Monday, November 17, 2008

Get Rid of the Big Fat Lies -- and the Little Skinny Ones -- on Your Resume

"Welcome, Ms. Smith. Please have a seat."

"Thank you. I'm very excited to have this opportunity to interview with Blubber, Inc.."

"Great! Well, let's get down to it. It says here that you attended the University of Florida and graduated in 1995 with a degree in business. Is that correct?"

"Yes. I worked very hard and learned so much. I'd really like to put that knowledge to work for Blubber."

"That's very interesting, Ms. Smith. But could you please explain why the University of Florida says you graduated with a degree in fine arts, with an emphasis on basket weaving in Africa?"

"Oh, uh, that must be a mistake. I'm sure we can clear that up."

"OK, then let's move on. You also say that you had the project management job with XYZ Corp. for three years. But their records show you worked as an office assistant, and never headed up a $2 million project."

"Yes, I did. Well, not technically. I worked for the woman who did, but I was heavily involved. I wasn't specifically the project manager, but I was pretty darn close."

"Uh huh."

"Really close."

"Ms. Smith, I have to tell you we're concerned about some of these discrepancies. Didn't you read our ethics rules when you applied for this job? That we have specific rules about truthfulness and full disclosure?"

"Well, sure I did. But I thought they were more like guidelines, rather than actual rules."

"Goodbye, Ms. Smith. And good luck -- you're going to need it."

Right now, I want you to look at your resume. Look at it hard. I want you to find any errors, and I'm not talking about typos or grammatical mistakes. I'm talking about inflated information that doesn't just make you sound worthy -- it turns you into a liar.

Times are tough, and you're desperate to land a good job. Or maybe you started padding the resume so long ago you're not sure anymore what's true and what's not. But here's the deal: Obama is headed for the White House.

You may wonder what that has to do with you, but it's going to have a big impact. The vetters for jobs in the Obama Administration are checking everything from text messages and e-mails of job candidates to whether they've ever gotten a ticket for more than $50. Tough? Yes, but that's to be expected for the president-elect who is promising big change in the way business is done.

While a private employer may not be quite so tough, I think candidates are going to be checked out as never before. Already, employers are being advised on how to spot resume fraud, and with the glut of candidates on the market, employers have the luxury of not only taking time to vet candidates thoroughly, but making certain that they know exactly who they are hiring.

So, it's time to come clean. Here are some facts that are easily checked -- either by an employer or the background checking company they hire -- to make sure you are telling the truth:

1. Schools. Make sure your dates are correct, as well as the major field of study, GPA, etc.
2. Honors. Everything from graduating at the top of your class to an industry award can be verified with a couple of phone calls by an employer.
3. Job titles. While many former employers will only verify your dates of employment, it's easy enough to use online resources to find people who used to work with you and can talk about your past work performance, titles, duties, etc.
4.Credit history. If you are applying for a position where you will have anything to do with money, chances are good your credit history may be reviewed. Be prepared to explain why it's bad, if that's the case, and what you're doing to improve it.
5. Criminal history. Unless you're applying for a government job, it won't be required that you answer if you were charged with a crime. And, most employers are willing to even overlook some convictions if it was a youthful indiscretion or you got caught with one too many glasses of wine in your system. If you were convicted of a crimes that involve sex, drugs or theft, it's going to be tougher. On the application, simply note that you would like to discuss the issue. Remember: It's pretty simple to access court records concerning a conviction, so it's better to come clean in person and try and explain it rather than lying outright.
6. Online. First, try and clean up your reputation with these tips. Second, get your story together on how you'll explain anything that an employer digs up about you online. It's better to show you've learned your lesson rather than trying to lie about something unflattering that is revealed on the Internet.

What other issues should a job hunter consider to pass the vetting process?


Anonymous said...

Anita -
A timely reminder - desperation often leads to bad choices, and looking beyond typos for resume errors is critical in this competitive market.

One thing I advise my clients: Make sure to compare your LinkedIn profile information with your resume. Any discrepancies (even if they are honest mistakes) will raise red flags for employers. Of course, this type of discrepancy is more likely for the candidate who is committing fraud by design. It's good to double check regardless, because the more information you have "out there," the more likely it is that there is a mistake!

Anita said...

Great advice. That makes me think about something else: Have a good friend or family member re-read your information. They might spot something that you don't!
Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

This post tells the truth - just don't lie on your resume. Not big, not small. Don't even think of doing it.

This is why it's important to take the time before you push the send button to always do a final quality check. We all make mistakes. Unfortunately, resume and job application mistakes can result in not getting the position you really wanted.

Anita said...

Good point. I think as times get more desperate, people will be tempted to lie -- even a little bit -- to get a job. But, once they start down the slippery slope, the end result will be not only being denied the job they want, but perhaps trashing their career as well.
Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Great topic, Anita!

I've heard that some desperate job seekers afraid of being ruled out as "overqualified" are modifying their resumes to counteract that. They're doing things such as changing a "management-sounding" job title, downplaying their accomplishments, even leaving out some positions altogether.

Are such omissions considered "lies" by potential employers?


Anita said...

Excellent question. I'm going to say that I don't think employers would count this as lying, unless an employee were asked about working at XYZ Co. and they denied it. But I'd love to hear the opinion of others -- would an employer consider this lying?

Anita said...

I'm continuing to collect info., but initial reaction from Miriam at Keppie Careers seems to be that while it's not as bad as overstating your qualifications, it's going to be tough interviewing for a job while downplaying your skills.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with about lying, but how about the gray areas.

I often find Job title is not always clear; I usually start off with some responsibilities rather than job titles, ... then responsibility changes or getting involve various projects. Something working 2 person's job.

Is it lying about job title, when you don't have a clear cut one or the job keeps on changing. What should someone like that do?

Anita said...

I'll agree it can be a confusing if you've got a title, but you actually do other tasks beyond that job description. To be completely aboveboard, I would put the title for which you are getting paid (if you're not sure, HR should know), but make sure you put on your resume your actual duties and the impact those duties have on the business. And, make sure you stress how you may have a certain job title, but your duties are X,Y and Z. That way, you're being totally honest, but also making clear where your talents and abilities are.
Great questions! I hope we'll get others to add their thoughts on this. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anita!

Great post! I think the President-Elect’s approach to thoroughly reviewing candidates for his administration is going to have a greater impact than the padded-resume stories that occasionally draw our attention. Yes, I agree that everyone will be taking a closer look –- and go well beyond resume content. Actually, I think the list you’ve put together is comprehensive and can help job seekers consider background information that can surface through a variety of selection tools that employers use.

Perhaps the only other thing I’d add to the list is to be prepared to explain anything that might come up in a background check conducted by a private investigator. Yes, employers use these. Frankly, though, this is a tough one to handle because we can’t predict what someone might say. Still, we can review those situations where we might have “rubbed someone the wrong way.” We can then be better prepared to explain our side in a factual way, making sure to say what we learned from the situation and how that improves how we handle things today.

Hope this is helpful.


Anonymous said...

Other things that need to be considered:

1. If you are customizing your resume for each position you apply to (which I beleive you should be doing) - then make sure you keep track of which resume you sent for which job. Review it before you go in to the interview.

2. References:
a). Ensure that the references you give actually want to be your reference. (yes believe it, actually happened when I was a recruiter - called a candidates reference who said "Well I don't know why they would give me as a reference!".
b). Let the references know what job you have applied for and what you have told the interviewer in terms of information, resume etc in fact send them copies of both.
c. Explain to the reference how you have positioned yourself for the position so they can endorse that.

3. Google yourself on a regular basis. Not just for what is out there about you, but also what is being said about someone with the same name. Nothing worse than a case of mistaken identity and you fluster when asked about it - even if innocent, flustering makes the interviewer believe you are lying.

Just my toonies worth

Anita said...

I've heard of problems with references,also, so I'm very glad you made this point. Great addition to the list!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anita,

Just wanted to leave a general tip for your readers that they should continue to be selective about to which and to how many jobs they apply. I interviewed someone yesterday who told me he had applied to more than 500 jobs over the web. I wanted to hang up immediately. It shows a lack of judgment and screams of desperation- neither of these are desirable characteristics.

Times are tough, but folks need to keep level heads. Also, if you apply for every job at every company, then there's no reason to believe that you're specifically qualified or suited for any of them. It seems harsh but have some respect for the folks who review resumes.

If anyone wants to read job search tips by 22-year recruiting industry veteran (and I'm not selling anything), go to

I'm also the brainiac who picked Anita's book as one of last year's best for the NY Post!

Anita said...

I can't thank you enough for a)giving such an "in the trenches" perspective that we all need and b)for selecting my book last year!
Everyone check out!

Dan McCarthy said...

Anita –
I always ask a candidate for the names of their former managers, and write them down. I then ask “so when I talk to so and so, what will he/she say were your greatest strengths and weaknesses at that time?” It’s like a truth serum. And I do follow-up.

Anita said...

That's a great tip that everyone should remember...and make sure they don't burn bridges behind them. While it may be satisfying in the short term to tell off managers as you leave a company, it can really come back to haunt you.