Admit it: You’ve been tempted before to exaggerate a little bit on your resume. Everyone does it, right? Embellishing just a tiny bit won’t be the end of the world, plus you’ve got a good reason to do it.
The truth is you know your resume needs work, but you’re not sure where to start. Its job is to shine the best possible light on you. After all it is a marketing document (not your life story), but you don’t want to get yourself in trouble. How do you determine where that line is? How can you be sure you don’t cross it?
The Fine Line Between Bragging and Lying On Your Resume
There are a few key lessons, insights, and questions that will help you find clarity on this.
1) Point of View
There’s a difference between lying and seeing something through a different frame, or in a different light.
First decide what you want your resume to do. I don’t mean the obvious “Get me an interview,” or “Get me a job.” Assume it’s already going to do that. I mean, you’re one of the few people who reads resume blog posts in their free time!
Take it a step further.
If you had to choose one of these outcomes for your resume, which one would it be?:
- Make the person reading it fall out of their chair.
- Impress the person reading it to the point that they nod and say “Wow!”
- Intrigue them to the point where they have questions, like “I wonder how he’d do with our __ issue right now?”
A resume is a sales letter that needs to sell your experience. So how do you take your resume to the next level without lying?
2) Enter Examples:
Hiring managers have been lied to before and have ways to test if you’re lying in your resume or interview, including reference checks and skills tests. But you don’t need to lie. You need to tell the truth — the best possible truth.
Here’s the kind of difference that makes:
- Worked at a grocery store, stocked shelves, handled cash, etc.
- Took responsibility for aisle displays and increased product sales by 15%.
This is true if you did a good job making the aisles look nice by bringing all the cereal boxes to the front on the shelves. When I worked at Thrifty Foods, this was called “facing the shelves.”
Keep track of your impact on the business while you’re in the job — or, if you don’t have records, call up your old boss for a friendly chat about your performance and what details you might want to include in your resume going forward.
- Worked at furniture store, served customers, opened and closed, etc.
- Assumed responsibility for in-store marketing and increased furniture sales by 10%.
This may simply be because you arranged the furniture in a way people could imagine it being used in their homes. IKEA does a good job of this. Did you take this kind of initiative at your old job?
- Managed outbound email campaigns.
- Increased open and click through rates (CTR) by an average of 20%.
Fortunately, this kind of information is easy to find and share.
If a line is going to get crossed, it’ll get crossed somewhere in the transition from 1 to 2. Bullet 1 sounds like what you hear on everyone’s resume (boring and inexperienced). Bullet 2 shows a good understanding of business and how things work.
Who would you rather hire?
3) How to Test Where the Line Is For You
Ask yourself these questions before clicking “Send:”
- Could you talk about any bullet in an interview without reservations?
- If asked about it, what would you say?
- Would you get nervous or want to avoid the topic?
- What is the worst-case scenario?
- Is someone going to be able to dig and find out that something you’ve said isn’t accurate, or would it be totally fine?
- Could it blow the job opportunity? Later down the road, could you lose your job or career over it?
5) An Unexpected Way You Can Go Wrong
You can certainly screw things up by stretching the truth too much, but did you know you can also screw it all up by being too honest? In extreme cases, it can also make you sound dumb.
Imagine a bullet point that said “Watched movies and complained about bad management.” While we both know this bullet point is probably true for a lot of people, I hope no one ever writes that. Sounding amateur and boring on your resume is something you know you don’t want.
Imagine being 100% confident that your bullet points sound great and that you can address any of them with confidence when you’re asked about them. Get to work and try it now.
Re-vamp your bullets to show you have a firm grasp on how business works. Then put them to the test by asking the questions on the above test, and you’re all set.