Is it okay to include a few white lies and exaggerations on your resume? No! That’s mainly because lies and exaggerations are easy to fact check, and getting busted will be embarrassing and forever ruin any relationship you were building with a potential new employer.
Below are some of the riskiest lies you could include on your resume—and what to do instead of hiding or elaborating on the truth.
1. Exaggerating your grades or test scores
Whether you worked hard and it didn’t pay off in the numbers, or you’re not the greatest test taker in the world, editing your grades or test scores is not a good idea. Employers have every right to ask for proof of grades and scores, and your application will immediately go in the ‘No!’ pile if you can’t or won’t produce them. The later in the process you’re found out, the more embarrassing it will be.
What to do instead: Push your skills and experience
Grades and test-taking abilities often don’t matter as much as experience. If your resume highlights your relevant skills in a clear, confident way, you usually don’t need a higher GPA, or SAT, GRE, or GMAT score. If you’re shooting for a job that demands an academic level you didn’t achieve, it’s time to either retrain yourself or retake those tests.
2. Inventing job experience
The job description says it’s looking for someone with management experience. Would it really hurt to invent a few examples of leadership? The simple and only answer is: yes. It’s also unnecessary. Employers have essential requirements to tick off and they have “nice to haves.” They could be happy to train you if you meet all their other needs.
The worst-case scenario? You tell them all about your fictional management experience, get the job, and find yourself completely out of your depth from day one. Not a good look!
What to do instead: Focus on what you do have
Employers want to know what you’re going to bring to the role, so make your experience shine. Describe it in detail and focus on how it’s relevant to the role. If you’re missing something really crucial, courses and volunteering can help you build experience surprisingly quickly. A brand new, work-in-progress skill is still valuable and shows you’ve got every employer’s favorite attribute: initiative.
3. Moving dates around
Just like inventing grades and qualifications, this is really easy to check. The most common reasons for changing dates are hiding gaps in employment or making a short role look longer than it really was.
What to do instead: Explain any employment gaps
Had a baby? Took care of a relative for a year? Employers don’t necessarily care why there’s a gap in your employment, as long as it can be explained. Instead of hiding it, confront it when asked.
4. Changing your job titles/descriptions
Just like fabricating experience, editing job titles and descriptions will definitely trip you up. If you’re worried about looking underqualified, resist the temptation to embellish and overreach. You will be eventually found out, either in an interview or, worse, on the job. Likewise, if you’re switching careers and are worried about looking overqualified, removing or editing some higher level experience can maybe help you, but try not to go overboard or your resume will start to look mysteriously lacking in detail.
What to do instead: Gain the skills you’re missing
Your experience is what it is, there’s no changing it. You can add to it, though. If you’re keen for more responsibility or a new skill, ask for it in your current role. You can always develop your skills and experience on the job.
A final note
If you lie on your resume, you’ll trip yourself up either during the interview stage or when you get the job. There are better ways to deal with gaps in your skills and experience, and honesty is usually top of the list. Be yourself, show off the skills you do have, and you’ll succeed in your own right.
Andrew Fennell is the founder of CV writing advice website StandOut CV. He is a former recruitment consultant and contributes career advice to publications such as Business Insider, The Guardian, and FastCompany.
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