When J. Terrence Lanni resigned from MGM Mirage in the fall of 2008, he became the tenth in that year’s string of major CEOs felled by “little white lies” on their resumes. The former industry titan never completed his MBA, but listed it on his resume, anyway. Over the past few years, leaders at Radio Shack and MCG Capital surrendered their jobs after failing fact checks. Despite the risk of ruining otherwise successful careers, some aspiring leaders still stretch the truth when submitting job applications.
According to many personnel managers, using a fib to land a job often requires maintaining that lie for years. When confronted, some professionals report blurred memories of their early careers. Others freely admit to lying, using the challenges of the job market to justify their actions. Although some headhunters once recommended creative resume writing as a method to get your foot in the door, today’s business world traditionally rewards integrity over invention.
Common Resume Lies Can Hold You Back
It can be tempting to “pad your resume,” exaggerating some of your real-life experiences to make yourself more attractive to hiring managers. According to recent surveys of HR professionals, some of the most common resume lies include:
Inflating job titles or responsibilities at past employers
Replacing a gap on your resume with an invented job at a company you claim has now closed
Claiming to have earned a degree you didn’t complete
Claiming to have earned a different degree to make you more attractive to a prospective employer
Adopting the alma mater of a hiring manager to help build rapport
Reporting a different reason for leaving a past position
Solid Resumes Exhibit Honesty, Clarity, and Focus
Recent regulations like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act have forced employers to examine job applicants more closely. Many recruiters and hiring managers at large firms rely on third-party investigators to verify resumes, often before applicants reach the interview phase. Small businesses can use the Internet to track down inaccuracies by requesting college transcripts or researching employment history. Even an online search for different versions of your resume can result in questions about edits and changes over time.
Surveys conducted over the past five years reflect the concern and confusion about fabricated resumes. Respondents to one recent poll suggest that about one in twenty resumes contains the kind of lie that could cause embarrassment or even financial penalties for employers. In another survey, HR specialists reported that about half of all resumes include at least one lie. Today’s most successful resumes should emphasize hard facts, provide clear timelines, and offer accessible references. Crisp language underscores your respect for executives’ time.
Making Your Resume Stand Out
Instead of inflating your experiences, career counselors now recommend improving the quality of your presentation. Using inexpensive software or word processing templates, you can craft a highly polished resume that fits on a single page. Sacrificing some flowery language for the sake of white space should attract the eye of most hiring managers. A professional layout, free of typos, demonstrates one of the most sought-after skills in today’s job market: powerful communication. Paring down your resume has a powerful side benefit, as well. HR databases often strip formatting from electronic resumes, filtering submissions by keyword. Automated recruiting tools that hunt for specific job titles or action words favor sparse resumes.
In an economy where job hunters battle each other to get ten minutes of face time at hiring events, it can seem counterintuitive to dial back your resume. However, the buyer’s market for talent and the scrutiny of independent investors have rewritten the rules of getting hired in America. Professional presentation of action oriented facts will get you farther today than any puffed-up resume would in the past.
Publish date: January 23, 2009