Everyone’s Doing It
Looking to fall behind? Then tell the truth.
By Joshua Castro, Penn State University
Getting a job, as you’ve probably constantly been reminded, is all about selling yourself to whoever happens to be glancing over your resume.
We all know those people who constantly preach that they don’t care what other people think, but, in this case, that sentiment can’t be held as truth. Everyone, when applying for jobs, for better or worse, becomes that self-conscious friend who feels compelled to exaggerate their sex life. Studies show, on average, that an employer will look at your resume for about six seconds and decide within that short window of time whether you are right for the job or not. That should terrify you; but, it should also inspire you to make your resume as attractive as possible.
But, what type of information makes you stand out from everyone else? In this case, you must act like a shady car salesman—you have to viciously bend, but not break, the truth.
Many of us students have had the experience of working at an internship or part-time job, where you could have sat in the bathroom stall for five hours a day and no one would have noticed. You may have brought your co-workers some pizza pies and a coffee or two, but all of it could have been done without you. These are the kind of jobs that you took to build your resume, but, in hindsight, were just a step above useless. You most likely didn’t learn all that much, and definitely didn’t contribute to the overall success of your employer. You were merely there a few days a week, putting time in so you could discuss your experience with a much more important job recruiter in the future.
Now, what do you write about this internship on your resume when applying for that full-time job?
This is when most of us are guilty of crossing the border from hyperbole into lying. You must, if you want to make that six seconds of attention your resume receives valuable, essentially lie about what you did during your summer internship. For example, if you once told your boss what time it was, that has to make its way onto your resume in the form of, “Aided in managing the time schedule of an executive.” If you picked up the mail every day on your way into the building, that has to appear as, “Transported important documents from ground directly to desk of management.” Even if you just sat at your desk and played Sudoku for three hours, you have to write, “Successfully handled and ordered complex numbers into a concise order.”
There is a reason that this may strike you as a bit suspect—that’s because it is. You are, through the medium of you resume, lying directly to someone’s face. However, you can take solace in the fact that it is also a necessary evil.
It is not your fault that a resume has an average life span of six seconds. How else are you to get someone’s attention in that short timespan without a bit of flashing lights and blazing headlines. This technique is used everywhere, so, why should you not also use it in this instance? A journalistic headline has a similar amount of time to get readers to take notice of an article. So, because of this, loud noises and other absurdities must be implemented to get eyeballs on the outlet; people seem to have accepted this as fact. A salesman has a split second to entice you into buying a product, so they may exaggerate the item’s discount a bit, which is a common practice. So, why should you not do the same on your resume? You’re not lying, you are simply selling yourself by putting your work in the best light possible.
Also, when exaggerating on your resume, know that everyone else is doing the same. There is no reason to think that you’ll be called out by an employer, or have a background check run on you that will reveal you for the fraud that you are. Everything will turn out fine, with only one catch—you must be able to discuss your “experience” in an interview.
This is where some people run into trouble. For the most part, what you’ve written is complete crap. You didn’t even do three-quarters of the things that they think you did. But, as long as you can discuss how the work you were given helped you to grow and expand your abilities as an employee, you’re in the clear. For this, I suggest having a little story prepared in your head before you walk in. It’s ok to preempt interview questions and have a few answers already rough drafted in your head.
So, if that dreaded moment does come when an employer asks you to tell them about that internship where you, “Spent many hours a day discussing the current company strategy” (talking sports with your cubicle mate), you have something intelligent to say that doesn’t make what you’ve presented on paper seem like a complete lie. Make sure that you have enough to get by without someone catching on to the fact that you just spun around in your desk chair all day. And, if they do eat up what your saying, you’ll be happy you took the risk of exaggerating your experience.
Just know that it is the fault of the recruiters, not you, that you are in this troubling position. Taking only six seconds to review a resume is absurd, and, in turn, prompts absurd responses from potential employees. If resumes were looked at with actual consideration for their content, rather than their aesthetics, then the workforce would be a much more honest space. In reality, recruiters shoot themselves in the foot when searching for the “right” candidate. Just like during a speed date, they can never be sure if they really found “the one,” and since this culture of six-second decisions has been encouraged by all the recruiters that I’ve spoken to, I don’t see the practice ending any time soon.
In public, the question of whether or not you lied on your resume is answered in a very politically correct way. No one wants to say that they didn’t actually do what their resume claims that they did. If you asked me in front of my boss if you should lie on your resume, my reply would be, of course not. Never lie, that will only lead to trouble and could eventually result in the detriment of the company. But, make no mistake about it, you better stretch the truth.