On last night’s hilarious episode of The Office, the issue of business ethics was explored and staff members confessed assorted lapses in judgement ranging from taking an extra half hour for lunch to sleeping with the paper sales rep in order to get a good discount and a steak dinner. This episode made me think about job search ethics, particularly as they relate to the resume. A resume is a marketing tool and I encourage job seekers to position their accomplishments in the best possible light. However, it is critical that all information reported on the document is accurate and something you can back up with facts if questioned. Here are some of the ways I see job candidates crossing the line of ethical resume writing practices and some suggestions for creating a more authentic presentation of your qualifications.
- Exaggerated results. Never make up business results assuming no one will be able to validate them. You must be able to back up any information you write on your resume with proof during the interview. But this does not mean that you must have exact figures in order to mention the accomplishment on the resume. It is fine to show results with approximate dollars, percentages, or numbers as long as you can have a discussion around how these results were achieved. The goal is to show impact, not statistics. For example, if you know you used to spend at least 4 hours per week on a particular task and you then automated the process and it is now done in the click of a button, it is fine to say that you decreased time spent on this task by 4 hours or that you virtually eliminated the time spent on this task.
- Claiming full ownership of a project. Frequently our accomplishments are achieved as part of a team effort. Never claim full ownership of a large-scale initiative if the results should be attributed to the team. Use phrases such as “as part of a team”, “co-producer”, “co-author”, etc. to clearly communicate your value without misrepresenting your achievements.
- Making up job titles. If you were in a director role, don’t state that you were the SVP. However if your job title was not truly representative of your responsibilities, consider tweaking the title to make it more relevant or putting an alternative title in parenthesis.
- Fudging dates. Don’t alter dates to make a gap look shorter. Most hiring authorities are interested in the number of years you were employed at an organization, not the months and years, so consider just using years to record your chronology, but be prepared to discuss the exact dates if asked. If the gap spans a year or more, create a clear explanation of what you were doing during that time period right on the resume. For example if you were caring for your children or a sick parent, be transparent and say that on the resume.
- Listing a degree you never earned. Information on degrees is pretty easy to verify. If you attended college but didn’t graduate, list the course of study, school name, and location, but leave the degree off.
- Putting jargon on your resume you can’t support. If you have added keywords to your resume to describe your competencies, make sure you know the meaning of those keywords and can explain them during an interview. Don’t just copy them from a job posting or someone else’s resume because they “sounded good.” You will compromise your credibility with the hiring authority if you can’t speak to everything on your resume.