Keeping It Real When Looking for a New Job

Does coaching your daughter's soccer team count as management experience? If you've added clip art to PowerPoint presentations, are you a graphics artist? If you have written online restaurant reviews, does that make you a legitimate restaurant critic?

You might be surprised what pops up on résumés these days. Many job-seekers have been instructed to make past accomplishments seem substantial. But you can easily cross a line between real and exaggerated.

Why you shouldn't lie

Whether working with recruiters or human resource specialists, the truth will be usually discovered through interviews, background and reference checking.

Discoveries about dishonest resumes can happen even after you are hired and at any level of the organization. Do you remember the CEO of RadioShack, David Edmondson, being asked to step down in 2006? Obviously, being asked to leave your company for dishonesty or ethics issues is much worse than not getting the job at all. How do you explain at your next interview why you left your last job? Will the dishonesty become a vicious circle of lies?

What you should do instead

As you highlight your past experiences, use facts to paint the picture of how big a contribution you've had. Good interviewers can draw their own conclusions about the magnitude of the project or your aptitude in a certain skill set. They will often ask questions about measurable results, application of tools, and actual time lines. Be prepared to talk about specifics and your true role on projects. Remember, there's a vast difference between "I led the project" and "I assisted."

In many cases, the truth isn't as bad as you might think. For example, if you've been laid off, you can be honest about it. In this economy, saying you were let go from your last job is not a negative. With one in 10 Americans out of work, this is more common in our work force than before. You can be honest while still presenting yourself in the best light.

One of my colleagues in the resume-writing world, Sheree Van Vreede, notes that: "The honest, straightforward approach is definitely best. My only caveat is that job seekers should think first about how best to present their situation. Find a way to get to the point, and don't offer up details that aren't asked for. You can still be strategic in your response without lying. I believe that is called good marketing."

-- How much should you really be earning?

What to say-- and not say

One of the more common questions that prompts all kinds of interesting answers is: "Why are you looking?" Most prepared interviewees say something like they are "looking for a better opportunity to make a solid contribution." It is such a common answer, it has little value. It almost sounds like you are hiding something.

I'm not advocating admitting, "I hate my boss," if that's the true reason. But I am suggesting you think of additional reasons why a change in employers might be good for you (and the new company). Have you reached a "glass ceiling" in your position? Are you interested in leveraging skill sets you've gained over the years that are not being called upon in your current job? Are you looking to work for a specific type of company and the current one is just a stepping-stone to this one? The same could be said about role and responsibility. Just make sure you are ready to answer the follow-up question: "Can't you find that opportunity within your current company?"

During this process, there will be many choices in how to answer questions and present yourself as a viable candidate. Think through the potential questions ahead of time so you can be a straight shooter in interviews.

But remember: If you're misrepresenting yourself in any way, you are harming your reputation, your future, your relationship with recruiters, and your chances of getting a new job.

Next:Should You Try to Look Younger for Your Job Search? >>

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