While it is not often that clients are not truthful with me about elements of their work experience, it does happen. Being able to shift a negative story to focus on the good within it is important to demonstrate personal and professional growth, but deliberate misrepresentation of the truth is another. Searches on Monster, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, or the Bureau of Labor Statistics will yield varying survey results indicating that as many as 50% of people lie on their resumes in an attempt to improve their positioning for employment.
From my experience the leading areas where I see this happen are…
▶ Education: Either you graduated or you did not. Together we can develop the right approach to showcase your accomplishments without implying a degree that was not obtained if that was the case. Attending a prestigious college or university is only prestigious if it is the truth. I worked in HR for almost two decades. We check folks. Lying about this happens more than you might believe and you will get found out and it will likely cost you your job.
▶ Contribution to the Organization: Today’s best resumes are action-driven and accomplishment-focused. The leading determination of the value you will bring to an organization is the value you have brought to a previous organization, so results and metrics are critical components of your story.
While I encourage my clients to dig deep to mine their nuggets of career gold, it is also important that they are framed in the light they were delivered. Key contributor vs. just along for the ride or being at the right place at the right time will be easily discoverable during the interview process, so stay in your own lane and take the credit you deserve and give credit to the others where it is due. Giving credit to others also enhances your credibility with your peers and others in your professional sphere.
▶ Dates of Employment: Being untruthful about your dates of employment is never a good idea because most companies will cooperate with a potential employer’s request to check dates of a former employee’s service and the lie is easily and quickly exposed. The leading reason this happens is to cover up a gap in employment, and usually, the reason for the gap is being let go.
Whether you were let go for performance, organizational fit, or cause, you were fired. Period. But don’t lose heart! Many of the world’s highest achievers and contributors have been fired. Telling your story in a positive light and moving forward to the right job for you starts with telling the truth to yourself and to others and always being honest about it on your resume.
If your employment gap was caused voluntarily by a decision to leave work for family obligations, personal reasons, or to pursue continued education on a full-time basis, employers understand and generally respect these decisions. Just be honest about the dates on your resume and be prepared to speak to the reason in an interview.
▶ Skills and Competencies: We all have our sweet spots when it comes to what we do best, and we all have other areas that may not be as well-developed. This is great news because it is proof that we are better together!
If you declare on your resume that you are skilled in data-driven analytics or database management, be prepared to back it up when asked about it. Be sure to be able to cite examples of how you have applied this skill to create value in the workplace. While the definition of skills like project management can be open to business-specific interpretation, take the initiative and try to discern the scope of the projects you may be responsible for in the job you are interested. Project management expertise is not just completing a deliverable for your boss. Make it your business to understand the difference and do not inflate your abilities to appear more marketable. Embrace your skill sweet spot and use it as the foundation to demonstrate your true expertise.
A thorough organization will do all the required and responsible pre-employment screenings and fact-checking to ensure an authentic hire. If you make it through the pre-hire stages with a company, and it is later discovered that you have played fast and loose with the truth on your resume, you will most assuredly not receive a job offer or have one rescinded. If you make it all the way through the hiring process, are offered and accept the job only to have a lie exposed at any time after you are brought on board, you will likely lose your job. I have seen this happen years after an individual was hired so do not assume that once you are in, they have accepted your information as fact.
In addition to reference and credential checking, remember that your social media footprint can follow you forever and is easily accessible to anyone willing to look. Sharing too much personal information on social media is never a good idea anyway, but your willingness to TMI your life story may come back to haunt you.
Working with a career coach can help you identify the most effective ways to tell the story of your career progression in a clear and meaningful way, showcasing your strengths and accomplishments, and helping to effectively manage your soft spots.
Transparency and honesty in communication for both client and coach is a necessity to ensure a healthy, trusting, and productive relationship and to optimize the client’s outcome toward his/her goals.
As in all aspects of life, honesty is the best policy, and never more than when your name and career are on the line.