statement is designed to tell a story, with you as its protagonist—even a hero. If you pick only the Aha! stories from your past to showcase a well-presented accomplishment they can stand on their own and do not require a supporting cast of a dozen lies.
- Much is made about quantifying your résumé statements. In some jobs this is not always possible. A well-narrated story of an accomplishment can be a great proxy for such statements: An example: As an Administrative Assistant automated trip planning by purchasing and installing a Fly-Now software package, which eliminated AA’s time-consuming involvement in trip planning, freeing time for more important activities.
- A job title is a major part of one’s past. Inflating your job title to get a comparable or higher title is tantamount to a résumé lie. In any job there is the employment title, which flows from the HR job catalog and which dictates your salary range and other perks for that role. Then there is the functional title, which your boss can give you to make you effective in your role. For example, if you are a Distinguished Engineer your boss may allow you to carry the title of Director on your business card. So, if you are applying for a Director job make sure that your résumé clearly states that. If your boss had sanctioned this arrangement then you’re in the clear.
- When it comes to responsibilities having direct reports is important in some jobs, especially in line-management openings. If you only managed teams in a matrixed structure then it is best to state the fact with a statement: As Project Manager led a geo-dispersed team of 35 and provided inputs to respective functional managers during their annual reviews. It may fortify your claim, if you also state that despite absence of direct authority, influenced teams in critical times to arrive at the best solutions. You may also want to mention if you participated in hiring and firing decisions in such matters.
- When it comes to employment dates there is no shame in listing gaps if you have a reason for such gaps. Lay-offs, maternity leave, and family emergencies are some of the reasons for such gaps. If you did not do any meaningful work during those extended-gap times, but took some courses to update your skills then just insert an entry: Time-off for updating professional skills with the time period next to it.
- If you do not have any college degrees leave that entire section out. If you do not have the required certifications or coursework, enroll yourself and then next to the name of the certification write “PMP Certification Expected November 2014.”
There is no shame is not having a stellar résumé that is full of lies. You’d be surprised how compelling your message can be if you learn just how to tell your story truthfully. Just try it!
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