Sunday, June 5, 2011

When Do Exaggerations and Misstatements on a Résumé Cross the Line?

When public figures are caught embellishing their accomplishments or qualifications, whether by exaggeration or misstatement, the general public is outraged and the general reaction from the increasingly jaded public is: "What were they thinking?"

As it turns out, what they were thinking is not much different from everyone else.  Experts say that embellishment is part of human nature and almost everyone is guilty of it at one time or another. Left unchecked, however, exaggerations that seemed innocuous at first could result in serious, potentially career-ending consequences. Know that once caught in a deception, even if it is a common deception, people will not trust you. Moreover, once the bond of trust is lost, it is terribly difficult to recover.

Know that in today's work environment, no one will be called in for a job interview without being ‘Googled’ first.  Given that in today’s work environment, small talk in the elevator or comments made at a staff meeting are just a Twitter post away from reaching a global audience it's easier than ever to get caught in an exaggeration.

As unemployed workers face unprecedented competition for a limited number of job openings, the temptation grows to use embellishment as a way of making their résumés stand out.  Even though the temptation to embellish has also never been greater, any exaggeration and/or misstatement in your documentation will colour you as some sort of venal person in the eyes of any hiring manager. 

These days, unemployed workers fall into one of two camps: some want to exaggerate to meet the minimum standards for a particular position, and others, usually older candidates, who want to downplay their education and experience so as not to appear overqualified for a particular job.

Thanks to the Internet and other technological advancements, past misstatements have a much longer shelf life, and embellishments are more vulnerable to being detected. Résumés, no longer exist only on paper.  Résumés exist on Facebook, personal websites and LinkedIn and can be accessed by anyone.  Anything posted on the Internet will never die. 

The best way to avoid career-damaging misstatements is to become adept at self-editing, and to be open to allowing a coach or friend to ferret out any claims that cross the line.  If candidates are unprepared, they are going to be more likely, in the heat of the moment and under pressure, to say something that isn't true or take credit for things that they didn't do. Alternatively, they might embellish their accomplishments at the risk of crossing an ethical boundary.  A candidate's best approach to an interview is to be prepared.  Candidates should anticipate the kinds of questions that are going to be asked. Ideally, candidates should want to feel very comfortable with the work they have done and have a very clear story about what they did and for what they can take credit.

Reputations are real and are built up over time. It is a lot easier for someone to trust you if they have heard from someone or read somewhere else that you are trustworthy.  Make it easy for someone to trust you.  Resist the urge to misstate or exaggerate your accomplishments.  Your future depends upon it.

Copyright © 2011, Career Matters. All Rights Reserved. Permission to Reprint: This article may be reprinted, provided it appears in its entirety with the following attribution: Copyright © 2011, Career Matters. Reprinted by permission of the author, Mary Salvino. “Career Matters” is a blog hosted by Mary Salvino, Senior Consultant for SMART Career This blog is dedicated to those who are seeking advice on managing their career and future job opportunities. We welcome readers to share their experiences, post their comments or ask questions about career related matters. For any questions or comments that are better addressed privately, please feel free to e-mail Mary directly at