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How many resumes are dirty?
Many people exaggerate their accomplishments, contributions, and skill on their resumes. We’ve all read stories in the news about prominent people who had falsifications on their resume regarding degrees they didn’t actually earn or universities they never attended. This “resume-gate” has garnered plenty of attention because of the ethical questions it raises. But people should be hesitant to jump in on the witch-hunt as it’s apparently more common than you might think to have inaccurate, misleading, and downright false statements on your resume.
The idea of manipulating how we present ourselves for personal gain is not a new phenomenon. From the choice of clothes, we wear to the pictures we upload on Facebook we are always projecting fabricated images of ourselves to others. The key distinction is where we draw the line, what is considered bendable, and what is concrete.
Resumes are not above “manipulation”. According to an AOL Jobs survey, a whopping 78% of respondents admitted to having a “misleading” resume. However, according to a recent CNBC article, 78% of job seekers lie during the hiring process. Some lie about their GPA, some about working at a company longer than they did and 40% lie about earning a degree that they never finished. An article by Pierpoint indicates that “75 percent of employers have caught candidates lying on their resumes”.
Call me cynical, but I’d bet these statistics are close to the truth (unless you consider that some people just don’t admit to falsifications).
Is it really a bad thing?
In some cases (such as David Tovar, a top Wal-Mart executive), these falsifications go undetected for years (Tovar’s falsification was 20 years old when it was detected). The background check company, HireRight indicates that it finds discrepancies in 35% of screenings.
If you were to candidly ask anyone who has been fired because of a resume falsification if they regret having that extra education section on their resume, I’m sure they would say yes. Sadly, most of these individuals achieved a personal success which was not directly correlated to having these falsifications on their resumes but instead a result of a thousand other variables including track-record, networks, and achievements.
So if you have the connections, and are aiming to be a CEO of a multi-million dollar company (it seems you must have the latter to achieve the former), then maybe distorting your resume isn’t all that bad of an idea. However, if you are like the rest of us, it’s probably not worth it. Everyone (yes, you too) knows the inevitable result of consistently lying; they catch up to you, and they bite. The average person won’t have the million-dollar cushion to pad their falling from grace should their employer discover falsities on their resume.
Is it Illegal to Lie on your Resume?
Resumes are legal documents, so it should not be technically illegal to lie on a resume (emphasis on “should”). I suppose there is the outside chance that if you were hired at an executive level in a public company because of falsifications on your qualifications there could be shareholder lawsuits.
Something else to remember is that if you get fired for lying on your resume you do not have any legal recourse against your former employer. Additionally, you could be denied unemployment because you were fired “for cause” (lying). For more senior employees, you could lose deferred compensation as well.
Don’t let the fear of embellishment completely take over though. The point of a resume and the subsequent interview is to appear to be an attractive candidate to an employer. This demands that you highlight your accomplishments and place emphasis on your strengths while downplaying (or not mentioning at all) your weaknesses. Be honest, but be proud of what you’ve accomplished and it should show in your presentation of yourself. Also, the prevalence of online resume builders and career coaches these days to help to keep people honest by providing structured formats, how-to’s, and advice on the key points of creating a strong resume.
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