Who Do You Think You Are Fooling?

by Handlin, Liz Tuesday, January 13, 2009
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Every once in awhile someone tells me what they want done with their resume and I just shake my head in wonder. I am referring to folks who think that with a little sleight of hand they can fool recruiters into thinking that their work experience, employers, or education are something other than what their resume says it is. The truth? You are nuts if you think you can really fool recruiters.

Here are some examples:

Example A
One client who had never worked in "Green Energy" in her life wanted her resume to include a list 10 or 15 seminars she attended (she wasn't a speaker, mind you, just an attendee) that were related to green energy. Her rationale? She figured that if she kept the seminars on the resume that recruiters would consider her qualified for positions in green energy. Her real problem? Her job is in sales but she couldn't tell me any of her sales goals/quotas over the past few years - but she wanted her resume to claim that she exceeded quota every year.

It seemed to me that she was trying to perform a magical illusion and try to focus recruiters away from the fact that there was no substance to her resume. She didn't want readers to focus on the fact that she had no numbers to back up her claims of sales excellence - she wanted them to focus on her supposed expertise in green energy. What she didn't realize is that recruiters have seen every magic trick in the book and are very alert to a resume that lacks substance.

I pointed out that (a) if you are a sales person and you list "exceeded quota" on your resume you can bet that any recruiter will ask the obvious question, "What was your quota and by how much did you exceed it?" and (b) No recruiter will think that a list of seminars you attended in a field other than your own makes you qualified for a career change.

Example B
Another client started her career in technology and worked her way up to a position of responsibility within a large and reputable tech firm. About five years ago this client decided to get out of tech and sell residential real estate because she figured that was the way to get really rich. She was very good at real estate sales and made a lot of money...until our recent mortgage crash. Now she wants to get back into technology. After we created her resume she wanted to leave off the names of the real estate firms she had worked for and replace the firm names with SALES AND MARKETING PROFESSIONAL. But, of course, she couldn't leave off the name of the reputable technology company at which she started her career so, therefore, the formatting/information placement on the resume would have been confusing and weird.

This client wanted her resume to be inconsistent in its formatting to try to hide the fact that she had been selling real estate for the past five years. I pointed out that simply by reading her job description and sales accomplishments any recruiter would see that she had worked in real estate...a smoke screen won't work. Ultimately, for the resume, we created the name of a sales/marketing consulting company for which my client is listed as "Owner" (she can create an official corporation if she wants) and listed the real estate jobs as sales consulting gigs. This isn't overtly lying because generally real estate sales is a commission job and she could, in fact, have created a corporation through which she was paid for her work. However, a smart recruiter is going to see that this client has been selling real estate for the past five years. Maybe my client will get calls for tech jobs or maybe she won't...but she needs to understand that her new resume won't fool anyone even though she is happier with the way her background is presented.

Example C
This is my favorite example and many people do this:

Just because you attended a continuing education class or executive education seminar at Harvard University doesn't mean you are a Harvard Grad. You aren't. And just because you list a Harvard University Executive Education class as the first of your educational credentials doesn't mean that anyone will think you were accepted at that school.

The fact is this: All of the top tier universities offer executive seminars and continuing education classes as a way to generate extra revenue and to give their professors additional exposure. These classes generally aren't highly selective, if your company wants to pay to send you to the class, Harvard will be happy to welcome you to campus. If your employer pays for you to attend one of these classes that is fantastic and you can certainly include it as "Continuing Education" or "Training" on your resume. But don't place the executive ed course above the actual university you attended and from which you earned your actual Bachelors, Masters, or other graduate degree. There is a difference between the degree you earned and any continuing education classes you may have taken - you won't fool anyone by combining them. And, in truth, after you have been in the workforce a few years no one really cares which school you earned your degree from - its your performance that counts.

So here are a few tips:

1. Think before you take the next step in your career. If you want to switch careers and sell widgets that is just fine but think about how you will explain that decision if and when you decide to return to your original career/industry. Recruiters are always open to rational and well-thought-out explanations for gaps on your resume or for non traditional career choices. But, don't try to pull one over on a recruiter because you run the risk that they will see through your "tricky" ways of presenting things on your resume and assume that you are a liar. If a recruiter sees something on your resume that raises a red flag the chances are excellent that the only communication you will receive is a rejection letter.

2. If you want to switch careers, create a resume that emphasizes any skills, responsibilities, and accomplishments in your previous jobs that are relevant to the new industry or job you are seeking. Don't do hokey things like list a bunch of books you read or seminars you attended that seem relevant to the new industry. That isn't to say that you can't discuss those things in an interview because you can and your attempts to learn about the new industry will be viewed positively. But the key is to make sure you look like a star in your current industry and to show the recruiter that you know which of your skills are transferable.

3. Be careful of presenting education or other academic credentials in such a way that it seems that you are pretending to be something other than you are.