Sometimes, it's natural to want to stretch or conceal the truth a bit on a job application or a resume. But should you?
For instance, you may see a question that asks, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" and worry that honestly revealing your criminal past might destroy your employment chances before a hiring manager even looks at your resume. Or perhaps you've been unsuccessfully looking for a job for months, and fear that the reason for your trouble could be a resume that just isn't quite as impressive with all of the people whom you are competing against for jobs.
In either of these cases, though—or in any number of similar scenarios—it's important to always tell the truth on your application materials or in your job interview. Why? First, because most employers aren't just going to take your word at face value, and second, because dishonesty will hurt your chances at landing a job more than truthful comments about criminal history or imperfect resumes ever will.
If you are considering a small fib or two on your next resume or job application, keep the following rules in mind to keep yourself straight.
This rule is probably the most important to remember when it comes to honesty on application materials or in interviews. Virtually all employers these days—from start-ups to small businesses, all the way to huge corporations—require their applicants and employees to complete background checks. In many cases, these screenings aren't just criminal history checks, though those are certainly a part of the process.
On the contrary, pre-employment screenings can also include credit history checks, driving record checks, reference checks with previous employers, verification checks for any educational credentials or professional licenses you may hold, civil history checks, and more. Between these different types of screenings, an employer can check the validity of virtually every part of your resume or application—from whether or not you answered the criminal history question honestly, to whether or not the employment dates you wrote down for your last job were accurate.
Of course, not every employer does background checks in the same way, and not all hiring managers will look to verify every single piece of information you provided on your resume or application. Still, you never know exactly how pre-employment screenings can vary from one business to the next, and it's never worth risking your dream job by trying to sneak a lie or two past your prospective employer.
This point is something else that job searchers often forget. In today's competitive job market, a lot of emphasis is placed on crafting "the perfect resume." Courses are taught on how to build a resume that will land you a job, and many college writing classes even spend part of the semester focusing on resume writing.
But while pursuing the perfect resume is a fine (and even admirable) mission, you should never lose sight of the fact that there really isn't a such thing as a perfect resume. Why? Because everyone's career trajectory is a work in progress. Everyone who is searching for a new job is looking for the next steppingstone in their career, the next challenge, the next qualification to add to their professional history. And that means that everyone has worked a job or two that didn't exactly look impressive on a job application.
One of the most common types of resume fibbing is a stretching of the facts. Job searchers worry that their old job titles are too dull or menial, so they get creative and change the job title to something that looks more professional. In the same sense, applicants will flesh out their job responsibility list with duties that they rarely or never performed, often with the goal of better matching the description for the job opportunity they are seeking.
While these types of resume fibs seem harmless, they really aren't. Think of it from the perspective of the hiring manager: this is a person who has dozens, if not hundreds of resumes to review, and their job—of finding the perfect applicant to fill a vacant position—is difficult enough without having to deal with fabricated information. Even if you manage to land a job by lying about your work experience and skillset, what happens when your employer asks you to perform a task you aren't qualified for? Lying about your experience using a specific piece of software, for instance, can put you in a tough spot in your new job, and could actually get you fired just a few days in.
Different employers can be forgiving about a lot of different things. Many businesses are willing to give chances to young professionals without a ton of experience. Other companies are happy to give ex-offenders a chance, so long as their professional qualifications warrant it and their criminal history doesn't directly conflict with the job at hand.
But there's at least one thing that no employer will accept, and it's dishonesty. If you give your prospective employer a reason not to trust you, then you will not get a job offer – plain and simple. If you wrangle your way into the job by misleading your employer, you will have to worry constantly about your lies being discovered.
Bottom line: don't lie to your prospective employers. If you have to disclose your criminal history, do so honestly and candidly, explain your side of the story, and then try to dazzle the hiring manager with your skills and qualifications. If you think your resume won't stand out from all the others in the stack, then take a look at the job description and try to honestly highlight the elements of your professional history that make you a perfect fit for the job.
Finally, make your truthfulness one of the things that separate you from the competition. After all, in a job market where just about everyone is stretching or bending the truth to get hired, employers will at very least appreciate when all of your resume and job application information checks out during the pre-employment screening.