Sunday, January 08, 2017

When to use little white lies on resumes? Never

While the job market for recent college graduates is a bit stronger than it might have been eight years ago, finding a job that's a good fit can still be a challenge. Even though they can be useful, networking websites can only go so far in identifying potential job offers. It still can be an anxiety-filled process to search for a job, particularly when your professional experience might not yet be all that substantial.

Recently, a reader told me of an experience she had when trying to fill a position at her business. She received dozens of applications for an open position, many from seemingly qualified applicants. One applicant worked for a business that the reader knew well. She grew surprised when the applicant described her duties on her resume that closely resembled those of someone else the reader knew worked there. She thought that the applicant might have replaced this other person, but there was no way to tell from the resume. Since the skills and experience the applicant described mirrored those the reader was looking for, she called her in for an interview.

At the interview, the reader discovered that the applicant reported to the person the reader knew at the other business. In the interview, it became clear that the applicant had neglected to indicate that she assisted with many of the tasks she had listed on her resume, but didn't really have the direct experience running and managing operations that she'd suggested she'd had.

The applicant was quite forthcoming in the interview about what responsibilities she actually had at her current job, and that the roles she mentioned on her resume consisted of assisting someone else.

"So you don't actually have a management role where you currently work?" the reader asked the applicant.

"No," she responded. The interview ended and the applicant never got the job.

Now, the reader wonders whether she had an ethical responsibility to raise the issue with this applicant of providing misleading information on the resume she'd submitted.

The reader's experience raises how tempting it might be for job seekers to pad their resumes by embellishing their actual experience. Sometimes, such padding might consist of outright fabrications where expertise or experience is listed that an applicant clearly doesn't have. Other times, applicants such as the one with whom the reader met try to make their current job responsibilities appear to be more than they actually are. Each type of embellishment is wrong and easily found out with some quick due diligence by an interviewer. Then there is the padding that is hard to verify, such as claiming skills or hobbies that might be relevant to a prospective employer but for which there is no actual record. Such embellishments are also wrong.

The reader did the right thing by asking the applicant pointed questions to get at whether the experience she listed actually reflected the experience she had. Her responsibility is to her employer to do the most thorough due diligence possible on each applicant to make sure that the person they hire has the experience needed and claimed.

The right thing for the applicant or any applicant is to make themselves as attractive to a prospective employer as possible, but never to use big or small lies to try to get a foot into the door. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 



Patrick Burris said...

Applying for a technical communication career opportunity, aN official informed me that the hired candidate was terminated, due to bogus educational credentials. Embellishing resumes with false information isn't recommendded;information and skills are ultimately verified via background checks and performance evaluations.

Azalea Annie said...

Cheating is cheating, and cheating on a resume' is likely to have been done by someone who cheated on tests. Hire a candidate who cheated on his/her resume'? Not just no.......h**l no.