Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Honesty is the Best Policy for the Job Search

We've all been there - you tell a little white lie to make yourself sound better, or to avoid starting an argument. Or maybe you diffuse a tense situation by altering the truth just a little bit. While standard social graces may dictate when to bend the truth just a little, ("You look great in that dress you just spent $500 on. No, really, you do.") there is a time and place for half-truths like that - and the job search is NOT the time or the place. In fact, when searching for a job or internship, honesty is the only policy to follow. A recent article from Career Builder goes into greater detail about reasons why candidates sometimes lie on their resumes or cover letters - and the alternative, which is to tell the truth:

"Dates of employment
Why job seekers lie: People think it's necessary to cover up or omit potentially negative employment situations like gaps between jobs or short-term employment, Mininni says.
How to spin it: Address discrepancies about dates of employment in your cover letter. Be honest about what you did during the breaks between employments and identify any relevant transferable skills you learned during that time.

"If you've only spent one month at a job, it should still be included in your employment history," Mininni says. More employers are conducting background checks and/or confirming dates of employment, so take a paragraph in your cover letter to say that you're looking for a job where you can really thrive and grow professionally -- you just haven't found it yet.

Why job seekers lie: There are many lies job seekers tell about education: alleging that they attended college when they didn't; declaring a degree at a school they never went to; or claiming to have a degree at all when they really never finished college.
How to spin it: "Companies are looking for the value you bring to the organization and often have 'or equivalent' statements in their job requirements," Mininni says. "If you have the equivalent amount of experience in lieu of a degree, you will want to highlight that experience."

If you went to college but didn't finish, don't focus on the lack of a degree. Instead, outline other education you acquired through professional certifications or company-sponsored education, she suggests.

Experience, accomplishments and job titles
Why job seekers lie: People often inflate previous experience, undertakings and job titles when they apply for jobs where they aren't qualified, Mininni says. "It's interesting how many people don't know their actual titles," she says. "If you don't know, don't guess. Ask your manager."
How to spin it: "If you don't have the required experience, focus on your natural talents. Are you known as the idea generator, the communicator or the process improver? This will be important to highlight and provide examples of how you have demonstrated those natural talents and how it aided the company," Mininni says.

Why job seekers lie: Candidates inflate their salaries in an effort increase their starting offers, Mininni says. Unfortunately, upon checking, the employer discovers the exaggeration.
How to spin it: Keep in mind the responsibilities of the position, the scope and the job market. If you've stayed at your company for 25 years and haven't received market increases, you may be behind the market. Researching what the current market pays is critical in knowing your leverage points when it comes time to talk salary.

Criminal history
Why job seekers lie: Some people lie through omission because the extent of their criminal record is a misdemeanor assault charge from high school. Others lie about more serious offenses. Perhaps they had a drug problem and got their nursing license taken away, or they were jailed for embezzlement.
How to spin it: Own up to the situation or use that experience to reinvent yourself, Mininni says. Look for jobs that don't tie in to your criminal background -- for example, if you had drug issues, don't try to work in medicine, and if you embezzled, don't work with money. Learn to use your skills in different ways and sell that to the employer."

In addition to these tips, there are other areas that you should always be upfront about when applying for jobs or internships - that includes your GPA, the courses you are taking, and the extracurriculars you're invovled in. For more information about "creative" GPA rounding and other no-nos that might come up for students or recent alumni, check out this CAPS blog post from earlier this academic year.

If you have questions or concerns about how to present yourself to a potential employer, come in to CAPS to talk about it (call 773/702-7040 to make an appointment). We can help you come up with a strategy to emphasize your accomplishments and strengths, without telling any white lies.

Questions, comments or ideas? Post them here.


Kevin said...

Hello not sure when but I have signed up to a social site for students called StudentDriven.com and they said they will be coming our with a job board for students. It is free to signup now but you never no if they will change that. So sign up free while you have a chance.

Anonymous said...

Great Post. Honesty is key. Not only is it the right thing to do but those background checks surface everything. During my career as a Fortune 500 Sales Manager, I had to pass on a few candidates because their background checks did not match their resumes. Great advice

SaraT12 said...

Making sure you list factual information when submitting a resume is very important. With today's technology and the ability to access data from a computer in a matter of minutes helps make fact finding easier, allowing the user to check information for accuracy, or shall we say, for discrepancies. Background checks are an essential part of doing business. Job seekers beware, they will check references.