As a number of corporate executives have found to their dismay, lying on a job resume can have dire consequences.
Earlier this year, the chief executive of RadioShack Corp. was forced out after it was discovered he did not have the college degrees he claimed. Other major cases have seen the chairman of gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson’s parent company resign when his criminal past was revealed and an executive for Bausch & Lomb Inc. miss out on a $1.1 million bonus because he falsely claimed to have a business school degree.
It’s important to be honest on your resume — whether you’re applying for a job as company president or as a janitor — because the risk of being caught in a lie is so great it isn’t worth it, experts say.
“You really don’t want to lie about anything, because people do check and you can get found out,” said Richard C. Bayer, chief operating officer of the Five O’Clock Club career coaching and outplacement firm in New York. “If that happens, you won’t get hired, or worse, you’ll get fired.”
Still, study after study has shown that job seekers put a lot of inaccurate information in their resumes.
The Chicago outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. found that the most common falsehoods involved education, either listing a degree from a school the job applicant didn’t attend or inflating a grade point average. That was followed by making up job titles, boosting salaries and mischaracterizing why the applicant left previous jobs.
A recent study by ResumeDoctor.com, a resume advisory service based in South Burlington, Vt., found that nearly 43 percent of more than 1,100 resumes it checked for dates of employment, job titles and education contained at least one significant inaccuracy. Nearly 13 percent of the resumes contained two or more inaccuracies.
Brad Fredericks, co-founder of ResumeDoctor.com, said he believed some job applicants mistakenly believed that inflating their credentials would give them a leg up.
“I think that some job seekers feel that in order to be competitive, they need to exaggerate their background,” he said. “It’s kind of like an Olympic skier who feels pressure to use performance-enhancing drugs just to stay in the race.”
Another reason, he added, “is the sense that everyone is doing it, so what’s the harm?”
Such tactics, Fredericks warned, “can come back to hurt you sooner or later.”
He said that most large companies have procedures to verify information on resumes or on the companies’ own application forms.
Many smaller companies don’t, he added, “either because they don’t have the resources or don’t realize it’s such a problem and that they need to do this.”
Ironically, Fredericks said, the main reason job applicants fail to get a job isn’t that their credentials aren’t adequate but that their resumes aren’t targeted to the employer.
“Every single time you send your resume, you have to take the time to customize it to show how your background makes you fit,” he said. “It has to say, ’This is what you’re looking for, and this is how my background relates to it.”’
Bayer of the Five O’Clock Club agrees that it’s important for job seekers to put a strong summary statement at the top of a resume.
“You need to make it clear at the top what it is you want to do,” Bayer said. “Otherwise, you’re positioned by your most recent job.”
And, Bayer said, it isn’t necessary to give each job equal prominence; you can highlight those you want the hiring manager to notice.
He also says job seekers shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about revealing why they left a previous job, even if it was not voluntary.
“In today’s economy — with plant closings, outsourcing, downsizing, mergers and acquisitions — it’s not unusual to lose a job through no fault of your own,” Bayer said. “Human resource managers understand this and should not judge you unfairly for it.”