You are in the interview.  The interviewer pulls out your resume with some bullets circled.   “So Priya, tell me more about the time you…”  Awkward pause.  “Uh….uh…” followed by a lot of fluff.   You may have 25 minutes left on the clock, but in the mind of the interviewer, this interview just ended.

Like a witness caught lying on the stand, not being able to speak authoritatively to what is on your resume erodes your credibility as a candidate.  And it happens more than you think – even to really good candidates.  But speaking to your experience in an interview should not be a game of Trick or Treat!

Here are five tips to avoid ending up in the interview graveyard:

  1. Actively review your resume prior to any interview! This seems like a no-brainer, right?  But how many people actually do it?  You are busy reading up on the company, thinking about your most important projects and accomplishments, but oftentimes, we don’t actually go back and look at what is on the resume.  This is particularly problematic if you haven’t interviewed in a few years and/or you don’t update your resume on a regular basis.   Bottom line: you need to be able to speak to and explain anything that is on your resume.
  2. Eliminate Outdated Material. This one is a big culprit.   Many people, even those who are good about updating their resume, fall prey to adding on new items as they gain new experience.   What they fail to do, however, is to go back through and cull and weed out old or outdated information.  But what was fresh in your mind ten years ago may be a distant memory today.  Another good reason to periodically cull the resume is to eliminate redundancy over several positions.   We get it, you’re an auditor, you don’t have to mention six different times that you “evaluated and tested internal controls.”
  3. Resist the Temptation to Over-Embellish. Like driving 5-10 miles over the speed limit, it’s common and understood that candidates are going to push the envelope a little bit when presenting their experience and accomplishments.  But the line between mild embellishment and misrepresentation is a thin one.   If in doubt, ask yourself, “Would this stand up to cross-examination?   Would my references corroborate what I am putting on my resume?”
  4. Eliminate the Filler. Sometimes candidates, especially early in their career, feel a need to fill up the page.  This leads to a temptation to fill your resume with items and buzzwords that may be “hot topics de jour” but with which you really don’t have legitimate experience.  Rule of thumb: use as much space as you need, but not more.
  5. Waiting Until the Recruiter Calls with Your Dream Job to Update the Resume. The resume is a living and breathing document.  It needs to be updated and culled at a minimum twice per year (quarterly is even better).  Each time you go through the resume, ask yourself if a particular bullet/item is still significant or relevant.  Your resume should be a really tight document that gives a flavor of what you have done, and accentuates your accomplishments.  If you can’t speak about it clearly and intelligently, it doesn’t belong on your resume!

Lastly, some quick rules on listing certifications.   You cannot present yourself as having a certification unless you actually currently hold the certification.  Passing the exam, or having held the certification in the past, is not the same as being certified.  It is acceptable to note that you have passed the exam, or that you held the certification but that it is no longer active.   Also, avoid writing that you are “pursuing” X certification unless you have passed part of the exam, or are at the very least scheduled to take the exam.