“Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies,” sings Christine McVie in Fleetwood Mac’s classic 1987 hit.
It’s a great song, but when it comes to your résumé, it’s probably best to disregard the English keyboardist’s advice. Even “little lies” can cause big issues when it comes to your job search.
I’ve experienced firsthand the awkwardness of getting caught in a web of career lies. In college, I interned with a local organisation for a semester.
As finals grew near, my boss asked me to interview some potential replacement interns. I really enjoyed meeting one interviewee in particular. The candidate was friendly, enthusiastic, and seemed qualified.
There was just one problem …
Sandwiched in the middle of his résumé, the prospective intern had included an entry about actively participating in one particular student organisation. I happened to know for a fact that the candidate had briefly joined the campus group two years prior. He’d participated for a few weeks before vanishing off our listserv and, seemingly, the face of the earth.
How did I know this? Well, I was in charge of that particular group.
This intern candidate had exaggerated his role in the very organisation that I ran. Oops.
Don’t worry, the story has as happy ending.
The candidate truly seemed like a great fit for this job he was applying for. Plus, his fib tilted more toward misguided but innocuous résumé padding than a full-blown lie. So the résumé blunder ended up not wrecking his chances at the internship.
Still, career strategist, certified master résumé writer, and CEO of Five Strengths Amy Adler says dishonesty is always risky, no matter how small the fib.
According to Adler, most people lie on their résumés out of fear or ignorance. They believe that their résumés are not impressive enough and seek to impress potential employers by twisting the truth.
“You will get caught — maybe early on, maybe later when your credentials are verified, or maybe some time down the road, when you tell a story that doesn’t quite fit your narrative,” Adler says. “And even if you somehow escape the radar, you and your conscience have to live with yourself and the story you have told.”
Plus, she says even small fibs can do serious damage to your reputation. You don’t want to destroy your credibility with your employers and coworkers by lying about something stupid, like your graduation year or Adobe Creative Suite prowess.
“The clear choice is always to tell the truth, in your résumé and throughout your job search,” she says. “The more you rely on what actually has happened in your educational and career path, the less you will have to remember details from one fib to the next.
“But let’s say the lies actually get you through — your résumé makes it to the top of the pile, you’ve got the interview, and, miraculously, you’ve been hired. Now you have to perform the way you said you would, which might be completely out of your reach.
“So in preparing your résumé or LinkedIn profile, focus on what you actually can do, have done, or could do well in the right role for you. In this way, you become a credible career success story on your own merits,” Adler explains.
If you’re struggling to keep your resume both truthful and attractive to employers, she recommends you emphasise measures of your success (preferably quantitatively, but anecdotal evidence is good too); keep a record of congratulatory emails and recommendations you’ve received from past jobs; and, if all else fails and you’re truly stuck, hire a professional résumé writer.
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