To tell the truth: Even small resume lies can derail your job search
Alex Bloom says he learned a lot when he was a resident assistant at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. His resume indicates that his two years as an RA taught him how to be responsible, how to look out for others and how to help groups of individual personalities come together as a cohesive unit.
Except, he didn’t.
Bloom is one of many job seekers who weren’t content with padding their resumes with a few exaggerations. Instead, he created a false title and made-up responsibilities to appear more qualified than he was. “It’s kind of an easy thing to do,” says Bloom, 28. “I really didn’t think anybody would bother to check. There are a million people that are RAs. Who looks into it?”
That’s a question for the HR industry, but Bloom’s own lie was revealed because of a “stupid mistake,” he says.
“I studied in Rome for an entire year, and that just happened to be one of the years I said that I was an RA,” he says. “The company I applied to asked me about it during the interview — I think they just thought I made a mistake — but I stumbled so badly through my answer, I just decided to come clean.”
“Well, the interview ended right there,” he says.
Bloom says he considers it a lesson learned. “I actually talked about it in subsequent interviews,” he says. But it’s a lesson that could be taught to many of today’s job seekers, whether they’re fresh out of school or nearing the end of their working years. A recent study from staffing firm OfficeTeam indicates that nearly half of the workers polled said they know someone who included false information on a resume. Job experience, 76 percent, and duties, 55 percent, were listed as the two areas most frequently embellished.
Stick to the facts
“The two biggest red flags on a resume are vague descriptions and questionable dates,” says Michelle Reisdorf, regional vice president of OfficeTeam in Chicago. “Almost everything goes through a screening process so there’s a good chance any false information is going to come out, but that doesn’t stop people from exaggerating the time they spent with a company or what they did when they were there.”
Reisdorf says that pumping up skills may be a little harder to detect during a background check but she says a strong hiring manager will know how to find the truth. “I like to ask people what they’ve done with the programs they list on their resumes, how they’ve used them,” she says. “And when we talk to a candidate’s references, we ask about those programs, those skills and how they put them to use.”
The key for candidates, Reisdorf says, is to be honest. “It doesn’t do you any good to make up something that can be easily disproved,” she says. “We can work with candidates who tell us they have limited experience in certain areas but that they’re willing to learn. If you’re eager and open about improving your skillset, that’s a good thing.”
Put recruiters first
Terri Plank, a career adviser in Seattle, says she tells her clients to use resume formats that highlight the things most important to recruiters, therefore eliminating the need to lie. “If you worked for a company for 25 years while the company fell apart, I’d downplay the length of time you were there,” Plank says. “If you’ve learned that the company is looking to hire experienced workers, then the 25 years matter. If not, you better have moved up the ladder or those years will work against you. Both formats are honest but you’re not obliged to shine a light on the bad parts of your experience.”
Bloom took a different approach. “When interviewers would ask about previous jobs, I liked to tell them my RA story,” he says. “I think they’d be a little shocked at first but ultimately, I used it as a way to highlight what I’d learned and how I’d grown. Sounds corny but that’s what people are looking for, right? Growth?”
Bloom doesn’t suggest strategically placing a dishonest statement on your resume, just to use it later as a positive, but he says his strategy worked for him.
“The first time I told that story, it was at an insurance agency in Syracuse, N.Y. I was offered the job at the end of the interview and worked there for three years,” Bloom says. “I remember my boss saying, ‘If you’re going to tell me about something like that, I figured I could trust you.’ “
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