By Dave Willmer
"My resume isn’t getting much of a response, probably because I don’t have a long track record of work experience. Is there any harm in ’rounding up’ my dates of employment? I figure most employers expect a little padding these days, and I want to make sure I’m on a level playing field with other job seekers."
Dave Willmer responds:
It’s tempting to embellish your resume with exaggerations or even outright fabrications, especially during the early stages of your career. The temptation can be even harder to resist now because of the difficult IT job market. Regardless of these conditions, padding your resume is neither an accepted practice nor a wise career move.
Leaving aside the ethical considerations, your deception stands a good chance of being revealed. Well aware that job candidates sometimes overstate their experience and achievements, many employers verify the basics of a candidate’s application during the reference or background check. A simple phone call or e-mail to your alma mater or human resources representative at a former employer can easily uncover a falsehood.
When that happens, you’ll immediately lose whatever chance you had to receive a job offer. And that might not be the worst-case scenario. If your inflated resume does help you land a new position, the truth might come out at any time, possibly leading to a humiliating dismissal and lasting damage to your reputation and career.
Job seekers often assume that a tepid response to their resume must be due to shortcomings in their qualifications. In many cases, it’s not the facts that need adjusting but the way those facts are presented. With less effort than it takes to create and conceal a lie, you can increase your resume’s effectiveness. Here are four ways to boost your chances without putting your career at risk:
Target each position. A generic, all-purpose resume requires the hiring manager to piece together how you might contribute to the company. Rather than expend the effort, he or she will almost always move on to the next applicant. Tailor your resume to the specific position and employer. Make sure it shows a clear connection between the job requirements and your skills and experience. If it’s possible to include a cover letter, use it to briefly assert that connection – and to address any major sticking points your resume might suggest, like a prolonged gap in employment.
Provide concrete details. Your work history shouldn’t be a mere list of positions and responsibilities. Instead, focus on specific ways you have benefited your employers. Saying you were responsible for troubleshooting a network doesn’t provide a vivid sense of your value. Be as specific as possible about the problems you solved or prevented, as well as the amount of money or time your employers saved as a result.
Use keywords thoughtfully. Whether or not the potential employer uses filtering software, using keywords helps provide a quick sense of your most relevant skills. Use the job listing to identify technologies and other terms (for example, J2EE or project management) that seem central to the job. Doing so can also help you decide which of your attributes and achievements to emphasize. Don’t go overboard, however – a resume choked with keywords can be difficult to read and may even call into question the validity of your claims.
Keep it clean and clear. Even one typo or grammatical error may cause a hiring manager to move on to the next resume, so proofread your document carefully. A spell-checker won’t catch every mistake, so you may want to ask a friend or family member to review your resume, too. At the same time, remember to keep your resume concise and to the point. Employers want to be able to quickly grasp how you can contribute.
Ultimately, a resume that presents your capabilities in the most favorable light will be more effective than one that misrepresents the facts. It also lets you approach an interview with confidence, rather than worrying about hiding the truth. And when you do receive an offer, you’ll know it’s based on what you truly have to offer, not on a fabrication.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.