Your Client’s Resume: The whole truth, and nothing but the truth


By Sharon Graham.

A short while back, I evaluated a resume for a young manager. On initial review, it seemed that he had a great deal going for him. His resume started off with a glowing summary of his senior-level accountability and high-profile role. However, delving deeper, I found that the young man had NO corroborating stories to tell.

When asked why he wrote these pie-in-the-sky statements in his resume, he said – with all the confidence in the world – “I know that I can do those things. I just need to be given the chance.” It was only when I asked pointed questions that he saw the trap he had set for himself. He would certainly be “found out” when being tested in an actual job interview.

As a career professional, you are likely to encounter such a client.

Resume lies generally begin as innocent exaggerations. In a misguided attempt to appear desirable to a potential employer, some clients might “stretch” the truth. They may get caught up in what they believe they could bring to a role without the actual evidence to support their words. Or, they may be frustrated enough in a stagnant job search that they think their embellishments will somehow help.

Your client’s intent may not be to deceive, but to improve the chances of getting an interview. This is a grave mistake, which is likely to be uncovered when the resume generates an actual interview. If your client has been dishonest in the resume, no “smoke screens” or “fast-talking” will clear things up. This tactic not only disrespects the interviewer’s time and intelligence, but holds your client out as someone willing to “stretch the truth” instead of making a legitimate business case for the job.

Honesty wins jobs. Recruiters are looking for people who can show, with integrity, that they can succeed in the role. When a candidate misleads them, they will not give that person a second chance.

Many clients are confused about how to express their value. When they understand that there is nothing wrong with representing themselves — and their successes — honourably, they will open up and provide you with substance.

If you are helping clients write resumes, honesty is the foundation of everything. Ask them the following questions to ensure that they are sharing authentic information with you.

  • Does your resume reflect the “real you”? Clients are sometimes indoctrinated to the idea that it is best to say what the employer wants to hear. They assume that they should cover all the job requirements in the resume, even if they are not qualified in those areas. Employers deserve an authentic depiction of your client in the resume. By asking this question, you will ensure that the person described in the resume is the same candidate that will appear for the interview.
  • Is your value proposition supported by evidence? Clients might overstate their actual qualifications and value in the summary of qualifications at the beginning of the resume. Whatever your client indicates in the qualification summary must be supported by evidence of achievements within the body of the resume. Your client’s value proposition is not just a profile statement. For every experience and competency listed, your client should be able to readily provide a compelling accomplishment example. Ensure that your client articulates at least one situation from the past that showcases actions, and offers tangible results of those activities. That is the litmus test – a reality check of the validity and clarity of the material presented.
  • Are your accomplishment stories transparent? In an effort to make achievements seem “strong enough” sometimes clients misstate their role in the accomplishment statement itself. If a person played a supporting role in an initiative, ensure that is clear – that there is no chance a reader may interpret it as your client having orchestrated the entire project. For example, if your client was not the only leader of an initiative, instead of introducing the example with “led” consider using “partnered with” or “co-led”.
  • Did you opt to change a given job title? Job titles are not always clear. Sometimes job titles do not depict a client’s actual position correctly. If your client has changed the job title on his or her resume, determine if that alteration stands up to scrutiny. If the title in the resume is not exactly the same as the original job title, then suggest that your client secure permission from the previous employer to use the new title. If your client does not have permission to change the job title, then leave the title as it was, but provide other information within that section of the resume to explain the full scope of the position.
  • How did you handle gaps in your resume? As most resumes now provide years of service without the start and end months, there is no need to explain an unemployment period that is only a matter of months. However, where there is a space of more than a year in career chronology flow, your client needs to address that. Your client should not “fudge” the dates. Instead, use the correct dates and give the reader some modicum of explanation – whether it be “travelled worldwide, gaining knowledge and insight into international cultures and ways of doing business” or “pursued a diversity of opportunities from volunteering in the community to completing online courses such as…”
  • Are your educational credentials complete? If your client went to university, but did not finish the degree, simply putting the program title such as “Bachelor of Science” is misleading. Your client can still get credit by writing something more clear. For example, “Completed two years of the program, earning marks in the top 10 percentile in such courses as….”
  • Are you adding courses to be more competitive? Clients might add future education or courses that they have not taken to make it look like they are a more competitive candidate. Suggest that your client demonstrate commitment to that end by enrolling now. That way, it would be truthful to mention, for instance, “Enrolled in diploma program with goal of completion by…”

You may have encountered situations where clients were less than clear – or perhaps downright dishonest. How did you react in those situations? Given the opportunity, what advice would you give to those people now?

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One of the things I do with all my clients is have them tell me stories about their work as we go through and build their resume. That way as we’re building it, they’re getting a taste of the kinds of behavioral questions an interviewer might ask, they’re better prepared to answer those questions, and it gives me a much better sense of what they can actually do. For example, I have a lot of people tell me they are bilingual. I remind them we’re in a bilingual province (New Brunswick), so if someone says they’re bilingual they really need to be prepared to speak to clients and work in French. I will ask them questions about when they used French in their work. If they seem to be fudging a bit, I’ll ask them a question in French to see how fast they respond. Taking this approach helps people realize what they’re capabilities are and it really helps with getting an honest resume created.

Excellent approach, Jean. I agree that just by testing people’s competencies you can get a better feel for what they are able to do. Also, your approach gives clients an opportunity for introspection.

When someone’s job title was a little unusual and the actual job description implies that the job could be well described by a “standard” job title, I use the original job title but accompany it with the standard title in parens. This gives the reader an instant understanding of what my client was doing as well as giving the correct title for the position.

Excellent strategy, Tim. I sometimes add a short description of the accountability involved (if it does not match the original job title.) Also, if the person is temporarily holding a position, I append the new title with “acting.”

Sharon, that’s an excellent article. Just yesterday I had a discussion with a fine young man who admitted that his friends urged him to lie on his resume, citing that “everyone did it.”
He and I agreed that this is not a fruitful policy and in fact, can get one fired when found out.
The young man liked my explanation that when one knows how to “sell” one’s self with career stories that connect performance to a company’s profits (or in the case of non-profits, with reputation or productivity), the perceived “need” to lie simply dissolves away!
Thank you for adding a few more questions that will ensure my clients stand the best chance at a) landing an interview, even if they have concerns, and b) not getting fired for lying!

Thanks for your input, Stephanie. This sure is something that clients need to know about. These days, people sometimes feel that it’s okay to tell a little “white lie” when there really is no reason to do so. Truthfulness is always the best approach.

Well written and very clear explanation about the pitfalls of lying or exaggerating. It is amazing to me how many people truly believe it is accepted practise or the norm and what a sad comment that is

I agree, Vicky. In some circles, this type of lying had become socially accepted. In some corporate cultures, business people use lying as a way to “get ahead”. This kind of abominable behaviour is playing out in real time in the current US political race.

Excellent article! And…it couldn’t be timelier, as I just had an email conversation with a client early today who suggested that he may want to leave references to time off of his resume, so that the potential hiring organizations are “unaware” of his industry gaps (in this case, a gap of a few years). I explained how deception never works in a candidate’s favor and is not a practice that I support. Then I opened my previous CPC email and “walla”, your article was there, to support my comments! Thank you Sharon for encouraging and confirming our own industry’s professionalism with well-written articles that discuss important topics and reflect best practices.

Thanks so much for your comment, Christine. Glad that this post “hit the spot” this morning.