Amid fierce competition for every single job, where do you draw the line between embellishing and lying on your resume?
By John O'Connor
A November 2008 review by the Wall Street Journal examined the careers and resumes of 358 senior-level executives and directors at 53 publicly traded companies. The result: At least seven top executives at America's largest companies invented academic degrees they didn't have.
"Inflated academic credentials in the nation's executive suites may be more common than generally thought," wrote the author Keith J. Winstein in the November 2008 issue of The Wall Street Journal. But is it really a problem? And amid the heavy competition for a jobs, where‘s the line between putting your best foot forward and outright lying?
In times when competition for a single job is high, it's easy to entertain the thought of embellishing a resume. But it's still true: Regardless of the job-market climate and regardless of the level of the candidate's experience, personal integrity matters, and it counts on a resume.
Resumes do not have to provide every conceivable fact to the potential employer. You can leave out dates, certain past employment and material details. The truth is you can lie. Yes, you can. But you do it at your own peril. Attorneys who represent employers find this is as good a reason as any to prove you wrong in court.
Courts are holding that material misrepresentations on an employment application and resume constitute just cause to:
- terminate an employment contract
- reduce or deny benefits, including disability benefits
If you are an excellent résumé writer, you will counsel someone who may feel desperate enough to lie to not do so. Each and every certified professional résumé writer and career coach I know encourages clients to tell us the truth so we can coach and create proper documents and search strategies for them. In fact, it's hard to coach someone on a lie anyway. Most career professionals and the clients they serve agree that a résumé needs to be a marketing tool, a persuasive document that does not need (even in the case of federal résumés) to dump information on the reader just to be truthful.
It wears well to use credible, reliable facts and achievements to build the case for our career-transition clients. That's what we do, in the most inventive ways. Clients pay us for that keen and uniquely individualized perspective. But it's not what we do that gets clients into trouble. They get into trouble by permitting themselves to lie to us and ultimately to potential employers.
People lie to their professional resume writers -- and if they then populate these lies on LinkedIn and other professional, bio-driven sites, they are creating even more problems and fuel for attorneys. Falsification has had a nice run on the Internet. Many people use the same techniques as an identity thief. The Internet provides a fountain of information, resources, databases to hack into, mock degrees and everything else for someone who wants to do this wrong right.
How big a problem is resume fraud?
It has been reported that 90 percent of the personnel directors surveyed by the SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) reported finding resume untruths ranging from past salaries to personal identification.
Further, it costs companies and organizations billions of dollars to hire new candidates every year. These candidate costs can often average $5,000 or more to find, hire and properly onboard a new employee. Looking at the big picture, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners estimates that occupational fraud and abuse costs organizations more than $600 billion annually, or roughly 6 percent of gross revenues.
Educational backgrounds seem to be the most fertile ground for fraud. It gets easy to make false scholastic claims; changing areas of concentration; and adding majors, minors and degrees never obtained. Usually fraud comes through in changes in employment dates, salary manipulation, job titles and duties, and omitting negative records that may come up on background checks.
Although it's not their job, career coaches and outplacement specialists continue to advocate honesty in their practices, to teach and even educate clients how they can creatively and imaginatively promote, but not falsify, their backgrounds to earn new positions, promotions and job assignments.
Recruiters look for incongruities and evidence that demonstrate the candidate does not have the background to match her qualifications. But even with strong recruiters, background checks and previous employer verifications, many clients squeak through. Time becomes a factor, and companies sometimes figure out that they can prove resume fraud later if they need to so it's to their advantage perhaps not to invest company time and money until they must.
Let's turn the tables a bit: Have you done a background check, employment verification and criminal records history on every babysitter who has ever worked for you? Wouldn't you like to know who will be watching your kids? Should you do this? Are your kids worth it? But the answer is probably no, isn't it? It's human nature to take the easy way out of situations, and unfortunately it's people who handle hiring.
So there you have it - tell the truth, whether it be on your resume, your job application, or who broke the window with the baseball. Very few people have a blemish-free past or the perfect credentials for the perfect job.
It is far better to know how to face the blemishes of your career head-on than simply to cover them up with lies. Good resume writers and career coaches can help job seekers gain perspective on imperfections and imaginatively present your past, thus eliminating the need to lie. Tell the truth in securing new work opportunities. You will face enough challenges and worries once you have the job. Don't take short cuts to get there; take the higher road.
John M. O'Connor, MFA, is the President of Career Pro of NC, Inc., a comprehensive career services organization specializing in Executive Outplacement, Corporate Outplacement, Federal/Military Career Transition and Consulting. He was appointed to the Board of Directors (2006) for Raleigh-Wake Human Resources Management Association (RWHRMA.org). He is also a Certified Career Coach (CECC), Certified Resume Writer (CRW) and Credentialed Career Master (CCM).