Another day; another celebrity brought to disgrace. This time it is Brian Williams who couldn’t resist the temptation to embellish his “resume.” However, the purpose of this piece is not to pile on Brian Williams. The line between self-promotion versus overzealous embellishment is an important one for those working in Corporate America as well – and if you don’t think so, just ask Scott Thompson (CEO of Yahoo for a blink of an eye in 2012, before it was learned that he took credit for a degree he doesn’t possess).
As professionals, we periodically need to make judgments on how we promote ourselves. Some candidates have a very difficult time talking about their achievements and promoting themselves, while others will cross the line in exaggerating or downright fabricating their experience by listing skills and experience they just don’t have.
Being able to self-promote without crossing the line is an important skill. Here are a few tips to guide you along the way:
DO take the time to carefully tease out the accomplishments and achievements throughout your career. Be prepared to speak in clear and concise terms about what you did on a particular project or audit that was noteworthy, how you overcame any obstacles or challenges, and ideally, what was the value-added or success at the end of the project. Be prepared to talk about your particular role and contribution – not just “what the team did.”
DON’T suggest or intimate that you have experience that you really don’t have. You should be able to speak intelligently and confidently to every bullet or item on your resume. Nothing is more embarrassing or damaging in an interview than when the interviewer asks about a particular bullet on your resume and it quickly becomes clear you don’t have the knowledge or experience you are advertising.
DO make sure to list all relevant certifications, credentials and awards.
DON’T list a certification, credential or degree if you don’t actually have it, or if it is not active (it is, however, acceptable to note that you had the certification at one time). I have seen a number of instances of candidates listing a certification that they don’t yet posses (note: taking an exam or a course for an exam is not the same thing as possessing the certification). If this is uncovered during the interview process – or even after hire – it is likely the end of the road for that candidate.
Similarly, I frequently see candidates populate their resume with something like “CPA (or other certification) in progress.” Here is a general rule of thumb: If you have passed the exam (or several parts of an exam) and are accumulating experience, you can make the claim that your certification is “in progress.” If you are just thinking about or planning to sit for the exam, leave it off. (BTW: My Garage Reorganization Project is also “in progress”…going on five years now.)
When dealing with compensation questions:
DO try to avoid tossing out a specific number early in the process. It is fine to be a little vague or generic early on, while at the same time giving the hiring company enough information so as to not be wasting their time with a candidate who may be outside their compensation range.
DON’T fudge, lie, enhance, or otherwise be disingenuous about your compensation. If you are asked questions directly about your current compensation package, either on an application or during the interview process, you need to provide accurate information (preferred) or try to avoid answering the question all together. Companies do have the ability to (and sometimes do) verify stated compensation (typically by checking a W-2 or paystub), so providing false or misleading information will likely bring your candidacy to an abrupt and unfortunate ending.