Why We Lie On Our Résumés

Do you feel pressured to lie? In the moment of drafting a résumé we feel tempted to embellish or outright lie in telling our story. And this instinct, at all costs, must be resisted.



“Yahoo hired him for what he’s done in the past five, ten years.  It
doesn’t really matter for someone at this point in his career what he did at
twenty-two.  He may have felt at some point in his career that he needed
an extra something — and then he couldn’t get rid of it.”

          John Challenger

          CEO, Challenger, Gray And



Just a few days ago, I got a call from the CEO of a local
firm and was asked if I’d be interested in taking on a consulting
project.   We set up a meeting the next morning and, after just an
hour’s discussion, secured our agreement with a handshake.  It was the
easiest job I’d ever won in my life.

As I was leaving, the CEO asked if I could put together a résumé
and get it back to him the next day.  While it was clear I’d been hired
based upon my professional experience and reputation, I fully understood the
desire to properly document my appointment.


Just to emphasize the point, I already had the
job before I set out to summarize my career experience and
accomplishments.  So why did this activity make me feel in any way
vulnerable?  Why did I have any concern at all that how this résumé turned
out could in some way put my new deal at risk?

In answering those questions for myself, I concluded that a
résumé is effectively an up-to-date report card for our respective
work-lives.  We know it will be scrutinized and judged, and fervently want
it to represent us in the very best of light. Perhaps at no other time are we
so motivated to make ourselves look good.

It’s perhaps because of the pressure we feel in the moment
of drafting a résumé that we’re tempted to embellish or outright lie in telling
our story.    And this instinct, at all costs, must be resisted.


More directly, if you can envision being asked for your
résumé at any time during the remainder of your career, you’d be wise to
already have practiced the act of brushing off the devil-on-your-shoulder that
would insist your honest achievements don’t otherwise measure up. 
Disastrous outcomes almost inevitably befall untruthful applicants.

One highly publicized case in point is Scott Thompson, who
last week was forced to resign his briefly held role as CEO of internet giant,
Yahoo.  Thompson effectively, and needlessly, blew up his career by
posting a computer science degree on his résumé that he had never actually

Here’s what’s astounding about Thompson’s bad
judgment.   Prior to throwing his name in the ring for the Yahoo job,
he already had been the successful President at well-known e-commerce company,
PayPal.    His reputation and abilities were so well established
in the technology community that no résumé could provide greater insight into
whether he’d be a good fit for the role.  Moreover, Thompson actually has a
college degree, in accounting.  Apparently disregarding his own very
impressive track record, however, Thompson felt compelled to puff up his stats
– and it got him fired.


According to University of Massachusetts Psychologist,
Robert Feldman, all humans have some inclination to lie simply in order to look
good both to themselves and others.  And this is valuable insight when it
comes to résumé writing.  “Adults want to control how others see them and
want to elevate their own self esteem.  We find that as soon as people
feel that self-esteem is threatened, they immediately begin to lie at higher

I’m a big believer in karma and hold the conviction that all
lies, even slight résumé  edits, inevitably are brought into the light of
truth.   And since trust is the foundational element of effective
management, we must remember that even modest deceptions, once discovered, make
it impossible for us to ever trust a leader again.

If you’ll listen to it, there’s a voice inside you that will
keep you from straying from your own personal integrity.  In the words of
Stephen Colbert, “You don’t look up truthiness in a book, you look it up in
your gut.”