A couple of years ago, there was a high-profile story in the news about the consequences of lying on a resume. Did you see it? Robert Irvine, the host of his own show “Dinner: Impossible” on the Food Network did not have his contract renewed for the following season. The problem, apparently, is that he fabricated parts of his resume. What a shame! Padded resumes are often the result of job seekers’ insecurities about some perceived weakness or lack in their qualifications. But, it simply isn’t necessary to lie. In fact, it is just plain wrong! Robert Irvine could have avoided this whole situation had he turned to an expert to help him frame the credentials that he did have in the most positive light, rather than faking credentials that he didn’t have. Sadly, this story is a common one and at least once or twice a year we hear a similar high-profile story about inaccuracies intentionally included on a resume.
One of the most frequent questions that I am asked by potential clients of my resume writing firm takes the form of… “I have a problem (or weakness) in my professional history in the form of XYZ. I’m afraid of how that will look on my resume. Have you ever dealt with this problem (or weakness) before? Do you think you could help me?”
Maybe the issue is the lack of a degree, a gap in the work history, having been fired from a past job, or one of a thousand other possible challenges. Whatever it is, after nearly 15 years and countless thousands of resumes, it is a pretty good bet that I HAVE dealt with the situation before. But, more important than whether I have dealt with any particular situation in the past, is that I understand how to use ethical, honest strategies to highlight my client’s strengths while downplaying their weaknesses. By fully understanding how to apply these strategies, I am confident that even if I come across the odd situation that is completely unique, I can still handle it in an ethical manner, letting the truth shine through while promoting my client as the top-notch, competitive candidate that he or she is.
The situation that Robert Irvine found himself in was the inspiration for this week’s article. As always, I hope you find it enlightening and helpful! Read on…
Is Your Resume a Lie?
Lying on your resume can be tempting. Perhaps you know, without any doubt, that you have the skills and abilities an employer is looking for. You just don’t have the degree. So, you are considering exaggerating the semester of coursework you took 15 years ago, into a degree. Is lying too strong of a word? Perhaps you are more comfortable saying that you embellished your resume, stretched the truth, or slightly overstated your qualifications. Are those phrases more comfortable for you? After all, doesn’t everyone do a little “polishing” or “padding” of their qualifications to make themselves look better on a resume?
Unfortunately, if you believe the above, your perception is partially true. Surveys indicate that lying on resumes does appear to be on the rise. According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), more than 60% of all HR professionals report finding inaccuracies on the resumes that come across their desks. An inaccuracy may not necessarily be a lie. But, an inaccuracy is enough to call your character into question and be the cause of you losing a job offer that you were in the running for, or to be dismissed from a job that you are already in.
That’s right. Call it what you may – a lie, an inaccuracy, or an embellishment – exaggerating or inflating your qualifications on your resume can bring an otherwise successful career to a halt. If you have any doubt of this, all you have to do is look to the news where there have been several high-profile cases over the last couple of years, of individuals losing their jobs after a lie on their resume was detected.
The sad part is, as most professional resume writers and career coaches will tell you, that the lies and embellishments are simply not necessary. If well crafted, your resume will highlight your true accomplishments, qualifications, and talents and will downplay any potential weaknesses. Your resume will remain absolutely truthful while still portraying you as a competitive candidate for the jobs you are targeting.
Do you have problem areas or potential weaknesses that you are concerned about how to handle on your resume? The first steps are to recognize those weaknesses and problems for what they are and then to set them aside for a moment, while you take a bigger-picture look at your professional background. Your resume is a marketing document, and as in all marketing and advertising, your goal is to emphasize and promote your skills, talents, strengths, and potential value add in relation to your job target.
Many times, the solution to dealing with a potential weakness is all in how you structure and format your resume. Think of your resume as being structured similar to a pyramid. The most important and relevant information that you want to emphasize should be presented at the peak of the pyramid – at the beginning of the resume. The information that you want to de-emphasize and downplay should be at the bottom of the pyramid – at the end of the resume.
You should also consider the design of your resume. By thinking creatively and strategically about the way you format your resume and apply various design elements (such as underlining, bolding, or white space), you can draw the readers’ eyes to the data and elements that you want to emphasize, while the negatives fade almost unnoticed into the background. You must be honest on your resume, but there is no reason that you must or should emphasize the problem areas!
Maybe you don’t have the exact experience that an employer is seeking, but you do have experience that shows how you have used these skills in another context. Reframing experience to bring transferable skills to the forefront of your resume in a way that will be understandable to a future employer is a smart move. Likewise, being selective about what you include in your resume is also smart, as well as being ethical. Always think in terms of relevance and impact. Don’t confuse your reader with irrelevant experience, qualifications that are not a match for your focus, out-of-date experience, or achievements that don’t support your value proposition. Your resume is a marketing piece – an advertisement – it is not an autobiography. You don’t need to and shouldn’t try to include everything.
Most importantly, you should take a close look at the experience you do have and the very real contributions that you made for your past employers. It is very important to place the emphasis of your resume on achievements, quantifying results whenever possible. Document the ways in which your work have benefited your employers, ideally presenting the challenges, the actions, and the results of each situation. Through past achievements and results, you demonstrate your future potential and value. Always remember, you won’t get hired for what you KNOW how to do, you will get hired for what you DO with what you KNOW how to do. At the root, every single job is designed to solve a problem, save money, make money, or improve efficiency. Use past examples to clearly demonstrate that you have the proven ability to accomplish these goals for your future employers, and you WILL be called for an interview regardless of any possible weaknesses.
The consequences of lying on your resume just aren’t worth it! Companies are growing increasingly savvy to this problem and even if your lies aren’t immediately detected, you will be found out eventually through background checks. But with an honest assessment of what you bring to the table, lying on your resume is simply not necessary. You can let the truth shine through! By following the steps outlined in this article, and thinking creatively about ethical strategies you can use to promote your strengths while downplaying your weaknesses, you will find that it is possible to be absolutely truthful will still presenting as a top candidate. And, if you need help, don’t hesitate to call on a professional resume writer. Your career may depend on it!