It’s a competitive job market out there these days, and if you’re seeking out new employment, you’re sure to find yourself vying for desirable positions with plenty of other determined and qualified candidates. Therefore, career advisors will inevitably tell you to treat your resume like a marketing document, presenting your best qualities and most relevant experience in the most compelling way possible.
That’s sound advice, and taking the time to customize your resume for each individual application will present you in the best light… as long as the claims made on your resume are truthful.
Harmless though it may seem, including a lie (even a little white one) on your resume starts you off on the entirely-wrong foot with any prospective employer. As for whether or not your false content will be discovered, let’s just say that it’s easier to catch a job applicant in a lie than you might think, and it's honestly not a worthwhile risk to take.
Still not totally convinced that honesty is the best job-application policy? Read on for a few good reasons to avoid resume-fibbing, along with advice on how to capture an employer’s attention using only the facts.
One troublesome outcome of including falsehoods on your resume involves the need to continue lying in order to divert suspicions created by the first dishonest claim. Even if you take the time to thoroughly research the duties and requirements attached to your bluff of choice, even a small inconsistency can lead an employer to focus her scrutiny in your direction.
For example, if you worked as an administrative assistant at Company X but instead characterize that position as “Office Manager” on your resume, you may run into a hiring manager who knows Company X well, and knows they don’t have an office manager on the payroll. If and when this wary hiring manager asks you about this inconsistency, you’ll have to fabricate another story to explain the first, and the vicious cycle continues.
In certain professions, the hiring process includes a skills test, in which you’ll receive an assignment related to the job in question and a deadline for completing this sample work. Sometimes, these tests are administered in real time, with a stopwatch keeping close tabs on how long it takes you to finish. Therefore, if your resume says that you’re fluent in Photoshop but you can’t prove it by acing a Photoshop skill test, that lie will be quickly exposed, and you’ll likely be removed from consideration on that basis alone.
You may think that you can avoid any reference-related snafus by only including confirmed real-life references on the list you provide to the prospective employer, but skilled reference-checkers frequently venture beyond your prepared group when making their calls. For reference-checkers determined to do their work thoroughly, any company listed on your resume is fair game. If they call Company X to verify your former job title only to discover that you never actually worked there, it won’t reflect well on you.
The same goes for your alma mater; while few professional reference-checkers will take the time to contact universities (unless you’re applying for an internship or apprenticeship that’s directly related to coursework or university credit), they could very well have a friend who attended the school in question, and the truth about your graduation claims could be quickly revealed.
So you included a bit of artifice on your resume, but you somehow made it through the hiring process without anyone calling you out, and you’re now happily and gainfully employed at the company. Sure, there’s always a chance that no one will ever learn the truth and that you’ll be able to continue working there in peace, but there’s also a chance that the facts of the matter are brought to your employer’s attention.
Now, you have a (justified!) trust issue on your hands; your boss knows that you lied to get your job, and even if she’s crazy about your work and decides to keep you on, you’ll always need to fight against the skepticism now implanted in her mind. Starting your relationship with your manager from a place of honesty carries more weight than including every skill listed on the job posting in your resume (whether or not you actually have those skills).
The choice to lie on one’s resume rarely comes from a vindictive place. It’s a last-ditch Hail Mary, an effort to bolster one’s credentials in the hopes of attracting the attention of the hiring manager. However, there are more effective (and far less risky) ways to achieve that same goal. For instance, you could:
Customize every resume to suit the job for which you’re applying. Keep your facts... well, factual, and keep the positions arranged in chronological order. However, feel free to remove jobs that don’t pertain to the role you’re applying for, ensure that your job descriptions contain relevant mentions of specific accomplishments, and nudge the abilities and training that relate to the position to the top of your “Skills” list.
Write a compelling cover letter that builds upon the information in your resume to present you as the strongest possible candidate. Be sure to both make a case for your background and skills and to explain why this particular role at this particular company appeals to you.
Never underestimate the power of networking. Especially if you work in a niche field or a region with a small market, familiarizing yourself with other members of your professional community can help you forge connections that can serve your job search.
If you’re asked to come in for an interview, take some time to fully prepare yourself ahead of time. In addition to researching the company, you should practice your answers to likely questions and prep a few questions of your own to ask your interviewers.