Ask LH: When Should I Lie On My Resume?

Dear Lifehacker, Everyone I've ever met has told me I shouldn't lie on my resume, but I can't seem to get a job with the skills I have. I want to be honest, but I want to be employed even more. What should I do? Thanks, Looming Lies

Images remixed from originals by NAN728 (Shutterstock), US Army Africa, Foto_blog, and Ali West

Dear Looming,

When it comes to resumes, you can't look at every statement as black and white. You never want to outright lie on your resume, but you do want to paint the best picture of yourself. This sometimes means leaving out certain information or finding the right angle for your experience.

Don't Include Your Entire Work History

Whether you have a short or long work history, you don't necessarily want to include all of it. If you're applying for a marketing position and you've worked as an intern and an associate in separate firms, but also as a cashier at a supermarket, don't pad your resume with the irrelevant job. Doing so wastes space that you can instead use to explain the good work you did at the relevant jobs.

Conversely, you may want to leave off jobs (and other information) that make you look overqualified. You don't need an MFA to work in telesales or executive experienceto get a job as a programmer. Part of putting your best foot forward on your resume involves leaving out the stuff that makes you look wrong for the position, no matter how impressive.

Don't Embellish Your Position, Explain It

You never want to lie about your position. While your work might imply a more robust job title, if a prospective employer calls your previous employer to ask about a position that doesn't exist, you'll just seem like a liar. That said, you shouldn't discount the work you did beyond the call of duty. Sean Weinberg, co-founder of resume grading site RezScore, explains what to do in these circumstances:

Let’s say you were an intern last semester. You worked really hard and you think, “Hmm, I worked almost as hard as my manager, I’ll just say that I had his title instead.” Sometimes a hiring manager catches this fib and sometimes they don’t. If you were a hardworking intern, illustrate that with the bullet points below your title, not by lying about your position at the company.

You can still call yourself by your correct title and explain the great, relevant work you did. You don't have to include the basic tasks that made up most of your job if those doesn't apply to the job you're trying to get. Instead, you can leave out more of the irrelevant tasks and focus on the ones that make you look like an intelligent, hardworking prospect.

All of that said, if you have a great relationship with the company you've left (or plan to leave) and want to use a more impressive title, talk to your boss or manager about using one. They may allow you to use a more impressive-sounding title on your resume and play along when called as a reference if they like you. Perhaps they'll even award you that honorary title as a parting gift. If your boss or manager approves, it's not really a lie.

Temporarily Lie About Skills You Can Learn

Do you know Excel? Probably not very well if you haven't touched it since 2004, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't include it on your resume. If you can spend a night learning what you need to know before you need to know it, you can claim proficiency in a skill you don't really have.

Keep in mind this means taking a sizable risk and you shouldn't take it often. You don't want to claim to know JavaScript when you've never even learned the basics. That said, you can claim to know HTML and CSS if you've learned a little bit but not a lot.

When you "lie" about a skill, you have to know you can acquire that skill quickly if needed by your employer. Don't apply for jobs that require certain primary abilities you don't have. You wouldn't want to try and get a job as a front-end developer with limited knowledge of HTML and CSS, for example. You might, however, promote that same limited knowledge to find work as a blogger (or any job where those skills help but aren't required). Although it's always better to just tell the truth, if you need to embellish your skill set you can do so.

Spin Relevant Experience When You Have None

I've never had the right experience for any job I've worked at. I've written for Lifehacker for over three years now and have no education or experience in journalism or formal writing. I did, however, make a good case for myself with the piles of irrelevant experience I accumulated over the years. Anyone can do this.

The trick doesn't involve lying, but digging deep to find relevant experience you didn't really know you had. If you really want a job as a graphic designer but work as a receptionist, you can spin a lot of your experience to make it relevant. Perhaps you've created fliers, mailers, in-office posters, and so on. I worked as a customer service representative a while back and found ways to make company videos, design posters, and even write code. If you want a different job, find ways to do the kind of work you want to do at your current job so you can claim it as experience on your resume. You still have to do the work assigned to you, but if you add a few other helpful tasks here and there your company should appreciate you for it.

When you can't do something at a company, do it on your own time. Nobody can stop you from designing, writing, or whatever else after you clock out. When you have no relevant experience, you can always make some yourself. That might not get you an interview all by itself, but you can also try to meet someone from the company to give yourself a better chance. A simple email asking if you can take someone out to lunch to ask them for career advice can go a long way.

For more on this point, check out our complete guide to getting a job when you have no relevant experience.

Make The Best Of What You've Got

In the end, you want to lie as little as possible but find ways to make what you have look as attractive as possible. That means embellishing your skill set a little, including the right jobs, and focusing on relevant experience -- even if it didn't make up the majority of your work. If you just don't have a lot of work experience at all, seek out internships to get some. Just don't outright lie on your resume. That might get you an interview, but it probably won't get you a job.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    "If you can spend a night learning what you need to know before you need to know it, you can claim proficiency in a skill you don’t really have."

    How is claiming proficiency in a skill you don't really have not an outright lie?

      It would probably depend on the degree of proficiency required for the job.

        So a lie is only a lie when made in reference to a particular job?

        Yes Santa does exist Mr Milkman. Something like that?

    In the end, you dont want to lie at all. Because you'll end up in a job that wants you to use those supposed skills and talents and when you are discovered as a fraud and an amateur at best (for having only done some research the night before), being let go of within a month will be more painfully embarrassing than anything else.

    If you can only be good at one thing, be good at lying… Because if you're good at lying, you're good at everything.

      If you're good at lying, be a politician - the best paying job for a compulsive liar.

    I think there can be circumstances in which the applicant could be serving themselves better by not being 100% explicit with the truth.

    Does that mean that they should lie? No.

    Does that mean that they should not lie? Well, that's really a decision for them to make.

    Sometimes, in life, you do have to make sacrifices and do have to bend your principles in order to ensure that you have an income. Sometimes lying is justifiable. Mostly it's not. But I don't wish to be overly moralistic.

    I would strongly advise against lying in almost every case - but there are exceptions although I would say relatively few of them.

    I would say that a lot of recruiters / employers will not only be able to spot a lie from a mile away, they will also check for lies via reference checks, questions and testing. In addition, a lot of recruiters / employers will appreciate honesty - and may overlook negatives aspects of your application when it is clearly shown that you acknowledge the weakness at hand.

    Honesty is almost always the best policy.

    Unless of course you want to waste your time, the employers time and put yourself in potentially embarrassing situations.

    Instead of lying, why not spend your time and effort overcoming whatever weaknesses you have so that you don't feel the need to lie.

    Lying will always catch up with you, so don't lie about information you have to provide.

      Lots of companies do background checks now. If you lie they will probably find out anyway. Consequences could be much worse causing impediment to future employment.

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