If you’ve ever read any career advice or spoken with a career counselor for more than a minute, you know that there’s one big job-seeking no-no: lying on your resume. And yet, people are still doing it. It seems like once a year, we read a story about a CEO whose resume fibs caught up with him, costing him his job and reputation. Closer to home, you’ve almost certainly had friends assure you that everyone lies on their resume, and that it’s not a big deal.
Make no mistake: Lying on your resume is a big deal, and the odds are that you’ll get caught. As Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
If you’ve been tempted to give yourself a more impressive job title, stretch your dates of employment, or claim expert-level skills with a tool you’d barely recognize in the wild, don’t beat yourself up. It’s a competitive market out there, even if the economic tides (finally) seem to be turning in our favor, and it’s not strange that you’d want to make yourself appear like the best possible candidate for the job.
The good news is that you can do that without lying. Here are three strategies to try:
Put your biggest accomplishments first.
Is your resume still a timeline of your job history? It might be time to change that. While many recruiters do like to see a work history with few gaps or abrupt job changes, there’s no need for your resume to read like the outline of your autobiography.
Recruiters and hiring managers spend mere seconds reading your resume, and you need to make them count. Your best option is to put your most impressive skills and accomplishments first, where HR can’t miss them.
To do this, you might consider moving from a chronological to a functional resume; this format puts your best foot forward, without stretching the truth. If your work history is pretty consistent, and you want to highlight that as well, consider a combined format that allows you lead with your accomplishments.
Perfect your story.
Most people who lie on their resume probably aren’t trying to put one over on a board of directors: they’re just trying to get past the Applicant Tracking System and into the “maybe” pile on a recruiter’s desk. Changing your job title, for example, can seem like a good way to do that. After all, if you’ve stayed at the same place for a number of years, and your employer isn’t great at promoting from within, chances are that you’re doing way more than your business card indicates.
Resist the temptation. Job titles are one of the easiest things for a recruiter to verify. In fact, many companies have HR policies that restrict human resources departments from confirming much more than a) the fact that you worked at a company, b) when you were employed there, and… c) your job title. Lie about that, and you could wind up with a rescinded job offer.
A better option: Use your actual job title, and hone the description of your duties so that it reflects your actual role, with the appropriate keywords if possible. So, if you were a marketing associate in title, but a junior content strategist in practice, make sure that your job description on your CV matches what you did all day (and incorporate the term “content strategy” somewhere in there, as well).
Getting your story down is especially important once you’ve made it to the interview stage. Remember that your goal is always to help the hiring manager see how you’ll solve the company’s problems and increase their profitability, so truthfully tailor your description of your work history and accomplishments toward that.
Add new skills in a hurry.
Finally, if you look at your resume and see an obvious hole — skills that someone with your job title, or the next on the ladder, absolutely should have — the best answer is to fill the gap. Most of the time, this doesn’t require a huge time commitment or a lot of money unless you’re contemplating a major career change.
If you’ve got a skill but haven’t had a chance to demonstrate it, volunteer to take on new responsibilities at your current job that will build your experience. You can also see if your current workplace offers paid training sessions or tuition reimbursement.
And while most metro areas have community colleges that offer lower-cost courses, you can often expand your skill set and career horizons without spending a dime or leaving your home, thanks to online learning. The Muse has a roundup of free online courses from sources like Coursera and Codeacademy that are worth checking out, and Trent recently explained how to acquire the 10 most valuable career skills in your free time as well as how to use free resources to learn just about anything.