You need to make sure your resume shows you in your best light; give shape to the truth so that it works for you. But be careful, because a well-written resume to one person is a pack of lies to another. Make sure yours falls somewhere in between, which is no small feat. We all know there is such a thing as stretching the truth too much. But there is also such a thing as being too honest.
My 21-year-old brother, Erik, worked summers at Blockbuster Video where, predictably, none of the mostly-teenaged employees followed company rules. In a fit of productivity my brother rearranged the end caps to be in line with the standards sent from company headquarters. At the same time, store sales increased 10%. So (as the family resume writer) I wrote on his resume, “Assumed responsibility for in-store marketing and increased sales 10%.”
At a family dinner, we passed around Erik's resume (yes, we do this in our family). My 34-year-old brother, Mike, said, “Are you kidding me? This is such crap. No one will believe this.”
Erik kept that line in his resume, and he explained it well when challenged in interviews, most recently where he landed a job at an investment bank.
And anyway, what is Erik going to put on his resume? “Spent workdays watching movies and complaining about Blockbuster's no-porn policies?” It would be honest, but Erik would sound like a lunatic.
Someone who is too honest sounds like a lunatic because they seem to have no understanding of how the world works. Here's an example: When my family was in US Customs after a trip to Greece, the Customs guy said, “Any fruit, vegetables or live animals?” And my dad said, “Yes.” And everyone else in the family thought, “What? We have no food.” And then my dad pulled seashells we found. “There could be live animals,” he said. The customs guy immediately went on high alert the way customs guys are trained to do when they are dealing with a crazy person. Customs searched every inch of every one of our suitcases.
Some lies, though, are not in the gray area that seashells are. Some lies are just plain lies. And if you have a big lie on your resume, you need to clean it up. For example, maybe you say on your resume that you worked at IBM for two years, but really you only worked there for one and spent a year job hunting and making web pages for you mom's bridge group. In this case, you need to tell the truth about IBM: one year.
But you don't have to leave a yearlong gap. Be creative. Call yourself a project manager for the year you had no job. You can learn about yourself as you rework your resume — maybe you didn't think of yourself as a project manager, but actually, you were.
We can also learn about ourselves from the lies we tell. I know at least one of you writes on your resume that you played varsity football when really you just went to pep rallies. Not only do you need to delete that line in your resume, you need to see a shrink about your obsession with football.
My dad was visiting my apartment one day, rifling through my papers, as parents will do. And he said, “What's this on your resume about a master's thesis on electronic media? You can't say this. You never finished grad school.”
I said, “It's not a lie. I did write the master's thesis. I just never took the last class I needed to graduate.”
My dad was not swayed. And I'm sure he shudders to think he raised a kid who would sneak shells past customs. But at least I know my own limits.
When it comes to massaging the truth, no two people have the same limits. But you need to be very clear on your own limits so you can stay within them. In the mean time, make sure that your own resume is not so honest that you look like a loser and not so dishonest that you're going to be fired.