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Can I Exaggerate On My Resume? Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

Question:

I have been sending out many resumes to find a job but I am getting not a lot of replies. A friend of mine read my resume over and said it was good, but maybe could be better if I added more accomplishments even if I never did them. I told her I refuse to lie on my resume. But I wonder if I should exaggerate a little so at least I will get invited in for interviews. What do you think?

Narila Y, Brandon, Manitoba
Dear Narila,

I will cut right to the chase: if you lie on a resume -- that is, you claim to have a degree or designation that you don't really have, or say that you know how to use a certain computer program well when in fact you do not -- then you open yourself to potentially being dismissed from your job, should the employer find out about your dishonesty.

So leaving aside the moral implications for now, my general advice is not to lie on your resume. Unless you are getting desperate for work and understand the risk you are taking by not telling the truth. At that point you are at least making a conscious decision to live with whatever the consequences are.

But this doesn't mean that you should not embellish (a fancy word for exaggerate) the content in your resume. Is there a difference between exaggerating and lying? Sometimes not a big one. Let's look at the following examples to see what I mean.

Sticking with the computer program theme from above, say that you have a good working knowledge of Microsoft Word 2002 and Powerpoint 2000. An embellished way of saying this on your resume might be:

Proven ability to utilize Word and Powerpoint in preparing, designing and editing material for use in a variety of reports and presentations.

Notice that I have left out the specific version numbers of the Word and Powerpoint programs here. That's because if the employer is using, say, Word 2007, you might automatically be seen as outdated, and therefore not worthy of bringing in for an interview - especially if there are others who have applied for the same job with more current experience.

Now let's see how this bullet point might appear if it were an outright lie:

Proven ability to utilize the most recent versions of Word and Powerpoint in preparing, designing and editing material for use in reports and presentations.

By adding the phrase 'the most recent versions,' you are now making a claim that you cannot support. So if the employer hired you, and plunked you down in front of a computer to start producing reports on Word 2007, the moment you started to struggle you would be revealing that you haven't been honest. It is therefore possible that you would be fired on the spot.
When you embellish (or exaggerate), make sure you are simply taking truthful information and portraying it in the best light possible. This way your skills and achievements might stand out better. Just be careful you are not stepping over the line into lying, otherwise you might be defeating all the effort you've put in to the rest of your job search.

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