Walking a Fine Line

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When I met with Diwata, I felt her frustration. After sending out over fifty résumés, she still had no job. Like many other new immigrants, she worried about not having an appropriate degree or enough Canadian experience on her résumé.

Over coffee, she jokingly said, “Maybe I should stretch the truth a bit. My husband’s brother told me that’s how he got his first job when he came over from the Philippines.”

I reminded Diwata that her brother-in-law came to Canada over twenty years ago. Hiring officers, especially in small businesses, did not have the resources to do full background checks on potential employees. In our modern world, a simple telephone call or Google search can unravel almost any web of lies.

According to a 2012 survey conducted by the Society of Human Resources Managers, 53 percent of résumés and job applications contained things that weren’t true. The most common lies are about education, job titles, accomplishments, compensation (salary), and reasons for leaving.

While it is important for you to to highlight good things you’ve done for employers when you’re job-hunting, you must walk a fine line between embellishment (making things sound a little better) and fabrication (telling lies). The penalty for stepping over the line could be more than you are prepared to live with. I would give Diwata and anyone else in similar circumstances the following advice:

Stress the Positive

Take pride in all your accomplishments, and ask for advice if you aren’t sure how to write your résumé. Employment Counsellor Rukmini Borooah-Pyatt at the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre helps her clients properly use Canadian terminology and vocabulary when describing what they did in previous jobs. While Borooah-Pyatt admits that she has seen more underplaying of qualifications to get a job, she adds that she has seen people make things they have done sound more impressive than they were, under the Career History section. “The challenge [is to talk about your career history] as honestly as possible, while keeping the employer’s expectations in mind,” she says. “Sometimes those skills don’t transfer directly into a Canadian context.”

Leave Out What You Don’t Need

Sometimes it’s all right to omit (leave out) short-term jobs that did not work out for you. Also, if you’re older, remember that your résumé is a marketing tool, not a complete career history. Career Counsellor Jay Palani at the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre advises her clients to state work history for only the past ten years, to keep the information relevant and current. If you’ve had long periods of unemployment and job-hopping, Palani suggests selecting an appropriate résumé style – skill-based instead of time-based – and explain any inconsistencies during the interview process. At the K-W Centre, the counsellors “offer mock interview sessions that address effective interview practices and how best to answer interview questions.”

Definite No-No’s

Some job seekers believe that adding professional licenses and memberships to their résumés may give them an edge in the hiring process. Tell the truth about this; licensing bodies and professional groups have websites where employers can easily verify your membership and status.

Exaggerating your skills in speaking French or using a software application may not get you fired, but could cause embarrassing moments in the early days of a new job, and affect your future promotions. However, lying about having a specialized degree or diploma is a serious workplace offence. If the post-secondary institution does not have a record of your attendance, you will not get the position. If the lie is discovered after you are hired, you will be fired, and other employers in your industry will probably find out about it, which could prevent you from ever getting another job in the same field.

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