As an experienced professional in your industry, you’ve recently discovered an ideal prospect for secure, long-term employment. To position yourself as a competitive applicant, how far can you enhance your resume without going beyond the bounds of ethics?

Consider a few conflicting thoughts:

  • Studies suggest that adding extra skills or experiences on resumes is a common practice, with some reports indicating that up to 50% of job seekers admit to stretching the truth in some way.
  • Human resource managers have caught a lie on a resume, ranging from inflated job titles to falsified employment dates.
  • When detected lying on their resumes, executives frequently lose their jobs.  

You are most likely not lured by obvious lies if you are reading this blog. However, what about this:

  • Claiming a degree you did not get because you completed the most of the work and were only a few credits short.
  • Making up a more impressive job title because you were handling every aspect of the role already.
  • Taking credit for a team’s contributions since other members did not carry their fair share.
  • Exaggerating how many individuals or how many different tasks you were directly in charge of because you actually had a lot of influence on them 

These are called rationalizations – constructing a justification for a decision you suspect is really flawed. By devising specious but self-satisfying reasons for acting you purposefully blur right and wrong. You create a story that is seemingly legitimate, but upon any close examination doesn’t hold up. Rationalizations are insidious because you begin to fool yourself. You develop habits of distorted thinking.

So where do you draw the line? Ultimately, it’s a personal decision. Here are some tests to help you think clearly:

  • Other shoe test. How would you feel if you were the recruiting manager, reviewing this resume? What assumptions would you make, and would they be accurate?
  • Front-page test. Would you think the same way if your accomplishment was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal? Or your former employer’s internal newsletter?

But wait, you ask. My resume does not pass these standards, but there is substance behind my statements, and I do not want to undersell myself. 

Ask an old boss when in doubt. Asking an old boss is beneficial even though it could be challenging. It drives you to think carefully and sometimes creatively precisely because it is hard. Asking also helps to confirm the accuracy of your statements, teaches your former employer how to properly represent you in reference checks, and occasionally provides you with improved self-representation strategies.

How do you feel? Is it ever acceptable to make up information on a resume? Share your experiences navigating the fine line between storytelling and deception.

This article has been referenced for HBR. To read the complete article click here

About High Potential Career Planning:

An initiative of ACH, High Potential Career Planning (HPCP) is established with a mission to mentor professionals in their search for career development and growth. We provide personalized mentorship programs, which can help individuals have a fulfilling career

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