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Understand Smart Resume Packaging vs. Exaggeration

Understand Smart Resume Packaging vs. Exaggeration

To get ahead in a competitive entry-level job market, some college students are giving serious thought to the unthinkable: Lying or wholesale exaggeration on their resumes.

As one Monster member puts it:

"I'm graduating this May, but even back in 10th grade, one English teacher, who was actually more down-to-earth than most, looked at my resume and muttered, 'Well, I guess it's a good thing you're honest.' Honesty? I'm almost ready to start lying on my applications. At least if I get thrown in jail for fraud, I won't have to worry about not being able to afford rent."

Stick to the Truth

Lying on your resume is truly a bad idea, and not just for ethical reasons, which by themselves ought to stop you, but also because you'll almost certainly get caught eventually. While you may not "get thrown in jail for fraud," you will likely lose your job -- immediately.

But lying or exaggerating on a resume brings up a related issue. Many entry-level job seekers err in the other direction and downplay their skills and accomplishments on their resumes. After all, the point of a resume is to present your skills and abilities to a prospective employer in the best way possible.

That means learning to find the happy medium between unintentional modesty and over-the-top exaggeration and hype. The best way to do that is to take a look at a few examples.

Find 'Just Right'

To paraphrase Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you're looking not for too little or too much, but for just right. Note the differences in these resume entries, one for a waitress position and the other for an IT help-desk job:

The Classic Undersell

Restaurant Worker, Sam's Kitchen, Anytown, VA.

  • Seated customers and waited on tables.
  • Worked with others to make sure restaurant ran smoothly.  

You've Gone Too Far

Dining Experience Liaison, Sam's Kitchen, Anytown, VA.

  • Managed customer traffic flow and oversaw table-by-table meal preparation and delivery.
  • Coordinated hiring and training of new restaurant employees.

Just Right

Waitress/Hostess, Sam's Kitchen, Anytown, VA.

  • Served an average of 35 customer tables per eight-hour shift, ensuring all patrons received their meals promptly and solving problems immediately as they arose.
  • Trained six new restaurant employees and participated actively in interviews with four candidates for waitstaff positions.
  • Promoted to Hostess after just three months on the job. 

The Classic Undersell

Computer Lab Worker, Anywhere University, Anywhere, CA.
August 2008-May 2010

  • Helped users with computer problems.

You've Gone Too Far

Technology Manager, Anywhere University, Anywhere, CA.
August 2008-May 2010

  • Oversaw technology usage among students, faculty and staff campus-wide.

Just Right

Help-Desk Assistant/Leader, Anywhere University, Anywhere, CA.
August 2008-May 2010

  • Solved computer problems via phone and email for students, faculty and staff of widely varying technical abilities; assisted approximately 25 users per week on average.
  • Promoted to Help Desk Leader following successful completion of A+ certification. 

Know the Fine Line

If too understated, a resume can appear weak. On the other hand, a "too much" version has the power to end your candidacy before, during and even after you have joined a company, with long-lasting and unpleasant results.

Learn and respect the fine lines between smart resume packaging, ineffective understatement, and unacceptable exaggeration or outright lying. Sooner or later, deceptions will catch up with you, and then even your best fiction writing won't save you.

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