Pros and Cons of Exaggerating on a Resume

Published: Feb 17, 2017

You sit down to update your resume to send out to potential employers, but you worry it will be overlooked in a sea of applicants. These days, jobs are typically competitive, and many resumes are quickly tossed in the nay pile. As you read over the preferred or required skills for these positions, you wonder if it's OK to fudge the details a bit.

If you've had this thought, you're not alone. According to a 2015 survey published by Careerbuilder, 56 percent of employers found people aren't totally truthful on their resumes. A separate survey conducted in 2016 by HireRight had an even more remarkable result. Having asked 3,500 employers, a whopping 88 percent said they'd found some kind of misrepresentation.

If so many people exaggerate on resumes, what are the most common fibs and the perceived benefits of telling them?

Exaggerations about skills

Statistics suggest exaggerations about skills are the most common resume embellishment. The clear benefit is these claims make an applicant look good. By ticking off all the boxes of the skills and knowledge an employer is looking for and plugging these in their resumes, people feel it increases a chance to get an interview.

If you do this, you might shine during the initial resume scan and perhaps even the interview. If hired, you'll probably even get through the first weeks, months or even longer. Eventually though, the truth is likely to come out on the job. Worse if it happens during an important project where people are counting on you. That could mean trouble—and possibly a firing.

Did you know a good percentage of employers say candidates who only meet three of five "key qualifications" would still be considered for the job? Many bosses are willing to train candidates who are a good fit otherwise. Food for thought.

Bottom line, it's best to be truthful about what you can really do and then express a strong desire to learn in any areas you have some weakness. Plus, you can always consider highlighting your soft skills. Employers are often interested in people who possess strong ones.

Salary enhancing

The big advantage to salary inflating is to try to leverage more money through telling these little white lies. Realistically though, former salaries are all too easy to expose when the employer checks employment details. Don't exaggerate your past salary, instead, present yourself honestly as an eager and eligible candidate and develop a stronger strategy to negotiate the better paycheck.

Embellishing responsibilities

Inflating responsibility or leadership levels is likely to make any resume sparkle, but chances are, this will come out in an interview when asked specific questions. Even if it doesn't, a hiring manager might just check with former employers. In the aforementioned 2015 survey, 54 percent of candidates were caught fudging the scope of their responsibilities.

Does misrepresenting yourself really give an edge?

Does a small fib give you an edge? Probably not. In a 2014 survey of 2,188 hiring managers and HR professionals, it was found:

  •  51 percent said they'd dismiss someone who lied on a resume
  •  40 percent said it would depend on what the candidate lied about
  • 7 percent said they'd overlook the lie if they liked the candidate

While exaggerating or telling a few itty-bitty untruths  on a resume may seem harmless, it's important to keep in mind someone (or multiple people) might actually carefully read your resume, especially if it gets past the initial scan. Resumes are increasingly being looked at with a skeptical eye, and some employers might even turn to social media or other websites for more information.

As you decide how to present yourself, it's important to keep any long-term consequences in mind. You never know who you might run across later in your career or what you'll be remembered for! Any lie uncovered, no matter how small, will probably make a boss wonder if you have integrity or are trustworthy. And if they question major character qualities, they'll toss the resume aside.

In the end, it's best to be honest and be yourself.

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