Honesty is the best policy

???????Recently a client contacted me with the following question:

I recently interviewed with an agency recruiter who said that I should put that I have an MA degree on my resume because I have completed all the coursework but haven’t written my dissertation. He also recommended that I exaggerate the work I did at one of my jobs. What do you think?

I hold strong to the belief that George Washington was right when he said “I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree.”  Above all, your integrity is the most essential asset you bring to the table. Don’t sacrifice it for a slim chance of getting a job interview. If you misrepresent yourself on your resume, what ‘little white lie” while you tell in an interview, or on the job? We naturally get upset when we learn that some politician lied when their campaign materials state that he is a Viet Nam War veteran when actually he sat out the war because he had flat feet, potentially two lies in this one.

While I caution against lying and exaggerating achievements, I do encourage clients to represent themselves in the best light possible.  I will assume that your graduate work is directly related to the job you seek.  Otherwise, there is no need to include it at all.  If you are still pursuing your MA, working on your dissertation, then you should list your education as “MA in progress, anticipated December 2013” or just “MA anticipated December 2013.” If you gave up on it years ago, you may use “MA Coursework completed.” By including the qualifying phrases immediately beside the degree, you make it clear that you haven’t quite made it.

Regarding exaggerating your work, it is difficult for me to tell without specifics.  Here again, I encourage marketing yourself positively but fall clearly short of untruths or misrepresentations. There are certain keywords that you can use to play up your accomplishments, but be careful not to overstate them. For example, let’s say that you are not a manager but you have coordinated the work of several people in order to complete a project. It was your responsibility to define the project scope, to delegate tasks among your colleagues, and to track quality and progress in order to keep the project on schedule. You should not say, “Managed team of five analysts in completing such-and-such project on time.” However, you may put it this way, “Project managed team of five analysts to deliver such-and-such project on time, defining project scope, delegating tasks, and tracking quality and progress.”

Project management is a very common skill that employers are seeking these days as they are less interested in people management skills. Having this phrase in your resume will help you when applicant tracking systems are searching for specific keywords. Additionally, listing the specifics will tell the hiring manager which phases of project management you have performed. If, in fact, you were also responsible for keeping the project on budget and you did so, add that in as well.

So, you can see that there are ways to highlight your achievements without misstating them.

Mauri in Orange BlouseHi my name is Mauri, and I am the President of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. I recently was invited to participate on a panel discussion at NCHRA’S Annual HR West Conference. I consult with career centers at universities including UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Tulane University, Mills College, and others, and contribute regularly to publications such as TheLadders RecruitBlog. I am what some might consider a professional “people person.”

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