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."
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.” 
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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