You may have started out in the mail room in 2003 and moved up to receptionist in 2004 and up to personnel manager in 2005, but you don’t need to give details about every single step you’ve made in order to get where you are. More important than the mundane details of your ascent are the details of your current position. So, rather than a resume entry that looks like this:
Mail Room, November 2003 – March 2004
Receptionist, April 2004 – January 2005
Personnel Manager, February 2005 – present
November 2003 – present
This is smart padding. Did you lie? No. Did you work as the personnel manager at Acme Corporation? Yes, and you still do. Did you work at Acme from November 2003 – present? Absolutely. Did you arrange the information in such a way that the employer – you hoped, anyway – would believe you’d been the personnel manager since November 2003? Yes – and that’s smart padding for you.
Will the employer call you on it – will he ask you if you were indeed the personnel manager the whole time? It’s very unlikely – he has no reason to believe otherwise. But even if he does, it’s not a big deal. You simply answer: “Actually, Acme moved me around to assist in a couple of other departments during my first few months before they settled me into my personnel manager position.” And that’s the absolute truth. And what if he presses you? It’s unlikely, but let’s be prepared. Which other departments, he asks? And you rattle off several: “Accounting (or wherever you were a receptionist), HR, Marketing, Communications (that’s the mail room). I asked to see the workings of as many departments as I could, so I could get a comprehensive feel for what the company does.”
That’s a glorious piece of bullshitting right there – truly excellent stuff. Not only did you hide the fact you only recently became a personnel manager, but you also made yourself look great with that whole “show me how this company works” bit.
The point here is this: although your experience may seem unimpressive to you, it can still seem very impressive to prospective employers if you just know how to frame the information correctly. A Burger King shift manager may believe she has a very mundane existence and nothing that would impress an employer. But in the world of resume-speak, she’s got all this going for her:
- Oversees weekly grossly sales of $30-$35k
- Responsible for staff of 25
- Face-to-face interaction with 1,500+ customers weekly
- Generates daily sales and labor reports
Sounds a lot more exciting on paper than in the real world. But that’s the point – resumes are supposed to make you sound powerful, accomplished and ready to take the next job by the horns.
And contrary to what many applicants think, employers don’t have a sixth sense for detecting resume padding — they WANT to believe what you say. It’s extremely rare to sit down for an interview with someone who’s trying to excavate fibs from your resume. Much more often than not, they’re very eager to talk to you and are crossing their fingers that you’ll be great and they’ll get the chance to hire you.
Here’s a real-life example of this padding principle from my own resume:
When I got out of graduate school, I went to work for Cox Interactive Media, a company that had online city guides in a couple dozen cities. I was hired by the Phoenix site, called AccessArizona.com, as a “content producer” – essentially, a cross between a webmaster and a marketer and a journalist. They hired me to do the Travel and Recreation sections of our site, which entailed posting someone else’s story and pictures once a week. I’m serious — once a week. I worked 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. On Saturdays and Sundays, I was the only person in the office all day long – I unlocked the shop in the morning and locked it up on my way out.
I have no idea what I did with all the extra time, but I know I got to listen to music on headphones all day, surf the web high-speed (not everyone could in 1999) and drink all the Starbucks I wanted. On the weekends, an occasional nap was taken. Ballgames of all types were watched at my preferred television volume. And I got a salary of $35,000 for it. Not a bad gig.
Cushy working conditions notwithstanding, I do remember putting my nose to the grindstone a little. After all, it was my first job out of graduate school, and I was determined to let all these Arizona State graduates around me what a superior crop of people the Missouri School of Journalism was producing. I’d take on extra work (I certainly had plenty of time to help out), and if things were going rough in the evenings, I’d hang out until 9, 10, or even later if things needed to be done. I’d just moved to Phoenix and had absolutely no social life, so I was happy to score points with the bigwigs for giving freely of my time.
About three months later, my boss – an incredible lady named Claudine Langan, who now teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – got a promotion. She also got to name her successor, and she named me. I was overjoyed, being the newest hire among six other content producers, and three months into the job I’d leap-frogged up to become their boss. Of course, many of the other producers were a tad less than overjoyed, and in the coming months, one by one they left the company.
But those of us who hung around didn’t despair; we just became more efficient with the people we had. Eventually, about a year after my original hire date, I was promoted again, this time to “Content Manager.” My duties didn’t change, but my salary got bumped to $60,000. Also, in terms of the company as a whole, I outranked my peers who held similar positions in cities like Seattle, Miami, Atlanta, etc.
Life was good, but there was trouble on the horizon. Our entire staff was in the meeting room one day for a conference call with our CEO, who announced next year’s objective: take 50% of Yahoo’s local market share. Yes, you read that correctly: take not 5%, but 50% market share — of the most popular website on the planet at that time. In one year.
I couldn’t help thinking of Peter McNeely, the sacrificial lamb for Mike Tyson’s first post-prison boxing match, who barked about how he planned to knock Iron Mike back to the prison boxing league. He lasted about 37 seconds, as I recall. Gee whiz, I thought. Why don’t we just wipe out hunger and usher in world peace while we’re at it?
I wasn’t the only one in our office who thought the idea was nuts, but apparently I was the only one who thought it was so incredibly nuts that it was time to get out of there right away, while a position at AccessArizona.com still meant something to people locally and before Yahoo! and AOL bitch-slapped us into obscurity quicker than you can say “Pets-dot-com.” I snapped up a job at a software company across town for $75,000 and abruptly bid AccessArizona.com adieu.
So there you have the summary of my 1-1/2 years at Cox Interactive: hired as low man on the totem pole, enjoyed leisurely weekends on the clock, then got a quick promotion, basically because my boss got her own promotion. I trudged through a few months, got another promotion, then bolted like an escaped fugitive at the first sign of trouble.
Content & Marketing Manager, AccessArizona.com
May 1999-October 2000
- Responsible for all content and marketing operations for Phoenix city site and 12 partner sites, drawing 150,000+ unique users and 3.5 million page views/month
- Managed content, graphics, marketing and technical staff of 12
- Supervised the implementation of all corporate e-commerce and advertising initiatives
- Supervised design and creation of partner sites and advertiser microsites, including Power 92, The Zone, The Edge, KGME, Xtra Sports 910, KFYI, Bucky’s Casino, Prescott Resort, Cox 9, Greater Phoenix Ford Stores, Honda of Tempe, etc.
- Managed content for multiple advertiser accounts
- Wrote weekly email newsletter
- Responsible for monthly & yearly usage projections
It’s all true, and it sounds a hell of a lot better than the previous paragraph, doesn’t it? Notice that I have one position listed, and that’s the last and best-paying one. I even beefed it up with the part about being the marketing manager, which I’ll talk more about in a second. But in dozens of job interviews I’ve had with this resume, not once has anyone asked even one question about whether I was “Content & Marketing Manager” during my entire period of employment at Cox Interactive.
Oh, by the way: a year later, Cox Interactive Media was out of business, eaten alive by competition. Which leads me to my next principle.