There’s a scene in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump in which the title character, played by Tom Hanks, admits to telling a “little white lie,” which his mother (played by Sally Field) said was OK to do as long as it didn’t hurt anyone.
Forrest, though limited in IQ, clearly knew the difference between a little white lie and a whopper. But when it comes to your resume, either one can disqualify you from getting the job. Even if you do get the job, chances are good the lie will eventually be uncovered, and you’ll be shown the door, hurting both your career and your reputation.
Here are three notable examples of resume truth-stretching:
- As MIT’s former dean of admissions discovered last year, a lie can come back to bite you many years later. She resigned after admitting she had “misrepresented” her academic degrees on her resume when MIT hired her - in 1979.
- More recently, Robert Irvine, host of the Food Network show Dinner: Impossible, did not have his contract renewed by the network after he sautéed his professional background a bit, specifically with previous claims that he cooked for the British royal family and at the White House (The network said it might revisit its decision at the end of the season).
- In 2006, the CEO of retailer Radio Shack resigned after he admitted that his claim of holding two college degrees was two more than he really had.
If you’re compelled to lie about, embellish, exaggerate, or misrepresent anything in your work history or educational background, here’s one word of advice: Don’t. There’s just no substitute for telling the truth. And technology is more likely to uncover a lie today, since so much personal data is available on the Internet, and many employers are using Internet searches to help verify data applicants submit on their resumes.
And if the lie is uncovered before the employer makes an offer, the employer will likely not tell you; they just won't hire you, which leaves you open to repeating the lie the next time you send your resume.
Interviewing expert Michael Neece, who has reviewed thousands of resumes in his 20+ years in the staffing and hiring world, says there are legitimate reasons job candidates might lie: One is to protect themselves and their former employers. "For instance, if a candidate told the truth about being fired and subsequently filing a sexual harassment lawsuit," he says, "it might disqualify the candidate while implicating the former employer." Painting an ex-employer in a negative light is one of those “red flags” that can go up in the job-search process. Still, it's better to find a neutral way to tell the truth.
If the truth hurts (or could hurt your chances at landing a job), the best strategy is to stick to the facts in as unbiased a way as you can. If, for instance, you were let go because of a personality clash, or if you and your boss had a difference of opinion over the reasons for your exit, explain the situation matter-of-factly in the interview, keeping your emotions in check. Instead of saying, "My boss was a micro-managing control freak who wouldn't let me tie my shoes without asking first," try something like, "I was released because my independent, get-it-done style - which I and my other employers have always considered to be a strength - just didn't mesh with the new supervisor's hands-on management style."
A lie or exaggeration on a resume is just plain stupid. And, as Forrest Gump liked to say: “Stupid is as stupid does.”
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