Career Doctor: Inflating Your Resume Not a Good Idea

By Katherine Spencer Lee | October 2007

Dice is pleased to introduce a new monthly IT career column, Ask the IT Career Doctor, with Katherine Spencer Lee, Executive Director of Robert Half Technology. Robert Half Technology is a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Once per month, Katherine will respond to an IT career-related question from a Dice reader. This month, she responds to an IT professional who supports an ERP system that is being phased out.

I’m looking for a new job and recently completed an Oracle DBA training course. Some of my contacts are advising me to enhance my resume to make it appear that I have five years of experience in the field as an Oracle DBA. I’ve noticed that almost all employers are looking for many years of experience. Should I enhance my resume in order to get started in a career?

Katherine Lee Spencer responds:
Many in the IT field, especially those who are just starting their careers, wrestle with this question. Faced with the classic Catch-22 – you need experience to get experience – some job candidates succumb to the temptation to inflate or overstate their experience and other qualifications.

Job candidates are prone to embellishments not only about their work histories but also about the degrees or certifications they hold. Another common ruse is to call a rudimentary job by an impressive-sounding name – employers know all about the many creative euphemisms for "intern."

The frustration of a job search can contribute to the feeling that you’ll put yourself at a disadvantage if you don’t pad your resume. But don’t trust peers who tell you that "everyone is doing it."

Keeping it real

Ethical considerations aside, it doesn’t take more than a simple reference phone call to uncover a lie, or even an exaggeration, and put an end to your prospects of a job with a given employer, both now and further along in your career. Even if an overstatement of the truth holds up through an initial interview, it might be easily punctured during a follow-up meeting.

A seemingly minor fabrication can leave a durable stain on your career – just ask any of the high-profile executives, university officials, and other VIPs who fibbed on their resumes only to be exposed years or even decades later.

Resume inflation may indeed occur, but the large majority of IT job seekers, including entry-level candidates, land jobs on the strength of honest resumes. These candidates realize that the key question isn’t whether to be honest about their experience, but how to portray that experience in a way that will put them in the best position to receive attractive offers.

Painting your self-portrait

Many job candidates assume that if a truthful resume generates only tepid interest from employers, it must be because their fundamental qualifications fall short of companies’ requirements. But in many cases, the bigger problem is how their experience is presented. A resume isn’t just a list of facts – it’s a deliberate, strategic portrait of who you are and what you can do for an employer.

Perhaps the most common shortcoming of IT resumes is a failure to be specific about duties and accomplishments. For example, noting that you "managed the company network" doesn’t tell an employer exactly what you did. Did you troubleshoot problems? Make key business decisions related to the network? Supervise employees?

Put yourself in the employers’ shoes. They’re trying to develop the clearest possible sense of how you can contribute to their business. For every position you’ve held, list several specific achievements and explain how they benefited the company.

Don’t sell yourself short

Every job candidate has weaknesses; the ones who are most attractive to employers know how to present those weaknesses in a positive light. If you have only a few years of experience, for example, use your cover letter to highlight how your enthusiasm and ability to learn quickly can be assets.

Your attitude also can have a real impact on your job search. If you’ve become convinced that no one will hire you, that pessimism can pervade not only your interviews but even your cover letter and resume, and may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. An enthusiastic, confident mind-set gives you an immediate edge on the competition.

A truly successful job search isn¿t about doing whatever it takes to land a job. It’s about showing employers who you are and what you can contribute. When you know you’ve submitted an honest resume, you not only present yourself in the best possible light, you also give yourself the best chance of getting a foot in the door.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in North America, Europe and Asia.