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Lawyers: Why You Shouldn't Embellish Your Resume

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on October 14, 2014 12:49 PM

By now, we all know that you shouldn't just out-and-out lie on your resume. You shouldn't make up a university or a job experience; employers can easily find out about those. But what about taking a little bit of poetic license with your job descriptions? Like inflating the importance of a job you had?

Your goal as a resume embellisher is to make the interviewer think that you did something much more important than you did, without ever saying specifically what you did. This requires being a little vague to begin with -- which isn't in your favor even before the interview phase because employers don't want vague statements in resumes or cover letters; they want specific, concrete examples.

Still, many people do it. According to a 2008 CareerBuilder survey, 38 percent of employees had lied about their job responsibilities. But the consequences if you're caught can be pretty severe.

At the Interview

Say that, on your resume, you claimed that you "worked on several trials," when in fact all you did help other attorneys prepare for trials where they were the ones in court. Your description isn't technically untrue, but it's not an innocent mistake either, because you know -- and you hope -- that the interviewer will think that "worked on several trials" means something more grandiose than writing motions.

The first problem comes at the interview, where the interviewer says, "Tell me about one of your trials." Uh oh. Now you've got to somehow explain what you did, without lying, that makes it sound different from what you actually did. Hiring managers will be able to spot embellishment right from here, probably because you refuse to talk about actual trials (because if you did, it would turn out that your version of trial practice is different from the interviewer's). Precious little raises a red flag more than a vague response to a question about a specific instance. (Oh, and if they give you a skills test at the interview? You're on your own, buddy.)

After the Interview

So you made it through the interview by exploiting a gray area -- and the interviewer didn't catch on that you were being creative with your job description. That still doesn't take care of what your old boss might say when your interviewer calls him. "What? Trial work? Yeah, he made trial binders, so I guess that counts." Uh oh. Now the interviewer knows that you were being a lot less than honest -- and he won't like that. Employers don't even need to talk to prior employers; they can just do background checks to find things out, too.

Your First Day on the Job

Assuming you made it through the first two hoops without being caught, you're in for a whole new problem on Day One of your new job. You've claimed to have all sorts of experience -- but what happens when you really don't? You'd better be a quick learner because, for the first several weeks, you're going to be on a de facto probationary period where the employer decides if you're really a good fit.

Moral of the story? Don't embellish on your resume. It wastes everyone's time and makes you look dishonest -- which is the worst possible thing you want to be when looking for a job.

Editor's Note, October 6, 2015: This post was first published in October 2014. It has since been updated.

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