Don’t Exaggerate Your Resume

You know it; everyone knows it. First or new jobs can be harder to find these days than an ice cube inside a glacier. So this might tempt you to pump up your resume just a tad—or even outright lie— in hopes of increasing our appeal to employers.

Don’t Do It!

You will get caught, if not the first time, then eventually. And the penalty could be worse than one lost job

“Companies have found more and more that individuals will fabricate or stretch their experience,” says Mike Fosnot, Managing Partner of Management Recruiters of McMurray, Inc., in McMurray, Pa., which serves the chemical industry. “They spend a lot more time ferreting out what is fact and what is fiction. Companies believe that if a person will lie on a resume, they will have other things to worry about from that individual.”

And the further up the career ladder you climb, the more employers dig. So if you lie and escape detection, almost certainly as you seek greater pay and responsibility, someone will unearth your misstatement(s). In 2006, the chief executive office of RadioShack resigned after the discovery that he claimed two degrees on his resume he never received.

“Skilled interviewers are a lot more sophisticated today in how they interview people, using behavioral-base interviewing techniques that really force a candidate to give details that are not easily fudged,” says Mr. Fosnot.

One interviewer unmasked an applicant’s claim of fluency in Spanish by speaking the language to him. The man couldn’t respond.

Many resume exaggerations come in areas easy for companies to check: education, technical skills, and certifications; past employment; salary; and work experience, responsibilities, and accomplishments. Yet from first job application to last, these areas are likely to be examined.

Exaggerations in education may be a degree the applicant doesn’t have—perhaps he’s three credit-hours short of a B.S., or she’s completed her course work but is finishing her Ph.D. dissertation.

Some people will claim jobs they never held, but more often job seekers try to hide gaps in their employment. They may have been fired, or job-hopped, or even done prison time. Women or men may have taken off a few years to raise children.

Salary is another area commonly misstated. Some people simply overstate their base pay, others combine salary and bonuses. Some recruiters now ask for a recent pay stub or your tax return.

Job padding includes claiming experience never acquired, or having supervised others, or upping the number of the team members. Some sales people claim greater success than they ever achieved.

“Standard operating procedure for us is that candidates will always have their degrees verified by us, their references checked, and their employment dates and salary, where possible, verified,” Mr. Fosnot says.

Beyond these areas of potential deception, employers may delve very deeply into an applicant’s background. They may look for the candidate name in criminal and civil-court records, including bankruptcy proceedings; require drug testing; search credit reports and department of motor vehicle records; and examine worker compensation claims.

Some even use resume-sifting software to search for problems, despite questions about the programs’ reliability. [And increasingly, employers check social networking sites, such as Facebook and YouTube. One Pennsylvania college student never joined the nation’s teaching ranks because of a picture of her posted on the Web. It’s best not to list your site on your resume, unless absolutely relevant to the job, and to sanitize you postings before filing your application.]

Still thinking about a tiny fudge on your resume?

“In my mind, there is no allowable exaggeration,” says Mr. Fosnot. “If candidates will just be upfront about a problem, often the employer can work around it. But once candidates misrepresent themselves, it’s the point of no return.”


Freelance writer Patrick Young is a former editor of Science News and a winner of the American Chemical Society’s Grady-Stack Award, which recognizes outstanding reporting that promotes the public’s understanding of chemistry and chemical engineering.

One Response to Don’t Exaggerate Your Resume

  1. BChem says:

    While I agree with the caution about Facebook and YouTube, the Pennsylvania College student did not fail to earn her teaching credential because of the picture on her site. It was because of her behavior during student teaching. She promoted the idea that it was because of the picture on her web site and the news media picked it up before checking to get the facts.

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