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Don't lie, but don't be afraid to spin a little

Oh, the dreaded hole in your resume. How do you explain it to a prospective employer? While you should never blatantly lie, that doesn't mean you need to volunteer unpleasant truths. Your Career by Eve Tahmincioglu.
/ Source: contributor

Oh, the dreaded hole in your resume.

Maybe you did a lot of job hopping and don’t think telling a prospective employer the whole truth about your past is a good idea. Or you left a job on bad terms but don’t want to dredge up the past during the interview process for fear of jeopardizing your chances. Or you took time off the raise your children and think that will work against you when you try to get back in the work place.

How do you explain it? Can you fudge the truth?

I would say, yes, it’s OK to sometimes not tell the whole truth. I know I’m probably going to get a lot of irate letters from readers, especially from HR managers, but sometimes you just don’t want to share every little intimate detail with a prospective boss.

It’s a good idea not to put any dates on your resume. Ken Siegel, president of The Impact Group, a Los Angeles-based group of corporate psychologists, says dates only work against you. “If there are no dates, then there are no gaps to explains,” he says.

Even if you’re asked specifically about certain points on your resume, or about past supervisors, being overly honest about negative experiences -- especially if you come off as a complainer or an event casts you in a not so great light -- will rarely land you the job.

That said, I don’t think anyone should ever blatantly lie on a resume or during a job interview. Expect lying to come back and haunt you. And sometimes you need to give more credit where credit is due. Being a stay-at-home mom or dad requires a lot of different skills, skills an employer may need.

Here are some of your recent questions:

I'm at a crossroads of some sorts. I just recently resigned my last job of 9 years because of STRESS. When I say stress, I experienced hair loss, sometimes insomnia and would leave work crying sometimes twice a week. Would get home at 5:00 and would be in bed by 5:30 p.m. I worked very hard everyday. Sometimes it felt like I put a 16-hour day into an 8-hour day. My doctor told me it was time for a change. I was in denial at first but saw how it affected me and my life.  My question is, at interviews, what is the best way of saying why I left my last job?  I have no idea how to respond in a professional manner. So help, Eve. : )
-- T.L., Bakersfield, Calif.

Whoa, too much information. There is no reason for you to give a blow-by-blow to a prospective employer. You have to find a way to spin this experience in a way that you don’t come off as a victim or someone who can’t take pressure.

Talk about the positives you encountered at your last gig, even though they may have been few and far between.

And be prepared to answer the “why did you leave question” but just hold back on specifics.

“I encourage people to be candid, but you want to tell the person interviewing you ‘It was in both of our best interest to part ways,’” advises Siegel. Make sure you use the lingo of the day, he adds, like “it wasn’t a cultural fit.”

Tell your therapist or best friend about the nitty-gritty of what you encountered, but sharing that during an interview will get you a quick trip out of the building.

I am currently job-hunting after staying at home for the past seven years raising my small children.  I am having a hard time getting interviews because of this. Any suggestions?
-- A. B., New Lenox, Ill.

You have several options here.

If you’ve taken a huge chunk of time away from the work world and it’s something you don’t want to elaborate on with a hiring manager, Dr. Loren Ekroth, publisher of “Better Conversations” an ezine, says: “A person is better off saying something like 'personal sabbatical' if they've been between jobs than saying nothing.  Holes draw attention to themselves.”

And don’t belittle the experience you had, whether it was taking a year off to backpack around Europe or a decade off to watch your kids.

Recently I interviewed the CEO of Reuters, Tom Glocer, about his climb to the top, and we talked a bit about the issue of why there weren’t more women in top executive positions. Difficulty re-entering the workforce after taking time off for their kids was, we both agreed, one of the stumbling blocks.

He believes women need to play up the skills they developed when caring for their children, the leadership and organizational lessons they learned. Women, he says, should look at child-rearing as a positive and not make excuses for it.

Indeed, my best friend took eight years off to raise her two sons, and when she decided to re-enter the workforce she was at first apprehensive about how an employer would perceive her time off. She did some free consulting work for several months and went back to school to get a law degree. As for explaining the gap, her tack was not to mention that she stayed at home on her resume, but to be honest about it when she got her foot in the door.

Now she’s a high-powered corporate attorney in New England.