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
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.
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.
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