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Lying or Selective Truth

(June 11, 2007) You might imagine that the series on resume lies spawned some interesting feedback. I took the position that the resume process causes job hunters to lie as a part of doing business. Louise Kursmark, the guest author of today's article, took me to task. She said that it wasn't really lying but selective truth telling. I told her that I didn't understand the distinction and asked her to write a piece explaining the difference. Here it is:


Lying on resumes is a no-no. Everybody seems to agree on that, even if "everybody" isn't following that advice; more than half the hiring managers surveyed last fall by CareerBuilder report that they've spotted a lie on an applicant's resume.

But "telling the truth" doesn't mean sharing every job, every experience, and all the details of one's career. As a professional resume writer/career consultant, I get paid to help candidates select, polish, and present the most relevant and powerful truths that support their career goals.

I also spend a lot of time examining what it's like from the recruiter's and employer's position awash in resumes, trying desperately to determine if somewhere on that paper or in the resume databank are the skills and experience they are looking for.

For both the candidate and the employer, then, it's a plus to leave the nonessentials off the resume.

That said, there's no getting away from the fact that scores of job seekers feel uncomfortable about presenting the "selective" truth. They feel they're not being wholly honest and are uneasy about presenting a partial view of their histories. Of course, this discomfort affects their interview presentation, as they go in feeling dishonest, defensive, or afraid they'll get "caught" having left something off their resume.

Perhaps the best approach is to educate job seekers on what a resume is and isn't, to help them appreciate what we mean by selective truth.

A resume is not:

  • A biography. (The last one I read, The Power Broker, was 1200 pages and took me months to finish. Employers just don't have time or interest in this depth of information.)
  • A career obituary. (A resume shouldn't be a memorial but rather a promise of what's to come.)

A resume is:

  • A marketing document. (It is designed to entice interest and further inquiry. It's the advertisement, not the prospectus.)
  • A snapshot of one or a few facets of who you are. (You can't possibly do justice to the "whole you" in a couple of pages. Key in on what's relevant and meaningful for the job and save the rest for your other personal and professional relationships.)
  • A message to employers that you know what's important to them. (They don't care that you were valedictorian of your kindergarten class; they do care that you made money, saved money, increased efficiency, satisfied customers, and so on for your past employers.)
  • Your one good shot at getting attention in a crowded, competitive market. (Thus, it's essential to give readers information they care about and make it easy for them to find what they're looking for.)

Another way to look at it is to consider the resume just the start of a relationship. First impressions and surface information set the stage do we have something in common? and then further discussions lead to a more meaningful connection. As Bogie put it, "this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Don't try to force the pace by sharing too much information too soon.

In a competitive job market, being selective helps in being selected.


Louise Kursmark is a resume writer and career consultant who works directly with senior-level executives to help them tell their stories in a way that's meaningful and compelling. The author of 18 books on resume writing and career management, she is a frequent speaker on career topics from both sides of the interview desk. Louise was the first person worldwide to earn the Master Resume Writer credential. She can be reached via her website, www.yourbestimpression.com 

John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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