Picture this scenario: You are applying for your dream job. The only issue is that the job posting calls for a candidate who has a “minimum of three years of teaching experience.” You have two. However, you want to make yourself appear like the most qualified candidate because there are likely dozens of other applicants vying for the role. So, on your résumé, you write that you have three years of teaching experience. You tell yourself it isn’t exactly lying. It’s just stretching the truth a tad, right?
You immediately get called for an interview. You are ecstatic. You make it through several rounds of interviews and then it finally comes time for the job offer. The recruiter tells you that she has to verify one small thing: “Your reference told me you were at your teaching position for two years. But you wrote on your résumé that you were there for three. Which is it?” Within seconds, not only have you lost the chance of landing your dream job, but you have burned a bridge with your former teaching supervisor as well.
If you have lied on your résumé or in the job search process, you are not alone. According to one study, 78% of job seekers "misrepresent themselves" during the hiring process. As a professional career coach and résumé writer, I always advise my clients not to exaggerate their skills or experience on their résumé—not even just a little bit. In the short term, it might land you an interview faster. But in the long term, it will likely come back to bite you.
When I have a client ask about how to market skills on their résumé, I often give them an example from my own background. Early in my career, I was applying for a sales job at a French company. The fact that I speak French is what got me excited about the position.
In the job posting, one of the qualifications was the ability to speak and write fluently in French. Immediately, I found myself in a conundrum. I will admit I was tempted to write “fluent in French” on my résumé. After all, I speak French fairly well, and I can also write in French, albeit not so well. In the end, I chose to write “conversational French” on my résumé because I felt like it more accurately reflected my skill level. I wound up getting the job even though I did not have the level of language skills that the employer was seeking.
Upon starting the job, I was incredibly relieved that I had been honest about my skill level as I was asked to write professional emails in French. Instead of expecting me to do it by myself, my manager had me work with a native French speaker on our team who checked my emails before I sent them out to make sure they were grammatically correct. Had I lied on my résumé, I would have been expected to write the emails by myself, and I would have been in a very awkward situation, to say the least!
If you find yourself in a situation where you want to market your background in the most transparent way possible, but you are not quite sure how to do it, I’ll give you some examples below:
Let's say you have taken coursework toward a degree or program, but you did not finish it. Should you list the degree on your résumé? I do not recommend listing the degree if you have not completed it. Instead, you can write “In Progress” if you are actively working toward graduation. However, if you are no longer pursuing your education, you can list something like “Relevant Coursework” or “Relevant Training” and list the courses you completed.
For situations involving skills, you can use qualifiers like “beginning knowledge of,” “basic knowledge of” or “intermediate skill level” to accurately reflect your competency level.
Back to our original scenario, what if a job posting states a minimum amount of experience, for example, five years, but you only have four? I would still encourage you to apply for the position but be honest about your years of experience. If an employer likes you and you are an overall fit for the job, there is a decent chance they will make an exception and interview you.
When you are sitting down to write your résumé, pay attention to your gut. If you have a nagging feeling that something is not right as you type, it’s a good sign that something might need to be modified on your document. Honesty is always the best policy when it comes to writing your résumé. Your long-term career will thank you!