Dear Sam: It seems when I read the resumes of my friends and colleagues, they consistently claim accomplishments that seem exceptionally impressive and make me question the strength of my resume. Is it normal to embellish on a resume and stretch the truth to make yourself sound like a stronger candidate? I haven’t ever considered doing so, but in reading these other resumes, I am beginning to wonder if I will be able to compete in a market if everyone else is embellishing their experience and credentials. How do you handle that as a resume writer? Have you ever caught a candidate with purposely false information on a resume? – Steve
Dear Steve: I am so pleased you asked this question! I would never encourage anyone to embellish a resume. In writing resumes, I always tell my clients I would rather present a more conservative picture of their candidacy instead of potentially leaning into an untruth. For example, let’s say I am working with a sales professional who remembers that they increased business by something between 20% and 30%; I would always present the lower of the two numbers (20%+) to ensure a completely accurate picture. It is never worth presenting something false on a resume because that will only lead to negative repercussions when mistruths are uncovered. I know you were not asking about an unemployment application, but this rule stretches into any document you would provide a potential employer, whether it be your resume, cover letter, application, references, etc.
A survey by HireRight in 2017 found that 85% of employers caught lies on resumes, and a 2020 survey by Checkster Research found that 78% of job applicants tell fibs regarding their skills, job titles, degrees, GPA, or achievements. As a resume writer, I dig through a candidate’s background with a fine-tooth comb, ensuring accuracy and completeness and everything I choose to communicate for the candidate. If a fact is not remembered, I exclude it. If an accomplishment was team-based, I present the candidate as contributing to that result. Suppose the candidate arbitrarily changes job titles; in that case, I change them back to be accurate and make sure that a background or reference check will come back validating the actual title of a candidate held while employed. While it is not the job of a resume writer to fact-check their client, it is undoubtedly a resume writer’s job to ensure they do not contribute to the presentation of untruths.
As to your last question about whether I have caught a candidate with a false item on a resume; unfortunately, I have. Most of the time, I find this to occur within the education section, where candidates state they have a degree when they do not. When I find this to be the case, I, of course, am tactful about uncovering the truth and take the opportunity to educate the client on why that would not serve their job search well to present information that isn’t accurate. Many candidates feel they have been disqualified from the screening process simply due to not possessing a four-year degree, and as they feel that is unfair, they justify the untruth. Often the candidate doesn’t realize they can present an incomplete degree or can present a degree they are continuing to pursue, both of which can close the qualifications gap a little more. Regardless, there is no room or reason for stating something that is not entirely true on a resume. There have been too many situations of high-profile individuals that have misrepresented their candidacy on resumes and have lost job opportunities, promotions, bonuses, and, perhaps most important, professional credibility.
I will summarize my response to you by stating that a resume is a self-promotion document that should tout your skills, differentiators, and accomplishments but should do so in an incredibly authentic and accurate manner. Thank you for your exceptional question.