Fact-Checking Your Resume

Well, I’m not the one to tell you if Romney’s right about that 47 percent. Or if President Obama skips half his intelligence briefings. And the pundits will be fact-checking last night’s presidential debate during the live broadcasts.

But I can tell you that fact-checking is not just for politicians anymore. It’s for you – and your resume. It’s one thing to buff up your accomplishments so you shine. Hey, we’re all a little bit of marketers – we’re around advertising every day. But it’s another to misrepresent yourself and your credentials.

The line between fact and fiction can get blurry – and can really cost you.

Just ask former CEO of Yahoo Scott Thompson (aka Mr. PayPal). Someone checked a fact on his resume and used it to force his ouster from Yahoo.

And Scott Thompson is not alone in faking a college degree. Statistics show that education is the most frequently falsified part of a resume. When I got started in this industry, conventional wisdom was that 20 percent of all candidates had lied about their education. Now, I’m hearing 45 to 50 percent (and that’s from the guy who wrote “Freakonomics”). That’s just mind-boggling. There was even an Ivy League school that got caught up in it. UPenn recently let go a vice dean who had claimed a doctorate from Columbia – even though he had not completed it.

And employers have more and more online resources, making verification just a click away. Of course your potential employer is Googling you, looking at your LinkedIn profile, and maybe Facebook. That goes without saying – you can’t hide your digital dirt anymore. But being asked to show your transcript? Your credentials? That’s becoming standard operating procedure – and you should be prepared to do it…and prepared to answer questions about it. Heck, we’ve even verified earnings (and that’s an area most people would love to inflate!). Many times we remind people that their future employer may ask to see their W2. That goes over about as well as a visit to the dentist.

So, why do people persist in resume fraud? Yes, I know some people are unemployed and desperate, but it’s a lousy career management strategy. It won’t help your career if you’re quickly fired because you can’t handle the job. And the courts have usually said that misrepresentation of educational degrees or professional credentials is grounds for dismissal. People in my firm are on the lookout for this stuff all the time. There are companies out there selling background checks to HR departments across the company.

So, how do I fact-check my resume?

  • Be prepared to answer very detailed questions about everything on there. Go back and look at every word. Did you graduate? Is that really your GPA? Any extra awards or honors in there? (And don’t get me started on diploma mills.) Most employers routinely check education and licenses.
  • Check the employment dates and job titles. When did that promotion come through? Did you start with that title from day one? Have a gap in employment you’re trying to downplay? Are all your employers in there? While flipping burgers in high school is not relevant, what you’ve done post college is.
  • Job performance is another common area of embellishment. I wish I had a dollar for everyone who told me that they single-handedly created that award-winning campaign, or saved the client. If you claim you improved results by 50 percent, have the facts to back it up. Especially in our media world – it’s a small world and you can expect that the hiring manager is checking you out through informal channels.
  • Claim a tech skill? HTML5 listed? CSS? SVG? Expect to demonstrate your knowledge – and it may be to someone who really knows what they are doing. If you know the basics, it’s fine to say that you are familiar with it. Make sure your real strengths come through on your resume.

The line between fact and fiction can get blurry and can cost you. Are you embellishing the facts, like a candidate trying to raise money from a reluctant audience? The facts of life are that a little fact-checking goes a long way. For all of us.

Resume image on home page via Shutterstock.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.