Should You Ever Pad Your Résumé?

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.

In the book Confessions of a Shopaholic, financial
disaster Becky Bloomwood writes that she is “Fluent in Finnish” on her résumé
because she thinks “conversational French” looks a little lonely on its own.
“And after all,” she asks herself, “who speaks Finnish, for God’s sake? No one.” Everything is going well until her interviewer takes her to
meet the recruitment director of the Bank of Helsinki.

“It’s
only as we’re halfway down the corridor that her words begin to impinge on my
mind. Bank of Helsinki….That doesn’t mean…Surely she doesn’t think…'I
just can’t wait to hear the both of you talking away in Finnish,' says Jill
pleasantly, as we begin to climb a flight of stairs. 'It’s not a language I
know at all.' Oh
my God. Oh my God. No."

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That’s the real horror of
padding your résumé: “It will probably more than likely lead to some awkward
interactions during the interview process,” says Sherry
Almasi, HR and recruiting partner at Tumblr. She had a similar situation
recently, but she was on the other side of it, and instead of Finnish, it was
Portuguese. “I don’t speak Portuguese
myself," she told Refinery29. "I passed [the interviewee] over to our in-house Portuguese speaker, and they
weren’t able to hold a conversation from there…I’m sure [it] was
very embarrassing.” 

I'll admit that, in moments of desperation, I've applied for jobs that required language skills I don't possess.
I can speak a modicum of Spanish, a smattering of French, and I can understand spoken Hindi if I really concentrate and then ask my mom for clarification. But, I would never cop to being fluent, because getting caught in such a lie sounds horrifying. That’s why Almasi always
advises against padding one’s résumé — if only to avoid the incredible
awkwardness that arrives when you can't demonstrate some promised skill.

“A recruiter...asks about specific experiences and
skill sets that people put on their résumés,” she explains. “And, if they padded
it, it really does show through when they’re asked to elaborate... People typically start to fumble over their words, or even worse, [they're] not able to
answer the question at all.” 

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Even just overstating your proficiency
in certain skills poses a risk, depending on the situation, like "if you know
they’re looking for an 'expert' in Excel and you’re maybe at a 'proficient' level,”
Almasi points out. Think about it: “If you can confidentially relay
that you can use Excel, and then day one they expect you to complete all these
formulas and put together these spreadsheets — you’re ultimately setting
yourself up for failure in the role.” 

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Senior vice president of People Operations at Google (and author of Work Rules! ) Laszlo
Bock is even more aggressive in his advice against padding your résumé. “Number-one thing not to have is
lies,” he states. “Don’t stretch, don’t fib, don’t cut corners.
The reason is, eventually you get caught. And, when you get caught, you get
fired.” While
he does encourage including what you’re passionate about, he
advises against making a résumé about your personality. “The whole point of the
résumé is not to capture everything about you. The whole point of a résumé is
to get you to the interview.”  

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.

The other aspect of padding your résumé that Bock’s against?
Sending anything along with your application. “The rule of thumb is: Please
don’t send anything, because it’s not going to help.” Bock has received his fair share of items attached to résumés: a robot that broke in transit, a T-shirt silkscreened with a
résumé, a résumé tucked into a shoe (to “get their foot in the door,” he
explains), a bracelet and a scented candle, and a giant poster with a
silhouette of Bock's head and some commentary he made in front of Congress. “Don’t
do that,” he says quickly. “Yes, it was creepy, but it was really
well-intentioned.” 

Instead, as Almasi says, a résumé should always
reflect what you can expand on in an interview. “At the end of the day,
focusing on the things you have done rather than the things you haven’t will
speak volumes to your character, your competency,” she says. “And, I think that
will really show through during the interviews.” 

As someone who started applying for jobs when the
economy was still a decimated wreck, I understand the impulse to pad one’s experience, even if the logic is unsound. It was especially hard when I felt that,
as a person with a very non-white-sounding name, there might be job forces working against me that were beyond my control. Faced with many studies that found racial bias in hiring practices, at
a moment of weakness I even wondered if I shouldn’t just rename myself “Joe Smith”
the next time I sent out a résumé.  

Bock points out that yes, these biases are a “sad,
awful, terrible, repulsive truth,” but the best way to counteract needing to
send out more résumés to counter possible bias and discrimination is…to send out
more résumés. “Don’t get discouraged by it,” Bock implores. Instead, focus on going beyond the “vague, traditional, general”
résumé for the “descriptive and specific and quantitative” one. Being more
exacting and honest with your résumé will help you find not only a job, but one that’s a better fit for your authentic self. 

Just don’t say you know Finnish if you don’t know Finnish.       
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