Last week, a recruiter said she felt compelled to discuss the impact of lies on a resume. It seems obvious one should be truthful on their job search materials. Nonetheless, she said, job-seekers still ask her “what happens if I lie on my resume?”
The vast majority of job-seekers I’ve worked with strive to be truthful in all their job search communications. We have all heard stories, or have known co-workers who have been terminated from jobs for claiming degrees and licenses they do not have, so we are not going to discuss intentionally erroneous statements.
Factual errors can creep into our documents unintentionally. Take the time to get it right.
Here are 5 of the items I remind job-seekers to verify when we work together, along with some comments and suggestions regarding each one.
- Educational credentials
- Dates of employment
- Names of employers
- Job titles
- Accomplishment numbers
The general suggestion I give clients is that nothing should appear on your job search materials, including your resume, cover letters, LinkedIn profile, and official job application that an employer, colleague, or school administrator cannot verify.
Many resume clients and employment program customers have asked me about listing their education and training credentials. First, include your highest level of formal education even if you feel it is not relevant for your current job search. My experience shows that employers want to see your degree or diploma even if it is not in a subject related to the job. So, I urge job candidates I work with not to “dumb down” their resumes to avoid being considered “overqualified.”
It is also easy to shortchange yourself by not citing the official title of your degree. For example, a client I worked with listed his degree as a “Bachelor of Arts.” I recalled that the school he attended is best known for its business degrees, so I asked him to double-check. He does, in fact, hold a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. Some consider B.B.A. programs more rigorous than the B.A.so this may give him a competitive edge.
Look at your diploma or transcript to make sure you are citing your degree correctly. If you do not have your transcript or diploma for whatever reason, request it because employers, I’ve found, often ask for proof of the degree during or after your onboarding process.
You can list a degree or other credential as “in progress,” or with an expected graduation date if you have not finished yet. ATS systems may send your resume to the recruiter even if you haven’t graduated. It will be up to the recruiter whether or not to advance your application if you are attending school but have not yet finished.
Dates of Employment
Employers can and do verify dates of employment with former employers—I’ve received such calls at my jobs—so it’s important to provide accurate information. It’s not a problem for those of us that have worked for a long time in large organizations because our date-of-hire is on innumerable forms. For example, I know that my official start date at my first professional job was May 18, 1980 because it still appears on some retirement forms.
You will probably have to list months and years of employment on job applications, so research this information in advance if you do not have it at your fingertips already.
Names of Employers
Most of us can name every organization we have worked for, but there are potential sources of confusion.
The most common situation, I think, is that the organization has changed its name. The best practice, I’ve found, is to use the organization’s current name on your resume. For example, I worked for an agency called the U.S. General Accounting Office when I was there. It is now called the U.S. Government Accountability Office so I would list this name on my current resume.
Sometimes, we commonly refer to our employer with an informal or brand name. For example, I worked for the PROS program at the Consortium for Worker Education. We commonly referred to the office as “PROS.” This was a brand or program name—not the title of the organization we worked for.
It can be a challenge to include an accurate job title on your resume and still communicate clearly. That is because HR sometimes gives us payroll titles that do not mean much outside the organization, or mean something else to the outside world. For example, my payroll title at one position was “job developer,” even though I was functioning as a career advisor. Job developers and career advisors do different work in many career centers and employment centers, so it would have been confusing to use the term “Job Developer” on my resume. Instead, I used my “functional title” of Career Advisor” on my resume.
The problem can be even more challenging for job-seekers transitioning to business from military careers. For example, Weapons Technician, E-5 may not mean much to prospective civilian employers, but the veteran got a job almost immediately when we translated his title to “Electronics Technician.” He soon landed a job as a multifunction printer technician.
Employers like to see quantified accomplishments. That is, they want to see how much you increased revenue, reduced costs, increased the number of clients served, etc. You may lack exact information because you no longer have access to it, management does not share it, or it is proprietary.
The best you can do if the exact information is not available to you is provide estimates. Just make sure it’s a reasonable estimate. Don’t “make stuff up” because you will have difficulty defending your numbers or explaining them at an interview.
You will also want to find a work-around if the information about how much improvement resulted from your work is proprietary or confidential. Usually we can express the improvement in percentage terms instead of dollars to get around this.
Err on the side of caution if you are not certain whether the information is confidential or not. An employer won’t hire you if you are disclosing confidential information because they can assume that next year you will disclose their confidential information.
Click here for examples of accomplishment-based resumes.
The examples we’ve presented are relatively straightforward. Sometimes things get more complicated. For example you may have worked at the same job in the same office while the company had several mergers, and your title changed several times. Click here for an appointment to talk and figure out the best solution.