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Monday, September 1, 2014

Is A Resume Embellishment An Exaggeration Or Lie? Confused?


You're writing your resume and decide to say " I was responsible for growing the business from 100k to 2 million dollars in 1 year." Impressive. But you didn't mention that your company bought another company with 1 million in sales; or that you worked with in a team of 10. you. Is this an embellishment or a lie?   



"When Do Exaggerations and Misstatements Cross the Line?"
When public figures are caught embellishing their accomplishments or qualifications, whether by exaggeration or misstatement, people everywhere express outrage. Indeed, as more and more politicians, CEOs and other big names these days try to make amends for fudging their resumes, incorrectly relating the details of a story or otherwise playing fast and loose with the facts, the general reaction from an increasingly jaded public is: "What were they thinking?"
As it turns out, what they were thinking isn't much different from everyone else. Embellishment is part of human nature, experts say, and almost everyone is guilty of it at one time or another.


Left unchecked, however, exaggerations that seemed innocuous at first could result in serious, potentially career-ending consequences. "[Getting caught] can be devastating; I think it can ruin a person," says Alan Strudler, a professor of legal studies and business ethics at Wharton. That's unfortunate, he adds, "because embellishment is just a human frailty. But once you're caught in a deception, even if it's a common deception, people won't trust you. And once the bond of trust is lost, it's terribly hard to recover."
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    In today's work environment, where no one comes in for a job interview without being Googled first -- and where small talk in the elevator or comments made at a staff meeting are just a Twitter post away from reaching a global audience -- it's easier than ever to get caught in an exaggeration, Wharton experts and others note..
       But the temptation to embellish has also never been greater, they say, as recession-weary workers feel pressured to justify their worth and a 24-hour news cycle demands that leaders have an immediate, sound-bite-ready answer for everything. 

    "The questions come when something happens that breaks the social facade that we're all honest and we're all trustworthy," says G. Richard Shell, a legal studies and business ethics professor at Wharton. "When someone is revealed to have done something selfish, there's a crack in the facade and then everyone has to figure out what that means. Does the crack reveal some sort of venal person, or does it reveal the same sort of hapless person we all are underneath?"


    Finding the Line
    The type of self-deception that most people employ falls in the middle of a spectrum occupied at one end by those who are complete truth-tellers, and as a consequence are often considered "rude and socially inept -- think of a small child telling a dinner guest that she's fat," says Shell -- and at the other end of the spectrum by pathological liars, who occupy a fantasy world that they believe to be real.
    "Self deception is something that everyone is prone to," Shell notes. "There's a lot of research that says if we lack any positive illusions then that is a sign of depression.... We like to think of ourselves as being more important, more skilled and more experienced than we are. When a test comes, and someone asks what your experience is, or what your basis for stating something is, then it's tempting to make something up." Indeed, a 2003 report by the Society of Human Resources Management found that 53% of all job applications contain some kind of inaccurate information. 



    Although only 8% of respondents to a 2008 CareerBuilder survey admitted to lying on their resumes, nearly half of the hiring managers queried said they had caught a prospective hire fabricating some aspect of his or her qualifications. Almost 60% of employers said they automatically dismissed applicants caught making misstatements about their backgrounds.
    The challenge, experts say, is not to cross the line from harmless puffery to a more damaging form of elaboration. In some cases, the limits of what is accepted and what isn't are clear-cut -- few would condone amplifications that break the law, for example, or cause others serious harm. Equally prone to reproach are cases in which company executives or leaders within an organization are found to have included degrees they never earned, or positions they never held, on their resumes, according to Wharton operations and information management professor Maurice Schweitzer." 

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    20 Post a Comment:

    Valentino Martinez said...

    Very interesting subject matter, "...Resume Embellishment..."

    Have you ever worked on a group project where eight people were involved but only three people did all the work? Besides you--who's to say what has been embellished or exaggerated?

    As a career coach and lecturer on the subject of getting and keeping a job and a career on track--I've always recommended, "Never claim anything on a resume, or job application, you cannot effectively defend in an interview." Google, facebook, twitter, drill-down interview techniques and background/reference checks can attempt to ferret out fact from fiction. So, "Don't tempt fate by padding your accomplishments. If you're discovered to be deceptive EVERYTHING you say, and have stated on your resume; and in your interviews will now be suspect", is my counsel. So don't tempt fate.

    If 53% of job applications have something inaccrate in them according to a SHRM quoted research result in 2003--don't be in the bad half of that statistic because employers have so many tools these days to get as close to the truth as possible.

    Valentino Martinez said...

    This article is most useful in that it provides an important warning to job applicants who feel that a little decepition on a job application or resume is not a big deal. It is a BIG DEAL because such fabrications can now follow you forever thanks to being in a googled world.

    oceanflash08 said...

    Valentino,
    You advice is sound. But.. there always is a but :) If you have been unemployed for 99 plus weeks and find that the truth is not getting you work then should omission or exaggeration be an option. Some people even use fictitious jobs with friends as fillers. What are your thoughts?

    Valentino Martinez said...

    Oceanflash08,

    Fiction makes you vulnerable to fact check efforts by employers who hire second party "experts" in checking past employment, education, etc.

    Why put everything at risk on the hope that you will not be discovered? And let's say you get in and do a great job only to be discovered later and get terminated?

    This actually happened on my watch where a retiring USAF Major was hired, later promoted and then termnated because he claimed one degree too many.

    He relocated his family to a new city. His wife quit her job to join him. Their two kids started in new schools...and now they all are in the street, or soon will be.

    This is not Dicken's but this retired USAF Major is dramatically unemployed with the RED FLAG of "TERMINATION" popping up in any background check.

    ...all because he played with fiction, omission, or maybe exaggeration.

    Telling the truth is not only morally smart, it's STRATEGICALLY imparative as the way to go with one's career.

    Kelcey Damage said...

    I would say even omit projects you may have worked in but your prev employer will not support.

    I work in IT, and sometimes unofficial projects, however exiting or impactfull are not intended to be made public through resumes, and will be unconfirmed by employers.

    And ALWAYS state you were part of a TEAM that achieved X result if that's a case. Whenever I was asked for my opinion in hiring people, I looked for those who had physical manifestations of teamwork on their resumes. No one wants a lone wolf, or a credit hog in their work envirronment. These people tend to become toxic to the company culture.

    Doris Appelbaum said...

    It's all about language and the proper use of words. I like "instrumental in" or "participated in" for major projects. Embellish the things you can justify with facts or numbers.

    Anonymous said...

    I would definitely not put anything on a resume and especially on an application that you will not be able to back up including graduating from college. Most companies including my most recent employer took back offers after candidates lied on applications about education and length in job. It stated clearly that this information would be verified so why lose an opportunity by lying.

    Anonymous said...

    I would say the USAF Major definately crossed the line. Lying about a degree is only asking for trouble as that is easily checked with a phone call to the claimed university.

    Anonymous said...

    If everyone or most everyone is embellishing...and you're not, you're at a distinct disadvantage. You will not be able to compete. You will not get an interview. You will not get your foot in the door. You're dead.

    In this world of outsourcing, corruption, lack of integrity in the business world, lack of leadership in the business world, you cannot be a saint.

    Are our top leaders, politicians, business leaders not prone to embellishments ?

    What's amazing is that some of my colleagues have embellished, got the interview, got the job...and get this...are proving to be stellar performers.

    It's called having a high EQ, street smarts.

    Anonymous said...

    I agree to whatever is said and written. Just justify this- I know a person who is working in a very large firm with no actual experience in what he is working in. However he has successfuly shown this experience which is verified with so called second party/third party vendors.....

    I myself have told truths in the interview with results as zero. When the corporate world itself does not want the truth then why give it. Not only that there are so many organizations mushrooming in the market who themselves do not know what they want, inspite of showing the candidate before hiring that they are so serious about the particular job they are hiring, and when you work for them you come to know the truth about them.... What do you say in the market then? The truth---- which nobody believes?

    This is not only about small organizations but the big fishes as well.....

    Anonymous said...

    I worked with a known software company for almost three years. Was awarded twice for my work, however was layed off because of recession. During the process was told to resign, otherwise would be terminated. Well I resigned....

    Whenever I go for an interview I am asked why was I chosen to go when I was doing a good work..... What should I tell--- I did nit have a so called "God Father" or should I tell I did not like licking other's feet?

    ALl these discussions should go to the people who make policies for organizations who I believe themselves are not interested to get the right candidate on board...

    Anonymous said...

    This is life!

    You must flip it around and clinch the job offer.Your bread and butter depends on it.

    white lies are acceptable.

    but not malicious lies.

    Anonymous said...

    The rule of thumb is to put your best foot forward, but always be truthful. You must be able to defend and further explain every item on your resume. We all know those who told complete lies, got the offer and went on to become huge successes. That is the exception and with all the social media available today, this scenario is becoming more like an urban myth. However, there are more stories of those who fabricated, got caught and had to deal with the consequences of their dishonest behavior. Ultimately, what to put on your resume is a personal choice. For me, accurate portrayals are the way to go.

    Terry S said...

    Back in the day, we didn't have the great Web-based writing tools we have today. If we weren't particularly adept at word-smithing, embellishing might be the only rationalized alternative for some. Today, however, even those who have limited writing skills and little creativity can quickly turn a mundane job description into a world-class adventure without embellishing. When I was searching for a job in the late ‘90’s, I kept coming across jobs in the finance sector. Being an “in the trenches” semiconductor design tech, the last thing I wanted was some boring desk job. Then I came across a well-written description of a forensic accounting position that was so intriguing that it started me on the path that brought me here. No embellishment, no lies, no curtains; simply a well written description directed at a particular audience, using keywords, buzzwords and a bit of creative flair. I believe, feeling the need to embellish is a sign of ignorance of the tools available or a sign of laziness for not taking the time to learn the tools.

    Terry S said...

    This comment is directed to the person who worked for the known software company. I'm a 60-year old who tried desperately to find a job. Being unsuccessful, I went back to school and started my own business to support my wife and I while I was in school. After graduating, I joined a group of like-minded people who formed a think-tank to provide solutions for overcoming age-discrimination. I can’t emphasize enough, the power of a think tank to overcoming obstacles such as what you are talking about. In my situation, I voluntarily left a position due to a conflict of personal interest involving fabricating data. In the interview that landed me the best job I ever had, when asked why I would leave a job where I was obviously a good fit, I responded with, “It was time”. I didn’t expound and he didn’t ask but simply nodded in understanding, although he didn’t. This was a solution that came out of practice interviews within our little support group. Today, you can have all the benefits of a great support group while staying behind the curtain of unanimity, within the Cloud.

    Best Business Brands said...

    Resume embellishment, or puffery, includes exaggerating one's admirable qualifications or omitting unfavorable information to the degree of lying.

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    Anonymous said...

    I did just that, i was out of work for two years and my resume was truth BUT not getting any where, i made up a fake employer that i worked iused msn email and free vm box. long story short i got a job in. Month doing that and 15k more than my last. im sorry but when you have a gap of unemployment it goes against you. i love my new job great company. i would still be looking if i had not done it.

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