By Stephanie Emma Pfeffer
magnifying glass on resumeYou really want the job. But don't even think about stretching the truth on your resume to get it. "It's never appropriate to misrepresent yourself," says Kevin M. Rosenberg, managing partner of executive search firm Bridgegate in Irvine, CA. First, if you get the job, you can lose it as soon as your lie comes to light. Second, it's a huge risk: Rosenberg says most companies conduct background checks, verify degree completion and confirm past employment. Third, your reputation is on the line: "Integrity is everything to employers, so don't call yours into question," says Rosenberg. Read on for the most frequently lied-about elements on resumes-and what to do instead of altering reality. Photo credit: iStock
People embellish job titles to drive up compensation or seniority, but it could backfire, says Rosenberg. If you apply for a senior manager role while claiming director as your former position, a recruiter might think you're overqualified. "You could inflate yourself out of an opportunity," says Rosenberg, who adds that it's better to describe your high-level job responsibilities instead of fudging your title. Plus, the truth could come out when the firm checks up on you. "If a company learns you aren't who or what you said, your offer may be rescinded," explains Jennifer Greenberg, a placement director at Quantum, an executive recruiting firm in New York City. As if that's not bad enough, word travels fast. "You don't want other people in your industry thinking you're a liar," she says.
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Candidates often list only years of employment, say, 2005 to 2007, rather than specific months, say, December 2005 to January 2007, to hide that they've jumped from job to job. But Rosenberg says it's better to address a high-turnover career head-on. "Give concrete reasons for multiple jobs in a short span," he says. Include a parenthetical note on your resume that you left due to corporate relocation or company shutdown. "If you were legitimately downsized or outsourced, then it was out of your control and you have no reason to hide behind dates," he says. Besides, you're far from alone: 8.8 million jobs were lost between January 2008 and February 2010. People also cover up how long they've been out of work, says Greenberg, who admits that candidates are more marketable when they're already employed. But there's no need to whittle down your six-month stretch of unemployment to three months on your resume. "Employers understand it's a tough economy for job-seekers," says Greenberg.
In this competitive market, you may want to exaggerate your technical expertise or knowledge of industry-specific software. Not a good idea, says Cathy Evers, Director of Human Resources at Centrinex, a call center solutions company in Lenexa, KS. "Employers expect a candidate to be able to function as her resume suggests," she says. In short: Just because you've dabbled in a computer program or taken an introductory class doesn't make you proficient in it. Even if you manage to get the job, you may falter when the company realizes your skills aren't as strong as you stated. Instead, she recommends accurately describing your competency on a scale: For basic knowledge, say "trained in" or "familiar with." For medium experience, use "solid understanding" or "proven." And for expert-level knowledge, try "demonstrated success" or "strong ability."
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No one wants to be eliminated early in the process for not finishing college, so some applicants list years spent at a college or university without mentioning the degree. "But including education implies that you completed it-unless you clarify otherwise," says Rosenberg. If you didn't graduate, specify your class standing or number of credits remaining. Rosenberg also suggests noting why you left, say, to raise a family or relocate for a spouse's job. While an employer isn't allowed to ask, volunteering that information can remove suspicion. And for those candidates who did graduate: Always be truthful about your major. Just look at what happened to former Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson.
Taking all the credit for team successes is a common resume blunder. "Sometimes a group reaches a goal that an individual claims as a personal contribution," says Evers. If the truth comes out, you could be demoted in your new role. Another reason to avoid this resume mistake: It's egocentric. "Companies want to know how you'll integrate with the workforce," notes Rosenberg. "They look for people who can lead and inspire as part of a team." Convey your ability to collaborate on your resume by replacing "I" with "we" where appropriate.
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Hiring managers prefer local candidates, so why not use a friend or family member's address if you don't live in the city where you want to work? You may have a problem once you receive that coveted call. "How are you getting to New York by Friday if you're in Ohio?" asks Greenberg. "Are you in a position to hop on a plane the next day? If not, you'll have to come up with more lies." But if you're legitimately staying with a friend for a couple of weeks and can make yourself available for interviews, she says, it's okay to use that address on your resume.
Some candidates leave off ten years of experience to avoid seeming too old, while others may change degree dates because they're afraid of being too young. Neither helps. "The person who shows up to your interview is you," says Rosenberg. And while it's illegal to discriminate based on age, companies are allowed to choose the best candidate for the job, which may mean whoever fits best with company culture. "There's nothing you can do," says Rosenberg. "Just be who you are, hope you're dealing with an open-minded company and walk in there with your best foot forward."
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