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Honesty is always your best policy when dealing with a prospective employer. There are things that should go on your resume, and things that shouldn’t – knowing what to include and what to omit is what separates a mediocre application from a great one. But transparency is key, and how it affects your job search can be the difference between applying for the job, and getting it.
The one thing you absolutely cannot do on your resume is lie. It doesn’t matter how much you’re certain no one will find out. Recruiters and hiring managers always do. And no matter how small or seemingly insignificant the fabrication, once you’re exposed the application is immediately written off because you lied about one element, so what else did you lie about?
There are things you should omit on a resume, but that’s wildly different from lying to someone you’re trying to get a job from. Transparency is about the difference between not informing and misinforming. You absolutely must not misinform a recruiter during your job search, but, as noted, there are things you also shouldn’t bother putting on your resume. Because the latter aren’t omissions, they’re targeted resume revisions.
No one needs to know about that paper route you had when you were 14. But you can’t leave years-long career gaps without explanation, so you include that period where you travelled for training or did volunteer work.
The best and most transparent resumes are about balance. And creating a balanced resume takes work in three key areas.
Employers are cautious about who they hire. Alongside recruitment agencies, they make it their duty to check everything in a candidate’s career history. Recruiters look into your previous and current employers, the role and responsibilities you had there, who you reported to, and the tenure of each position. And they have even more investigative scope now that candidates have a strong online presence. Expect prospective employers to Google your name, and cross reference your resume with your LinkedIn profile. And they will track your references down.
Recruiters don’t have to look very far to spot a lie. I remember a candidate who applied for two jobs and sent me two different resumes. Which you can do – but the employment dates and job titles were so inconsistent that they actually looked like they were from two separate people. Needless to say, I couldn’t tell fact from fiction and those applications went straight in the bin.
But, even though you don’t want to misinform a recruiter about your career history, there are things you can leave out if they’re not relevant to a position you’re applying for. Roles that were several years ago, or that were for three months or less, can come out. And if your resume is too long you may want to take these things out anyway for space. But basically, anything that doesn’t add value to your application isn’t necessary.
The exception to that rule is roles you had for six months or longer. If you don’t mention those, recruiters may think you weren’t doing anything during that period. It’s enough to just list the company, job title, and employment dates, which lets an employer know you were working during that time and will shorten your resume.
If you’ve been out of work for more than six months, you need to let a recruiter know why. Do it in your resume or you can try over the phone or in person. It’s fine to have a career break, but you have to highlight how you kept yourself busy, whether you volunteered, undertook training courses, or went travelling. Recruiters are always looking for honest answers. Give them a reason for anything that looks unusual.
Skills and qualifications
Avoid listing skills and qualifications you can’t prove. And be ready to talk about what you’re listing. Classic examples of screwing this up include candidates stating in their resumes that they speak fluent French or German, without expecting a recruiter to speak those languages. You just blew your interview if the recruiter sitting across from you switches to a language you claimed you could speak and you can’t carry on a conversation.
If a skill or qualification is essential for the role, it’s even more likely to be investigated in detail. Don’t lie about possessing skills you don’t have. You’re always going to be exposed, either in the interview, or worse still, once you’re hired and in a position to do real damage to a team. So take an accurate measure of your skills. Are you proficient in what’s being asked for? Be honest with your recruiter if you want a position with a skill you lack or are just learning – sometimes companies are looking to train candidates up, so this can open opportunities you’re much better suited for.
You’re under no obligation to provide information about your marital status, number of children, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, full address, or gender. These factors shouldn’t have any bearing on your application. Remuneration, too, can be a delicate subject, and you don’t have to provide salary information on your resume – people rarely do. But you should be prepared to talk with an agency about past salaries.
Some candidates are tempted to exaggerate their current compensation to seem more valuable in their role or because they need better earnings to make up cost of living, but it’s entirely unnecessary. Recruiters expect you to be aiming for a higher salary as part of the incentive of changing jobs. And if you outline extra expenses and cost of living needed in a new location, recruiters can take that into consideration and make sure they get you a job that meets your financial needs.
The other reason not to inflate your current remuneration with a recruiter is that they know the industry standard rate for your job title, so they’ll know if you’re just trying to seem impressive. On the flip side, if you’re honest with your salary with a recruiter, they can tell you if you’re being underpaid in your current role and ensure that you get fairly paid in the next.
Either way, you need expert advice on the situation, and you only get that by being transparent with the recruiter about remuneration.
Overall, recruiters are there to help you. Be honest with them and there’s so much more than they can do to get you the job you need. And know the difference between misinforming and omitting information. Recruiters work best with accurate information, so they can go out and land you a role perfectly suited to your needs, your qualifications, your professional development, and your career advancement.
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