Monday, 2 November 2009

'Tweaking' (aka lying) on your resume

It's a tough world out there, but someone's got to live in it. Like alive people. And lots of us have to work in it, or try to. But sometimes it's not that easy to find a job, or get into an industry we like, or some people just hate the job we're doing but can't think of a way out. Or some people are just plain lazy. Whatever it is, we have a system where for the most part a resume is a big slice of how to get a job, or even just to get an interview, but is it ever ok to lie on your resume?

Here's a discussion of that very topic.

Some people would say you have to be totally upfront on your resume, some would say it's ok to lie on your resume, and others would point to a middle ground - it's ok to tell white lies, to exaggerate, to 'tweak' a resume, but telling outright lies is just wrong. The problem with this is that where exactly do you draw the line on tweaking? And won't you be mad if you draw the line differently from someone else and that other person gets the job!

In the link above, many of the objections come from someone who wants to outright lie on their resume, and also because the motivation seems to be because he's bludged around a bit, and has decided he wants to lie because he knows a bit about some things, but doesn't have the certificates, and he wants to get a job that "doesn't totally suck" without doing the hard menial yards that most people have to do to get there. His idea is that he will try to walk straight in to a more comfortable position.

Whereas most people either have to do the hard yards either in a university/TAFE, or spend a few years doing low-level crappy work to get their foot in the door. I remember some producer at Channel Nine telling me she got there by taking on a crummy job filing tapes in the library for less than $18 000 a year in order to become a TV producer. And she had to badger them like crazy to get that job.

But is it EVER ok to lie on your resume? The arguments on the forum are that if you lie on your resume, it helps you not because you wouldn't have the skills if you didn't have the qualifications/experience. Others say that if you weren't prepared to work hard to get the qualifications and experience, then you cannot be the kind of person who would work hard to learn on the job, so the "I would work hard to learn on the job" argument is invalid.

But there are certain arguments for tweaking your resume.

Employers are notorious for skimming resumes and jumping to conclusions based on them, and key words leap out at them. What if the job you did recently, if you were to honestly describe it, would not really contain any of those key words, yet you know you gained the requisite skills. It might be easier to use the vague and industry accepted terms just to get your foot in the door, rather than be very honest.

What if an unusual situation occurred on your job that did not majorly affect your career progression, that could either be glossed over or covered up by a white lie, or look awkward on a resume that could put you slightly behind someone who had a more 'conventional' career path, or would take a 500 word exposition to explain that no one would bother to read? Many would choose the 'white lie'.

The trouble is, at what point do you distinguish between the white lie and the dirty big fat black lie? Everyone has their own standard.

If you say you have "lots of customer experience" and you really worked for two weeks in a boring old quirky shop where you might have been lucky to serve one person every two days, and simply took their money and gave them a receipt, is that just "slight embellishment" or a lie?

If you are misleading - for instance - write that you "attended" a course but don't point out that you mean that you turned up for the first half of the first class, but never studied the subject and certainly never passed any of the tests or assignments ... is that a lie?

And what about lies by omission? What if you omit that you have certain qualifications because you don't wish to look overqualified for a position, or interested in other areas of study which may make them think you are a less stable employee?

My resume is edited, embellished and tweaked, I must admit. It is not a bland setting out of my educational and work history to date. But I regard that as a necessity - I just don't know whether my own version is anyone else's "too far".


Dan the VespaMan said...

Part of any resume is to do with "presentation". It's important to highlight REAL skills and experiences and promote them to a potential employer. I think whoever is reading the resume's are actually looking for you to advertise effectively what you can do.

It is certainly not appropriate to provide false information in a resume. In fact, I believe there can be legal implications if one was inclined to do so. Not worth the risk.

Maria said...

Well, what I am talking about is the fine line between tweaking and lying, and also "misleading information"

The other is "lying by omission".

There are some fuzzy lines there - I don't think they are so easily drawn basically because of the subjective nature of resume writing.

There are also prejudices, definitely, out there - in favour of those who've worked in certain pathways and at certain places, who've held jobs for certain periods and haven't had certain gaps in their career - and which people wish they didn't have to wait till they got to an interview to explain.

Some people would point to studies that have shown that those who have Anglicised names have been shown to have better job prospects in Australia - so would writing your name with Anglicised spelling (a lie) on your resume, which might increase your chances of an interview, be "fair", which is something you are doing to overcome a prejudice which legally should not exist but unfortunately has been proven to exist?

I think it is easy enough for a person who has a "regular" resume, not necessarily a perfect one, but one that does not have glaring faults in it and does not them booted out of every job that they feel they are worthy of, and even ones that are below them, for months and years on end, to say "Lying is unacceptable, in any and every form", but perhaps it is not, entirely.

The question about lying by omission is another ethical dilemma.

I have read forums where people simply say stuff like "GET A JOB!" and complain about dole bludgers.

Now, I have this dilemma.

I have a resume where I am well qualified, with 3 tertiary qualifications but only a smattering of experience. And some other constraints on my ability to work.

I have gone for a variety of jobs in almost anything I am capable of and interested in and I either get these rejections:

Not enough experience in the field

Now, some people qho cry "GET A JOB"

I get "not enough experience" either for jobs in which I have some foundational skills but not experience in the industry, or where I have experience in the industry and the skills, but my experience is limited.

I get "overqualified" where I have experience already, that is, basically legal administration or general administration.

Now, some of those people who yell at people and tell them not to be dole bludgers would say that I have to cut stuff out of my resume and then I would get those low-level jobs. Then at least I would stop being a dole-bludger and then I would "have a job".

Here is a point:

If a person would not hire me knowing I had a qualification, if I omit to tell them that I have that qualification and they do hire me on that basis, isn't that ethically unsound? It is a lie by omission?

A corollary is: Is it any more ethically unsound than a person who lies and says they do have a skill (and they don't but they are sure they can pick it up on the job), and they are chosen for the job, and then they learn it on the job?

In each case, the person would NOT have been hired if the employer knew the whole truth. They lie. They get the job. While on the job, however, the boss is ignorant of the lie and the employee satisfies the requirements of the job.

The only reason people are queasier about the second scenario is some people think it is less likely that a person can learn skills on a job than suppress whatever bad traits the "overqualifications" would have brought along (usually ambition) - which is plain tosh.

Sometimes it's easier for some people to pick up skills on the job than to suppress ambition - depends on the person and the job.

And finding a job that is exactly in line with your qualifications and experience can sometimes be nigh on impossible.

Maria said...

Strangely, I find it much harder to lie in response to the stupid ads that the recruiters put out. I think I've mentioned this before. Do I have a passion for insurance? No, sorry. I don't mind but passion? That's not the word I'm looking for. Is it my dream to work with a fun-loving team? No, my dream last night had something about zombies marching down the street in search of the perfect chocolate cake, but thanks for asking. Is the most important thing in my life filing? Dammit, no! I also make time for other hobbies like typing and sorting paperclips into colour categories.

Whenever I see those whizbang bullshit job ads I tend to answer somewhat repulsed, cynical and over-honest - with a can't-do attitude embedded, just because I hate ads like that.