“People need good lies. There are too many bad ones.” Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Aren’t all resumes truthful? Must resumes be true?

Say what?

If there ever was a place for alternative versions of the truth, resumes are frustratingly close to truth. In the business world, truthful, so-help-me-God resumes are written selfies, designed to meet excesses of self-expression without revealing the bothersome nits and nats that are actually truthful.

The real question about resumes is not whether they are truthful, but rather whether they’ve been dressed up well enough to get the job without crossing that ethical line known as out-and-out deception.

In a revealing article by Clinton D. Korver, published in the Harvard Business Review,[1] the statistics cast a dim light on resume writers’ cavalier attitudes toward truth. “Over 50% of people lie on their resume. A Monster.com blog about the dangers of lying on your resume elicited 60 comments from job seekers recommending lying, and only 46 discouraging it. Recommenders justified lying by claiming everyone else is doing it, companies lie about job requirements, and it’s hard to get a good job. Executives caught lying on their resumes often lose their jobs. Consider the high profile exits at Radio Shack, MIT, Notre Dame, and Herbalife.”

A survey from CareerBuilder of over 2,500 hiring managers found that “56% have caught job candidates lying on their resumes. The most common fib seems to be embellishing skills or capabilities; 62% of respondents say they’ve come across this, and 54% say they’ve caught applicants taking liberties when describing the scope of their responsibilities. A quarter have seen people who claim to be employed by companies they never really worked for.”[2]

Otto von Bismarck said, “people never lied so much as after a hunt, during a war, or during an election”. Had Otto lived in the 21st century he would likely have added “on submitting job applications” as a fourth category for circumstance where people lie.[3] The norm now is an understanding that job applicants put their best foot forward rather than their quaint sense of truth. A six-month study conducted in 2006 by resumedoctor.com found that 42.7% of 1,000 resumes submitted for positions ranging from entry level to executive positions had one or more significant errors.[4] How many were untrue was not studied. How many were simple misrepresentations was avoided.

If as the data suggest, many job applicants lie to get the job, where are ethical lines drawn? It would seem that truth in resume writing, like in climate change, is inconvenient. Plausibility, not accuracy, is the test. But in the real world, you have to write truthfully while taking advantage of business norms. There is wiggle-room. Head hunters advise against telling big lies. Smaller ones go unnoticed. Fake it until you get the job, then bury the resume. Little misstatements are traditional in tight job markets. If you don’t embellish, you don’t get the job.

It’s like the job of doing nothing, as opposed to chastity, which is the job of nothing doing.

The question posed above was “must we write only truthful resumes?” The answer—apparently not.

[1] https://hbr.org/2008/05/the-ethics-of-resume-writing-2  May 19, 2008.

[2] http://time.com/money/3995981/how-many-people-lie-resumes/

[3] https://www.prevuehr.com/resources/insights/the-truth-about-resumes/

[4] Ibid.