Padding Principle 1: Don’t Include Skills You Don’t Have

It bears repeating: a surprising many people think that padding your resume means making stuff up out of thin air. They think that if they just pack enough BS into their resume, then they’ll look like a major big shot to whom companies will want to make a big job offer right away. But that’s not quite how it works.

Companies are impressed not simply by skills, but by relevant skills: that is, skills that will help you perform well in the position you’re applying for and help make the company more money. So if you’re applying for a job as a floor supervisor at a manufacturing plant, it doesn’t make sense to claim that you speak French. I think most of us understand this.

But it makes even less sense to claim phony skills when they are relevant to the job. Let’s say you’re applying not for the manufacturing job; instead, you’re applying for an international sales job. Lots of travel involved in Europe, where French is widely spoken (and not just in France). In this case, would claiming to speak French help you get the job? Absolutely. Should you do it? Only if you’re an idiot.

Why? Well, since French fluency is considered an asset, then your bosses will expect you to do a good bit of French-speaking on the job then, won’t they? And if you don’t speak French, then you’ll be found out rather quickly, wouldn’t you say? You may not even make it past the interviewer if she decides to pop-quiz you with a little “Pouvons-nous parler francais un peu?”

A disclosure is in order here. I made this boneheaded mistake myself several years ago. In the aftermath of the World Trade Center bombing, business at my newly formed advertising agency was so slow that I was ready to give up and go back to getting a “real job” working for someone else. I sent out what seemed like 6,000 resumes, and one of the responses I got was from a company that designs and publishes technical manuals for Ryobi, a company that makes, among other things, lawn-care machinery.

I got an interview and did well, and then went on a tour of the offices. They used Macintosh computers for all of their work, and although I hadn’t used a Mac in years, that didn’t worry me. I used Macs for years in the past, and they aren’t hard to figure out.

Then, they handed me a manual for a lawnmower. It had detailed drawings of the fully assembled machine, and dozens more drawings of every component of the machine. Every screw, bolt, handle, engine part, wheel, etc. I asked one of the designers what they used to create these drawings, and she said, “Illustrator.”

As in, Adobe Illustrator, the program. I vaguely remembered having a couple of lessons in Illustrator when I was younger, but they mostly consisted of drawing

This seems self-explanatory, but it happens every day – people padding their resumes with skills and claims so outlandish that they’re caught almost immediately. Mine was accidental, but trust me, that didn’t make me feel any less dumb. Remember this: your immediate focus may be getting a job, but what you really want to do is keep a job. Don’t make ridiculous claims on your resume just to help you get a job that you have no chance of keeping.

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