Lying on Your Resume: Why It Won't Work

By now, you've probably heard about Adam Wheeler, the 23-year-old accused of faking his way into Harvard with falsified transcripts and test scores.

Ditto for Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate who recently was outed by the New York Times for having fabricated his supposed combat experience during the Vietnam War. (Although Blumenthal did join the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in 1970, he never served in Vietnam.)

Then there's U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who's running for the Senate. He, too, has been accused of exaggerating his military record, claiming an award he never received and combat duty in Iraq he never served.

But how many of you have heard of Andrea, the accountant who lied about that Ivy League college degree, or Mark, the model who didn't actually pose for a two-page spread in Men's Health?

Little surprise, fudging a resume is not just the domain of cunning careerists and slick politicians.

Nancy Keene, a director in the Dallas office of global executive search firm Stanton Chase, sees this sort of resume fakery all the time.

Typical example: While doing background checks on candidates for a chief financial officer position with a large, high-profile organization -- a position that required a current Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license -- Keene discovered a blatant fib on the bio of one "very strong finalist."

"Not only is her CPA [license] not current, it has been revoked," Keene said. "Someone who was a finalist for a CFO search!"

Needless to say, the candidate did not get the job.

My inbox runneth over with recruiters across the country sharing similar tales of job seekers -- entry-level workers and executives alike -- embellishing their resumes with everything from contrived college degrees or manufactured military service to trumped up job titles and responsibilities.

Now that a new class of college grads has hit the job market, I thought we should revisit the age-old topic of faked resumes and concocted credentials.

Perhaps BS-ing about your B.A. or blowing smoke about your last promotion is the career strategy of the week. But is embellishing your academic or employment history really required in today's work world? Or it is a recipe for landing your application in the "delete" folder? And just how much C.V. puffery can a person get away with?

'But ... Everyone's Doing It!'

In a 2008 CareerBuilder.com survey, 8 percent of 8,785 U.S. workers polled said they had fudged some aspect of their resume. Of the 3,169 U.S. employers polled in the same survey, 49 percent said they'd discovered an applicant stretching the truth on their resume.

Unfortunately, the "Everyone does it!" argument doesn't hold water: 57 percent of employers who found a candidate fibbing on their resume told CareerBuilder they couldn't drop the applicant fast enough.

"Lying on a resume or in an interview is the kiss of death," Keene said. "Why would I present someone like that to a client who is counting on me to present the very best talent for the perfect fit?"

Sure, career advisors and interview coaches harp on the necessity of looking good on paper. But there's a difference between smart marketing and revisionist history.

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