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by by Jane Allen | March 10, 2009

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While I don't aspire to be Miss Manners or one of the morality police, I believe it's time for a few words about lying on resumes.

Some time ago, a Vault message board poster asked for a kindred soul to pose as a job reference and offered to return the favor. It's quite possible that this is not an unusual arrangement. But the really eye-catching part for me, the part that kept nibbling at the edges of my brain, was this assertion: since no money would change hands, there could be nothing unethical about the proposal.

Yeah, right. You get an "F" in ethics, buddy, but an "A" in chutzpah.

(I reported the message, by the way, and it disappeared lickety-split. Neither Vault nor any other reputable web site will tolerate something like that.)

You may have heard that the latest ethically-challenged CEO is RadioShack's David Edmondson. He resigned in February 2006 after a newspaper reported that the education portion of his resume didn't exactly match his college records. He claimed he'd received two degrees (in theology and psychology). The college said they don't even offer a psych major and he'd earned no degrees. In fact, he'd completed only two semesters. Oops! Who knew anyone would check?

Interestingly, the Associated Press story didn't contain any words like "fabrication" or "falsified" or "lies." They used only the word "errors." Resume errors.

RadioShack, in a regulatory filing a few days later, announced that Mr. Edmondson is to receive a cash payout worth at least $1.03 million. Hmm, that's certainly a nice payday if you don't mind a dose of public humiliation.

Which brings us to: why not do it? Just a few tiny errors ... extend the length of that job, add in some extra bits of education, embellish duties here and there, change a title to something more impressive ... Isn't it worth it to get a job?

Well, for one thing, there's the "always looking over your shoulder" issue. Once you put a lie on paper, it's hard to make it go away. Mr. Edmondson's resume was eventually posted on the company's web site. When he realized he was on a fast track to be head honcho of RadioShack, don't you imagine that he would have given just about anything to make those errors disappear?

And errors tend to snowball. Say you get an interview because you exaggerated your experience. The next step is to fake it during the interview. If you get the job, you must continue pretending, to co-workers, supervisors and clients, to be something you're not. Maybe your boss will not accuse you of resume errors. Maybe instead he'll think you're stupid or lazy or unwilling to follow instructions. Any of those (or discovered resume errors) makes you a candidate for unemployment.

And once you've been fired, more resume errors will be necessary to cover that up.

Resumedoctor.com chose 1,000 resumes to survey and spent six months verifying the basics like education, job titles, duties and previous employers. The rate of "inaccuracies" was 42.7 percent. That's pretty close to half.

If the honesty argument doesn't appeal to you, then the "you're likely to get caught" position may grab your attention. If 40-plus percent are doing it, that means employers are becoming increasingly aware and are going to be doing more checking, thus upping the chances that you'll get busted.

Still can't decide? Here's the story of a guy who went through both - being caught and being honest.

Paul Knapp tried to get a job by exaggerating his skills and amount of experience. That resume landed him some great interviews, but as soon as a tech person was on-hand to ask a few questions, Paul was exposed as a fraud and had to take the embarrassing walk to the "reject" door. He finally began sending resumes without errors. His phone stopped ringing. But then he got a call from an agency that had one of the old resumes, and he decided:

"Rather than faking it, which was obviously going to get me nowhere, I took a more honest approach. I said I had some experience, but was keen to learn more.

"When they asked me about something I didn't know, I admitted it, but said I was willing to learn.

"Eventually, I got the job. It all went well and I pretty much haven't looked back since. During my time with [that employer], I sharpened up my skills. I spent many nights reading up and making sure I became an expert in my field.

"I became quite friendly with my boss. He later confided in me that he'd appreciated my honesty. He said he'd interviewed quite a few candidates who'd obviously faked it. He felt they were treating him like an idiot."

And there it is, folks: honesty. What a concept! The new way to stand out from the crowd?

Click here to read more of Paul Knapp's story.

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