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Thoughts on Truth, Truthiness, and Lying on a Resume

no lying on your resumeA few years ago, Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," introduced us to the concept of "truthiness." Basically, a statement has truthiness if you really wish it were (or feel it should be) true. Politicians might embrace the concept of truthiness, but hiring managers call it "lying" if you do it on your resume.

Even though we all know it's stupid to lie on your resume, a recent survey by CareerBuilder.com found that 49% of hiring managers have caught job seekers doing just that.

I think the key here is to understand the line between presenting your qualifications in their very best light, and blatantly falsifying them.

A good example is the dorky Dwight Schrute on "The Office." He was hired as the "Assistant to the Regional Manager," but he likes to leave out the two little words in the middle, thus promoting himself to the title he feels he deserves: "Assistant Regional Manager."

That seems to be a common practice among resume embellishers in the real world, too.

What Do People Lie About?

According to the survey, the misrepresentations hiring managers most often see on resumes involve one of the following areas:

  1. Responsibilities (38%);
  2. Skill set (18%);
  3. Dates of employment (12%);
  4. Academic degree (10%);
  5. Companies worked for (7%); or
  6. Job title (5%).

Below are some examples of workplace scenarios from each of these six areas in which a job seeker might be tempted to lie. In each case, there's a lie, there's the truth (the whole truth and nothing but the truth), and there's also an acceptable middle ground that presents the truth in a way that just sounds better.

1. Responsibilities

SCENARIO: You're the assistant sales manager, but you have temporarily assumed full managerial duties while the sales manager is out on medical leave. Your title hasn't officially changed, but you currently have higher-level responsibilities.

Lie: 
• Sales Manager, July 2007 to Present
• Assistant Sales Manager, January 2005 to July 2007

Truth: 
Assistant Sales Manager, January 2005 to Present

Still True but Sounds Better:
• Acting Sales Manager, July 2007 to Present (covering Sales Manager's leave)
• Assistant Sales Manager, January 2005 to July 2007
 

2. Skill Set

SCENARIO: You've used Excel to create some simple spreadsheets and graphs, and you did an online tutorial called "Excel for Beginners." You know what Excel can do, and you're very interested in learning more, but you're by no means a power user (yet).

Lie: 
Proficient in Excel

(Alternative: simply listing all your skills under a single heading such as Software Proficiency, which implies expertise in all)

Truth:
Beginner-Level Excel Skills, or Familiarity with Excel

Still True but Sounds Better: 
Developing Knowledge of Excel, or Emerging Skills in Excel

3. Dates of Employment

You took a seasonal position selling products from a kiosk in the Cityville Mall during the holidays from October 15, 2007, through January 3, 2008, a total of less than three months.

Lie:
2007 – 2008

(This is a common tactic people use to try and hide gaps in their employment. It's a red flag for hiring managers, since they can't tell if the job lasted two weeks or almost two years.)

Truth:

October 15, 2007 – January 3, 2008

Still True but Sounds Better:
October 2007 to January 2008, or Holiday Season 2007

4. Academic Degree

SCENARIO: You're a registered nurse with an associate's degree. You've been attending university courses at night and are just a few credits shy of your bachelor's in nursing. If all goes as planned, you will have your new degree in less than six months.

Lie: 
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, Midwest University, 2008

Truth: 
• Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degree, Midwest College, 2001
• Working on BSN at Midwest University

Still True but Sounds Better: 
• Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, Midwest University, 
  expected date of completion: December 2008
• Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degree, Midwest College, 2001

5. Companies Worked For

SCENARIO: You have 5 years' experience as an IT Manager at Notbad Corp. For the past two years, you've been doing the same kind of work nearly full-time as an independent contractor for BigName Inc., which is the cream of the crop in IT (the company everyone in your field aspires to work for), plus some side jobs for a startup company.

Lie:
• April 2006 to Present, BigName Inc., IT Manager
• January 2001 to April 2006, Notbad Corp., Boston, MA, IT Manager

Truth: 
• Self-Employed IT Consultant, April 2006 to Present
  Clients include BigName Inc. and Startup, LLC
• IT Manager, January 2001 to April 2006
  Notbad Corp., Boston, MA

Still True but Sounds Better: 
• IT Consultant, April 2006 to Present
  BigName, Inc., (32-40 hours/wk), Startup, LLC, (10-15 hours/wk)
• IT Manager, January 2001 to April 2006
  Notbad Corp., Boston, MA

6. Job Title

SCENARIO: Your official title is Secretary. You've been the CEO's right hand for six years, managing every aspect of his daily schedule, correspondence, and all administrative tasks, freeing him up to focus on the strategic vision that has made the company such a thriving business.

Lie:
Director of Executive Operations

(Although you may have indeed "directed" the CEO's activities, the title "Director" implies a different set of skills and responsibilities.)

Truth: 
Secretary 

(While accurate, this is a largely outdated title, and does not reflect the true scope of what you've been doing.)

Still True but Sounds Better:
 
Executive Assistant to the CEO 

(An EA is understood to be an administrative assistant to a high-level executive. This more descriptive title gives hiring managers a clearer understanding of your experience.)

On the continuum from unseasoned truth to unmitigated lying, we definitely need to stay safely on the side of truth (sorry, truthiness is not enough). However, we don't need to be so absolute and official that we undersell our true value to an employer.

Tell the truth on your resume, but be sure to spotlight the most impressive parts of the truth, while leaving the lesser details in the shadows.

Please share your questions or comments about lying on resumes. Have you done it? Have you considered it? Have you been caught? Let's hear it.

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